Beer, french fries, chicken wings, sausages…all the mouth watering, unhealthy, yet addictive snacks we have while hanging out with friends in a pub or bars. But how about when you are in Japan and wants a place to relax, drink , eat and chat all at the same time?
There is a saying “When in Rome, do what Romans do.” So as we are in Japan and wants a beer or two to unwind after a whole day of walking around, we decided to chill in Japanese style: Go to a Yakitori Place.
Yakitori means grilled chicken. In Japan, yakitori shops serve a great variety of food grilled on a sitck: onions, meat kebab, chicken, shrimp, bacon..etc. Many yakitori places also offers smaller portions of food like single person hotpot, fried rice, potstickers, udon…and so on. The thing that makes yakitori place quite adventurous is that because we cannot read Japanese well (Kanji and Katakana are killers for me) and just randomly point our fingers on the menu, we never know what part of chicken we are eating. (They literally serves almost all parts grilled or fried, like intestines, butt, wings, testicles, you name it, and there is a good chance they have it.)
Searching for a yakitori place that suits your taste and wallet takes effort and some trials. Every yakitori place’s meat has slightly different marinate sauce along with other special dishes. Take your time and compare the prices on the menu placed outside of the shops in Shinjuku. Most of the yakitori places now have English menus either on paper or electronically if you ask. We decided to go to a yakitori place that many of JL’s Japanese classmates recommended. The place is called Torigen (鳥元)
Torigen is a chain yakitori restaurant that has shops in several parts of Tokyo and nearby cities. The best thing is that if you sit at the counter/bar, you will be able to see the chefs grillings the chickens and meat right in front of you (many other yakitori places do not have this view). This is a highly popular yakitori shop among the locals, and often is completely full by around 7pm with the waiting time for about an hour.
We always start our ordering of food with a cucumber dish. The marinated cucumbers here in Japan are really crisp, refreshing, and sweet. Every yakitori place’s cucumber starter dish also tastes different.
We then ordered (From right to left) 1. Onions on a stick 2. Chicken skin on a stick 3. Chicken thigh with seaweed.The chicken skin was really crispy, almost like potato chips. The grilled onion was a little too much for me.
We then saw people ordering meat kebabs. The smell of the kebabs was so intense and full of aroma of spices that we could not resist the temptation and ordered 2 different kinds: 1. One with daikon (white carrot) 2. One with grilled cheese on top. Both are very juicy and marinated well so I did not even dip it in the sauce.
Advice If You are Interested to Eat at A Yakitori Place:
1. Bring electronic dictionary: Although many yakitori places now offers English Menu, Torigen (the specific shop) did not hand us the English menu. There was an waitress at Torigen who speaks English well, and helped us to understand some of the menu items. Older, more traditional yakitori places do not have photos in their menus, so do bring an electronic dictionary/translator /or learn some simple Japanese prior to the visit.
2. Compare prices. Torigen was pricy, we ate 8 sticks of food, 2 beers, a starter dish, udon, and soba. All portions are small when compared to American food sizes. The total came out to about $40,00-50,00 yen (around $50-60 USD). We did not care because it was like the best yakitori we have tasted in Shinjuku.
3. Don’t Ask Too Much and Just Eat. If you are adventurous and happens to point at a random item on the menu when ordering (due to language issues), eat first before you ask what it is. You might surprise yourself and find some food you would not have tried otherwise tasty.
4. Go Early. Yakitori places are usually full by 7-8pm. The waiting time for popular yakitori places are usually 30minutes to an hour long (especially Thursday-Saturday nights). Go early will ensure you not only a space, but faster service. We ordered the meat kebab later around 6:40pm, and the waiting time for the food was around 20minutes since they had a lot of orders to fill.
5. Research. Wikipedia has a list of meat commonly served in yakitori shops in both Japanese and English (Click Here). You can also visit yakitori shops’ websites first to see if they have English websites.
Torigen Yakitori Website: http://www.torigen.jp/en.html
Torigen Shinjuku Address: 1-12-7 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0023 (Shinjuku Station West Exit)
Torigen Shinjuku Map: