Every culture around the world has some form of meat served on a stick. In the Middle East, they’re kebabs. In Germany, it’s schnitzel skewers. In Indonesia, it’s called satay, while Nigerians call it suya. However, there are few that have captured the culinary imagination of eaters like yakitori – the Japanese chicken on a stick dish. Below, we’ll explore the history, types and options, ordering method, and even where to find the best yakitori.
It’s important to understand that originally, there was no yakitori (chicken on a stick). There was yakiton – grilled pork – and there was kushikatsu – deep fried pork on a stick. Chicken became popular around 1900, but took a hit during WWII due to scarcity and costs. The end of the war, and the wider availability of American broilers, reduced costs and made yakitori an affordable reality for millions of Japanese. Since then, it has become ubiquitous in Japan, and has spread to the US and the rest of the world.
Rather than just a single recipe option, you’ll find a host of different flavors on offer from many restaurants serving yakitori. For instance, negima is breast or thigh meat cooked with green onion, and is one of the “classics”. Other choices include:
There are numerous other options out there, from nankotsu to reba, hato to sunagimo, and many more. It’s a wide world, and a delicious exploration. If you’re at a loss, just remember that the name of the dish varies with the part of the bird being served in most instances.
These days, it seems like just about any restaurant will offer some sort of yakitori. It’s literally everywhere. However, if you really want to experience the depths of flavor that can be created with little more than fire, chicken and salt, go to a yakitori-ya, which is a restaurant specializing in yakitori dishes. When ordering, remember that shio means salt, and that tare is a sweet/savory sauce that offers a bolder flavor. These are usually the only two seasoning choices, but wasabi is sometimes offered.
Here at Z & Y Bistro, our yakitori pays homage to the Japanese traditions while incorporating distinct and authentic Chinese spices and flavors to create a San Francisco original Asian fusion!