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Yakitori In Japan: Are You Ready For The Skewer Saga?

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Ever found yourself in Japan, overwhelmed by the vast array of street food options? Among these, yakitori, a dish consisting of grilled chicken skewers, stands as an iconic choice.

This blog will take you on a journey through its history, preparation and regional flavors that make yakitori more than just 'beer fodder.' Are you ready to delve into this savory saga?.

Key Takeaways

  • Yakitori is a beloved Japanese dish consisting of grilled chicken skewers that originated in the Edo period.

  • The name 'yakitori' translates to 'grilled chicken,' but it now includes skewers with various ingredients like veggies and other meats.

  • There are different cuts and types of yakitori, including chicken breast, meatballs, wings, leeks, and even unconventional cuts like skin or liver.

  • Yakitori is typically seasoned with tare sauce or salt and served with wasabi, grated daikon radish, or other seasonings for added flavor.

  • Proper manners and etiquette should be observed when enjoying yakitori in Japan, such as using chopsticks to pick up the skewers and saying 'Itadakimasu' before starting your meal.

  • Different regions in Japan have their own specialties when it comes to yakitori, such as Tokyo's bustling scene, Osaka's unique take on large chunks of chicken meat with rich sauce, Nagoya's spicy tebasaki wings, Hokkaido's incorporation of local ingredients like seafood or vegetables, and Kyushu's robust flavors.

  • Yakitori enthusiasts can explore the 'Seven Great Yakitori Towns' in Japan for an authentic culinary experience.

What is Yakitori?


Yakitori is a beloved Japanese dish consisting of grilled chicken skewers that hold a special place in Japan's food culture.


Yakitori has a rich history that dates back to Japan's Edo period, around the 17th century. Initially eaten by commoners, it was considered a simple and affordable dish as chicken was less expensive than other meats.

Street vendors sold these juicy skewers on carts, making yakitori easily accessible for everyone. The art of grilling chicken over charcoal fire evolved eventually into what we know today as yakitori – perfectly cooked poultry pieces with distinctive flavors all their own.

Despite its humble beginnings, modern Japanese cuisine now embraces this dish in a refreshed avatar, with premium 'jidori' chicken being used in specialized restaurants and intricate cooking methods enhancing its flavor profile.


Yakitori's name offers a simple explanation of what the dish is. In Japanese, 'yaki' translates to 'grill', while 'tori' means bird or chicken. Therefore, yakitori directly points toward 'grilled chicken.' There's an interesting fact about this popular Japanese food: traditionally, in Japan, the term Yakitori specifically referred to skewered chicken parts only.

However, with evolving culinary practices and international adaptations over time, it has become all-embracing for skewers with diverse ingredients including veggies and other meats as well.

This inclusive definition showcases how yakitori has extended beyond its traditional roots yet holds onto the identity it was initially associated with - a grilled delicacy typically involving chicken.

Types of Yakitori

Diving into the world of Japanese yakitori offers a palate-pleasing variety of options. Here are some common and more unique skewers to try:

  1. Yakitori made from white meat: Tender pieces of chicken breast are slow-grilled to succulent perfection over a charcoal fire, creating a true classic of the skewer world.

  2. Meatball yakitori, or Tsukune: These are handcrafted from minced chicken that is mixed with seasonings, then slathered in sweet sauce for delectable bites.

  3. Chicken Wing yakitori, otherwise known as Tebasaki: Known for its rich flavors, crispy skin and tender flesh, these wings deliver enjoyment right down to the bone.

  4. Grilled leek yakitori: Don't overlook the vegetables! Leeks perfectly grilled alongside your meat skewers create a balance on your plate.

  5. Unconventional cuts like skin, soft bone, bishop's nose (fatty nubs of fat), and even uterus with attached yolk can make for an adventurous dining experience.

  6. Sasami is small pieces of breast meat usually topped with freshly grated wasabi adding just the right punch and freshness.

