Yakiniku: The Best Japanese Food You’ve Never Heard Of

yakiniku

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.

Cooking 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.

Karubi and Rosu

Karubi on the right, rosu on the left. Or was it the other way around…

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.

Harami

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…

Tan

Tip

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!

Chicken Horumon

I think this is chicken kidneys, but I’m not sure.

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?”

“What’s that?”

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.

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13 Comments on “Yakiniku: The Best Japanese Food You’ve Never Heard Of”

  1. Laura
    June 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    I feel really lucky – at the local Yakiniku restaurant (tiny Mom and Pop place) the Yakiniku set is only 900 yen!

    • introvertnathan
      June 16, 2013 at 12:24 am #

      900 yen? I’m jealous…

      • Laura
        June 16, 2013 at 12:42 am #

        It’s not gourmet, but still tasty!

  2. AnnaSan
    June 15, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Looks yummy! What type of grills do they use?

    • introvertnathan
      June 16, 2013 at 12:31 am #

      I don’t know any brands, but all of them look identical anyway. Though I prefer the ones that are actually in the table. Of course you have to be a bit careful not to burn your sleeve, lol.

      • AnnaSan
        June 16, 2013 at 3:40 am #

        Are they charcoal or gas powered grills?

      • introvertnathan
        June 16, 2013 at 3:47 am #

        Most are charcoal, which makes for a much better flavor. And as you cook more and more, the waitress will also refresh your grill with a new grate. Kind of nice.

      • AnnaSan
        June 16, 2013 at 3:53 am #

        Aa, sou ka. Do you light it yourself as well?

      • introvertnathan
        June 16, 2013 at 4:18 am #

        Nope, they do that for you. You just have to cook : )

  3. Artemis
    June 16, 2013 at 3:19 am #

    *drools* I’m not often a huge meat eater, but I make an exception for good quality yakiniku. And weirdly enough, despite its Korean roots, I much prefer the yakiniku I have here in Japan as opposed to the meat I had when I visited Seoul. Maybe I just didn’t go to the right places, but I’ll take my local yakiniku over the stuff I had in Korea any day.

    • introvertnathan
      June 16, 2013 at 3:36 am #

      A lot of people I ask about Korean yakiniku say the same thing. I plan to make the trip and compare myself one day : )

  4. rose2852
    June 16, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    We cooked seafood on grills that looked exactly like the one in your photo!

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