Having a drink while munching on freshly-grilled yakitori in a smoky bar is an all-time favourite diversion for the Japanese, particularly for those who want a snack to tide them over on the train home. Yakitori bars start to fill up at about 6 p.m. and stay open late.
Although yakitori is loved by both adults and children, it is almost never made at home because it requires special grilling tools; the sauce is difficult to make well; and the smoke tends to envelop the house. A professional’s techniques are necessary. These days, chicken specialty shops and department stores sell pre-grilled yakitori that can be warmed up at home in an oven or a microwave.
The key to truly delicious Yakitori is the sauce. To a base of boiled-down soy sauce and Mirin, each Yakitori shop adds its own top secret combination of ingredients to make an original sauce. Yakitori consists of 3-4 bite-size pieces of meat threaded on a bamboo skewer, grilled briefly, dipped in sauce, and grilled again over high heat – making a delightful sizzling sound.
Many say the complex flavor of the sauce and chicken goes well with sake. If you prefer a simpler flavor, you can also get your order grilled plain and sprinkled with salt; those that like a spicier flavor often sprinkle their yakitori with seven-spice chili pepper. The chicken meat is divided and skewered according to its respective parts, so when ordering you should ask for the name of the part: thigh meat, liver, gizzards, wing, skin. These are often paired with small, mild green pepper and long onion, but there are many other varieties of yakitori, like meatballs.
Part of the fun of yakitori is that you needn’t try to eat delicately just bite into a piece of meat on the skewer and slide it off with your teeth.
Yakitori can, of course, be eaten in the privacy of one’s home, but somehow an animated conversation with a group of friends seems to enhance the flavour.