  7. Leba refers to crispy and lightly charred chicken liver, which contrary to beef or pork liver offers a smoother and lighter taste.

How to Make and Eat Yakitori

making yakitori

To make yakitori, you skewer small pieces of chicken onto bamboo sticks and grill them over charcoal until they are cooked through and slightly charred.

How to Make Yakitori

To make yakitori, follow these simple steps:

  1. Prepare the chicken: Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, making sure to use a variety of cuts such as breast meat, skin, liver, and gizzard.

  2. Skewer the chicken: Thread the chicken pieces onto skewers, alternating between different cuts for added flavor and variety.

  3. Season the chicken: Brush the skewered chicken with tare sauce or sprinkle with salt for a simpler flavor.

  4. Grill over charcoal: Place the skewers over a hot charcoal fire and cook them evenly on all sides until they are golden brown and cooked through.

  5. Baste with tare sauce: As the chicken cooks, brush it with more tare sauce to add a rich, sweet glaze to the skewers.

  6. Serve hot: Once cooked, remove the skewers from the grill and serve them immediately while they are still hot and juicy.

Yakitori Sauce and Seasonings

Yakitori sauce and seasonings are essential components of this popular Japanese dish. Here's what you need to know:

  1. Tare: Tare is the traditional yakitori sauce that adds a sweet and savory flavor to the skewers. It is made by combining soy sauce, mirin (a sweet rice wine), sugar, and sometimes sake. The tare is brushed onto the chicken while grilling, enhancing its taste.

  2. Shio: Some yakitori skewers are simply seasoned with salt, known as shio. This allows the natural flavors of the chicken to shine through without any additional sauces.

  3. Wasabi: Wasabi, a spicy green condiment made from Japanese horseradish, is often served with yakitori skewers. It adds a pleasant kick and freshness to the grilled chicken.

  4. Yakitori Seasonings: In addition to tare and salt, other seasonings like black pepper or sansho pepper (a Japanese spice similar to Sichuan peppercorn) can be sprinkled on the skewers for added flavor.

  5. Grated daikon radish: Some yakitori skewers are served with freshly grated daikon radish on top. This adds a refreshing element to balance out the rich flavors of the grilled chicken.

Manners and Etiquette

When enjoying yakitori in Japan, it's important to observe proper manners and etiquette. First and foremost, it is customary to greet the chef or staff with a polite 'Itadakimasu' before starting your meal.

When eating yakitori, use chopsticks to pick up the skewer from the communal plate or grill. It is considered rude to touch the food with your hands or lick your fingers. While eating, try not to make loud noises or slurp loudly.

If you need to take a break or leave the table temporarily, it's polite to place your chopsticks on a rest provided or across the edge of your plate. And finally, don't forget to say 'Gochisousama deshita' at the end of your meal as appreciation for the delicious yakitori you've enjoyed.

Yakitori Around Japan

yakitori in japan

Discover the popular cuts of yakitori in different regions and find out which towns are known for their incredible skewer selections. Intrigued? Keep reading!

Popular Yakitori Cuts

If you're a foreign traveler in Japan, it's essential to know about the popular cuts of yakitori. Here are some common and delicious choices:

  1. Tsukune: These are skewers made from juicy minced chicken, coated in a sweet sauce. They are soft and full of flavor.

  2. Sasami: Small pieces of tender breast meat, usually topped with wasabi for an added kick of freshness.

  3. Tebasaki: This cut is closest to the bone and is known for its rich flavors, crispy skin, and tender flesh.

  4. Leva: Crispy and lightly charred chicken liver, which has a smoother and lighter taste compared to beef or pork liver.

  5. Negima: A fail-proof combination of grilled leek and juicy meat, usually thigh or breast.

  6. Kawa: The chewy, crunchy, and fatty skin from the neck that adds a unique texture to the yakitori experience.

Regions for Different Styles of Yakitori

  • Tokyo: Known for its bustling yakitori scene, Tokyo offers a wide variety of yakitori establishments ranging from traditional joints to modern izakayas.

