What’s the Story Behind Yakitori?

Dining in Japan is famously rule-bound. Drinking partners must pour each other’s drinks—never their own; it’s bad luck to stick your chopsticks straight up in a bowl of rice; remember to remove your shoes when dining at low tables on tatami floors; and dip your sushi fish-side down, never rice first, very lightly in soy sauce. But at izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a gastropub, the rules are much more lax. Drinking is the first order of business, the food—served in the style of small plates—is there to help it go down easy.

Don’t expect to find sushi on the menu at an izakaya, or to slurp down a bowl of ramen. Instead, fill up on snacks like gyoza (dumplings), tempura (batter-fried foods), and karaage (fried chicken). There’s also a subset of izakaya, known as yakitori-ya, specializing in grilled chicken. At these restaurants you’ll find every bit of the bird, from wings, thighs, skin, gizzards, livers, and shoulder blade threaded onto skewers and grilled over a special charcoal known as binchotan. The cooks keep a close eye over the meat, controlling the temperature of the fire by fanning the coals with paper fans.  


This week, you can enjoy an izakaya-style meal at home with our yakitori-style meatballs with ginger dipping sauce. Called tsukune, these chicken meatballs come with a Paleo dipping sauce but don’t require a flight or a lesson in table manners to enjoy.