After long and productive days working as a foreigner in Japan, you deserve a break. Perhaps a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine? If you love barbeque, then you’re in for a treat with yakiniku! Yakiniku, from the Japanese words yaki (焼き) and niku (肉), literally means “grilled meat.” You could say this is basically just Japanese barbeque, but it’s definitely more than that.
You’ve probably seen Japanese films or TV series with scenes in restaurants, where a group of people sit around a grill and cook their meals on the spot. That’s exactly what you can expect from a yakiniku restaurant! Your colleagues are likely to invite you out at such establishments, and it’s a perfect way to bond while getting your fill of the finest meat in the world!
Table of contents
Yakiniku: A World-Class Japanese BBQ Experience
Going out for yakiniku is a unique culinary experience that could integrate into your daily life as a foreigner in Japan. Typical barbeque restaurants may simply take your order and then serve your food once it’s cooked. In yakiniku restaurants, you’d choose your own meat to grill yourself! This way, you can control how rare you want your barbeque.
Supposedly, the Koreans introduced the method of grilling meat to Japan in the Meiji era. Since then, the Japanese have embraced this cooking technique and made it distinctly their own. They have incorporated Japanese flavors that occur naturally in locally sourced beef, as well as special dipping sauces that vary in every restaurant.
Grab every chance you get to eat out with your friends in Japan! Customer service in yakiniku restaurants is foreigner-friendly, even tourists can manage by themselves. Granted, the entire concept of having to cook your own meal at a restaurant might seem strange to most foreigners. So, we’ve prepared some useful tips for when you grab a bite at a yakiniku restaurant!
Choosing your meat
Most yakiniku establishments in Japan typically serve chicken and pork choice cuts. But what people usually associate with yakiniku is Japanese beef. Japanese beef is called wagyu. Literally, wagyū (和牛) means “Japanese cow.” Still, its global popularity has given the term colloquial status and is also used to refer to the meat itself.
The meat that yakiniku restaurants provide is sliced into thin, bite-sized portions. This makes it quicker to cook and easier to eat. There are many parts of meat to choose from, but the most commonly ordered choice is karubi or short ribs. This meat is full of marbling, which refers to the streaks of fat interspersed along the lean sections of meat.
There are other leaner options like sirloin, which easily dries out as soon as it hits the grill. Juicy skirt meat, which is cut from behind the diaphragm, is also available. Another wide selection that foreigners might find strange is horumon or offal. From beef tongue, heart, liver, and intestines, these internal organs have distinct flavors that appeal only to certain people.
Yakiniku restaurants usually have 2 serving options for your barbeque. You could choose to have around 90 minutes of an all-you-can-eat barbeque buffet. This is called tabehōdai (食べ放題) in Japanese. You could also order by the plate, where you choose a specific type and amount of meat to cook. Either will certainly leave you satisfied!
If you haven’t decided which type of serving is best for you, consider how much your stomach can take. If it’s your first time, you might want to set a limit for yourself. That could be your introductory course to the yakiniku experience. Next time, if you’ve decided that you’re down to eat some more, you could go ahead and pick the best choices from the all-you-can-eat menu!
Cooking your meat
As we’ve mentioned, every yakiniku restaurant will have you cook your own meat. Although there are higher-end yakiniku establishments that cook the meat for you, they make certain that you can see the meat they’re grilling for you. You can rest assured that your barbeque is always newly cooked!
If you find yourself in a restaurant where you’d cook the meat on your own, then you’re in for an exciting dinner. A waiter will attend to your group in the beginning. They will take your orders and then turn on your grill, which could either be a mesh grill or iron griddle.
By the time they come back with your choices of raw meat, the grill should be ready to cook with. Be sure to get your grill up to the right temperature before cooking to avoid having your meat clump up together! Occasionally, when you start cooking, your mesh grill may go up in flames, but don’t panic! That’s just the juices and fats catching fire. Simply move your meats aside to keep them from sitting over the flame for too long.
Another tip is to mind the order in which you cook the meat. It’s better to start out with the cuts that have little to no marinade or sauce. You wouldn’t want to contaminate the flavor of the rest of your choice cuts with the juices of other parts! Cooking beef tongue, horumon, skirt meat, and then short ribs in that order is one popular way to go. When in doubt, ask your local friends for some advice!
Lastly, try to limit your cooking to a slice of meat for each person at your table. Try to resist the urge to immediately cook all the raw meat on your plate at once! There’s no hurry. Start out slowly, savor the moment, and enjoy your company.
It’s finally time to eat! You’ve grilled your choice cuts and now you’re ready to savor the flavors of your freshly cooked barbeque. You can even further enhance its taste with a semi-thick sauce! This concoction is essentially a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, sugar, and garlic. Of course, every restaurant has its own secret recipe!
It’s also interesting to note that some slices would taste better with certain types of sauces. For example, fatty cuts of meat taste incredible when you pair them with sweet sauces! Meanwhile, salt-based sauces bring out the interesting textures and flavors of offal cuts. Try experimenting with the sauces to find the perfect flavor that tickles your palate!
Eating your barbeque with dipping sauce is the traditional method of eating yakiniku. But since the Koreans brought barbequing to Japan, you can expect side dishes with your grilled meat! Most establishments serve Korean lettuce for you to wrap your barbeque in before eating. Some restaurants even serve other popular side-dishes such as kimchi and spinach salad!
Dining at one of these places is perhaps one of the best ways to immerse yourself in Japanese culture. What better way to learn about a country than through its cuisine? Whether you’re going solo or with your friends, grab the opportunity to taste the finest barbeque on earth!
Look forward to grilling this supreme beef once you’re in Japan. After all, some people say that grilling is the best way to bring out the meat’s flavor. Taste the difference for yourself in yakiniku restaurants!
Motto Japan, the community platform to support foreigners with the foundation for life in Japan, including Japanese study, job opportunities, and housing service. Motto Japan Media will provide a wide variety of information for Japanese fans all over the world, to create a cross-cultural environment and enrich the life of foreign residents in Japan!