  • Osaka: Osaka is famous for its unique take on yakitori, often skewering large chunks of chicken meat and serving them with a rich sauce.

  • Nagoya: In Nagoya, you can find tebasaki yakitori, which are chicken wings seasoned with a spicy glaze, making them a must-try for spice lovers.

  • Hokkaido: In the northern region of Hokkaido, yakitori often incorporates local ingredients such as fresh seafood or vegetables.

  • Kyushu: Kyushu is known for its robust flavors, and this is evident in their yakitori. Skewers here are often marinated in strong sauces and grilled over an open flame.

Remember that the specific style and flavors of yakitori can vary even within these regions. It's worth exploring different places to truly experience the diverse culinary offerings across Japan. Enjoy your journey through the skewer saga!

“Seven Great Yakitori Towns”

If you're a fan of yakitori, then you'll definitely want to explore the 'Seven Great Yakitori Towns' in Japan. These towns are known for their incredible skewered chicken dishes and offer a unique culinary experience.

In Tokyo, you can visit the famous Yakitori Alley in Shinjuku or head to Ebisu for upscale yakitori dining. Osaka is home to Tsutenkaku Tower where you can find a variety of yakitori stalls, and Nagoya boasts its own style called tebasaki-yaki.

If you're in Fukuoka, be sure to try their mouthwatering negima (chicken thigh and leek) skewers. For an authentic yakitori adventure, make sure to visit these seven towns scattered throughout Japan.


In conclusion, Yakitori in Japan offers a delicious and unique dining experience. Whether you're a fan of traditional skewered chicken or interested in trying new gourmet variations, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

So grab a cold beer, gather some friends, and get ready to immerse yourself in the flavors and culture of this beloved Japanese dish. Don't miss out on the Skewer Saga!


Yakitori, essentially meaning ‘grilled chicken’, is a popular type of Japanese street food. It consists of bite-sized pieces of chicken skewered on bamboo sticks and grilled over charcoal. This dish can be found at izakayas, stalls, and dedicated yakitori restaurants throughout Japan, particularly in Tokyo.

Tokyo is home to numerous renowned yakitori restaurants. While the ‘best’ can vary based on individual preferences, many yakitori aficionados highly recommend the chef-run stalls in the city's bustling street food scenes. It's where you can truly experience the crispy, charcoal-grilled chicken skewers, often served with tare sauce or a simple condiment like soy sauce.

There's a diverse range of yakitori types available. For instance, 'Negima' features pieces of chicken thigh and scallion, 'Tsukune' is a kind of chicken meatball skewer, and 'Reba' is made from chicken liver. 'Tebasaki' is chicken wing, while 'Kawa' uses crispy chicken skin. You may even find 'Nankotsu', which uses crunchy cartilage.

The art of grilling yakitori lies in the use of a special yakitori grill and charcoal. The bite-sized pieces of chicken are carefully skewered on bamboo sticks, then grilled over hot charcoal. The skill of the chef plays a vital role in ensuring the yakitori is grilled to a perfect balance of crispy outside and juicy inside.

Yakitori is typically enjoyed as a casual, communal dining experience at an izakaya or a yakitori restaurant. These bite-sized pieces of grilled chicken are often eaten straight from the skewer, sometimes with a dab of tare sauce or condiments. It pairs well with a cold beer or sake.

Almost every part of the chicken can be used to make yakitori. This includes the thigh, skin, liver, and even cartilage. Each part offers a unique texture and flavor, contributing to the variety of yakitori types you can find.

While yakitori traditionally focuses on chicken, some yakitori restaurants may offer vegetarian skewers. These could include skewers of grilled vegetables or tofu. However, it's always a good idea to check the menu or ask the staff beforehand, as offerings can vary from restaurant to restaurant.