Yakiniku is the gateway drug between Japanese and Western cuisine, something not entirely foreign to Western palettes, yet distinctly Japanese. (Even though it’s Korean.) Like ramen, it didn’t originate in Japan, yet has been adopted into its national food catalogue.
It is, however, a fairly new dish. For centuries, meat-eating was banned by either law or custom in Japan. Meat was only popularized at the start of the Meiji era, after U.S. Admiral Perry ended Japan’s seclusion policy at gunpoint, forcing the country to modernize. Even still, it took the emperor eating beef publicly before the practice was finally accepted into mainstream culture, paving the way for meat dishes like yakiniku.
In yakiniku restaurants, strips of raw meat arrive on your table that you cook yourself on a miniature griddle. Cooking something yourself in a restaurant might be a bit unusual in the West, but the Japanese are big on it. It’s part of the fun, giving you downtime to chat or down a beer between orders. The strips are quite thin though, so while yakiniku is a slower-paced meal, you’ll never find yourself waiting long.
Once cooked, dip it in the sauce. Each restaurant does its own thing with sauces, but you’ll generally find three choices, ta-re (a thicker sauce), soy sauce, and lemon juice.
Meats are ordered by the cut. My personal favorite is karubi (flank.) Rosu, or roast, can also be divine.
Harami, or skirt steak, is quite soft, and in my opinion a bit better than plain old steak–if you’re a steak-lover though, that’s also on tap.
You can even order Tan (tongue.) I would never dream about eating tongue back home, but in yakiniku, it goes well with lemon juice. Seriously, try it. It tastes suspiciously similar to a MacDonald’s Big Mac…
Stay away from horumon though. Horumon is intestine and often, organs. I’ve actually come to enjoy thin horumon. It carries sauce well, but thick is absolutely wretched. Just imagine crunching down on a thick, fatty hunk of cow intestine. It makes you strong!
Yakiniku is expensive, but worth it–especially if you need a meat fix. You can find meat over here, though it’s usually going to be chicken or pork, which, by the way, you can order at yakiniku. Yakiniku is your go-to option for serious grilled meat in Japan.
That said, I will repeat that it is expensive. Especially for carnivores. Dinner for two will usually run over ¥3,000 per person (around $30 U.S.D.) but can run upwards of ¥5,000 if you’re not careful. The meal I took the pictures in (except the horumon) cost ¥4,000.
After arriving in Japan I received a lot of help from my coworker getting set up in my new place.
“I really appreciate all your help. Let me take you out to dinner as a way to say thank you.”
I saw the mischief in her eyes. “Have you ever tried yakiniku?”
A few hours later I’m down 8,700 yen. I still remember the bill. The steep price tag is why yakiniku is usually reserved for celebrations. But, if you’re coming to Japan, or just in need of protein between your carbohydrates while living here, I cannot recommend yakiniku more highly. It’s the good stuff.