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Friday, August 24, 2007

More On Japanese Grilling:

Japanese people love to grill. Yakitori (literally means grilled bird) is the most famous type of Japanese barbecue, but it is not the only thing we cook this way. We also love to grill all kinds of seafood, from scallops in the shell to a whole fish, squid and eel, plus beef, rice balls, and the list goes on and on. While I was in Japan, I had some great grilled food. In Hokkaido, the northern island, I had grilled herring. Herring roe is known as Kazunoko and is considered to be a delicacy (and very expensive!!!). The photo below shows whole herring being cooked over a charcoal grill at a cafeteria in Otaru, a city about 25 minutes by bus from Sapporo.

The fishermen in this town used to harvest more than a million tons of herring per season, but due to overfishing this decreased to only 100 tons by 1955. Still, Pacific herring come back to Hokkaido every spring to spawn, and people love to eat them grilled. At this cafeteria, they grilled all the seafood to order.

Here are some botan ebi (giant crayfish), scallops in the shell,
and tsubu kai (small conch) being grilled.

Three waitresses putting seafood on the grill
as customers order it.

Normally we eat grilled food with just salt on them, or a little bit of soy sauce. No heavy BBQ sauce. We love simple seasonings to get the most out of the taste of seafood. The tsubu kai looks like a turban shell, and you have to pick the meat with toothpick. I know they do not look so appetizing, but who cares about how they look? It tasted a little bit like something between clam and octopus, if you can imagine the taste. Maybe not... But I really liked them. I knew that they were fresh out of ocean, grilled to order, with just a little bit of soy sauce, and they were hot when they came off the grill.

How could you resist them?

The other place I went during my visit to Japan was this yakitori place, near Iidabashi station in Tokyo. One of my best friends took me there. The place was very tiny, with just a counter and 4 tables. The restaurant is also a butcher shop, and all of the meat on the menu is from their store. When Japanese grill a chicken, it’s not just meat that we eat. We eat the organ meat and nearly everything but the feathers.

The top two skewers are kidneys, the bottom two are hearts.
It was very hot that day, so that draft beer tasted really good.

A typical yakitori-ya (-ya means a house) offers a variety of grilled meat and vegetables, and we order them by the skewer as we drink and enjoy casual conversation among friends about work and relationships. The seasoning is usually either just salt or tare, which means a sauce, similar to teriyaki, made with soy sauce, sake, sugar, and some other secret ingredients special to that particular yakitori-ya you are at. At this place we went in Tokyo, everything we ate was seasoned with just right amount of salt. Personally I prefer salt to sauce, because sauce tends to hide the taste of whatever I am having.

The next dish was two each of:
foie gras , quail eggs, tails, and the gizzards.

Next we ate the cartilage from the center of the
breast bone. This is a particular Japanese thing that
I really love grilled with a little salt!

Yes, we eat chicken tails! The tail is nothing but skin and fat. The skin was crunchy, and it was pretty tasty. It is funny to see many Americans trim these fatty parts and throw them away. They trim chicken fat, beef fat, and the fatty part from salmon and swordfish. The fatty part on the fish is usually the belly part, and that’s actually the best part you can have healthwise, but many Americans don’t realize this. They always like to go low fat, then eat an entire pound of whatever they ordered, totally overeating and that’s why there is this epidemic of obesity. Anyway, if you consume everything in moderation, you would not have to worry about the fat content too much. Besides chicken fat is very tasty (think schmaltz). Anyway, I had a great time with my best friend, drinking beer, eating yakitori and talking about life….


The Commoner said...

Great post! Loved the pictures and the commentary was informative both in terms of the food and the local culture. What a great team you two are turning out to be. When's the first books coming out? The TV series? You might be able to make some audio and video podcasts and add them to this site in the meantime.

Chiko & Jon said...

Thank you my brother-in-law!!! I'm glad you enjoyed my latest post. It is fun to write these stuff.... I learned a lot too:-)