The purpose of my last trip to Japan in October was to study Yakitori in the country that birthed the cuisine. I wanted to understand what Yakitori looks, smells, sounds, and tastes like when executed at the highest level in the motherland.
Few months prior to this trip as I was learning Yakitori on my own, I asked a friend who was visiting Japan to search for and bring back a book called Yakitori Technique. This highly rated comprehensive cookbook features 鳥しき-Torishiki and あやむ屋-Ayamuya, two of Japan’s several Michelin-rated Yakitori shops showing how they breakdown, skewer, and grill their chickens at their shops.
Because it’s so detailed, I have been obsessively reading this book to absorb every word on how the masters do their Yakitori, right down to things like what temperature or time to cook the different parts of the chicken for the best flavor per part. Because I was visiting Tokyo, I wanted to visit one of the featured restaurants in the book, Torishiki operated by Master Ikegawa Yoshiteru.
Reservations for Master Ikegawa’s Torishiki are hard to get as they fill up months in advance so I was unable to visit the shop during my last training trip in October. However, I was able to sit down at the the next best thing, Toriyoshi - Nakameguro, where Master Ikegawa formally trained for 8 years before opening Torishiki.
From what I have read, Toriyoshi is also the shop where New York’s Michelin Star Yakitori shop Torishin’s Master Shu Ikeda trained at as well, so the place has to be legit!
Toriyoshi is located in Nakameguro, a more residential part of Tokyo than a more commercial area like Shibuya. However even the residential neighborhoods in Tokyo are bustling with commercial life, especially with an abundance of quality dining options.
As you walk about 5 minutes from the 中目黒 - Nakameguro train station you come across the wooden sliding doors and a sign that says 鳥よし - Toriyoshi. Boxes of real Kishu Binchotan are stacked up front, so you know you’re at a restaurant serving quality Yakitori!
Slide open Toriyoshi’s doors and step inside to what feels like an Edomae Sushi restaurant. Clean and bright with natural food decor all around with glass refrigerated cases displaying all the pre-made Yakitori skewers. All the workers in the center wearing white attire with headbands, just like Master Ikegawa. Make sure to hang your jacket on the coat hangers behind you, you’re going to need all the upper body room to enjoy the Yakitori and drinks!
There were about 4-5 grill masters working in the center, each designated to serve the 5-6 person section the bar seats.
As you sit down, it’s customary to be asked what you'd like to drink. I always ask for the “nama” meaning raw which is fresh beer from the tap, usually Sapporo or Asahi. Shochu is also very popular. Ordering hot green tea is acceptable if you don’t drink alcohol. Along with the drinks, the server handed right over the glass counter a dish of simple nukazuke - pickled cucumbers and daikon - as well as a dish of grated daikon with soy sauce and a quail yolk on top.
From there you can order off what’s written on the slat boards on the wall or just start pointing at the skewers in the glass display. Honestly you can’t go wrong with any skewer here, but I've created a skewer by skewer guide and review below to help with some of your choices.
Some skewers were presented individually, some came in multiples, some skewers came out before another one I ordered previously. I guess it just depends on what comes off the grill first. Also because popular or limited skewers like Sori (Chicken oysters) might run out, you may want to order them first.
Kashiwa and Tsukune
かしわ-Kashiwa is a skewer that consists of thigh and breast meat, both with skin attached on the meat. In this version two juicy thigh pieces were skewered on top and the breast pieces was placed on the bottom of the skewer. However some shops may alternate thigh-breast-thigh on their Kashiwa skewers. I don’t usually use breast meat at Brewzakaya because it’s generally a bland cut, but when served along with the thigh meat along with the skin on the same skewer it was enjoyable.
The つくね-Tsukune (ground meat) were smaller balls than many other shops, but this made it very easy to bite off the skewers. A very simple Tsukune, that’s not heavy. Easy way to start the meal.
Next up was the “carpaccio” which is Toriyoshi’s take on Torisashi (Chicken Sashimi). These cold slices of raw breast are served two ways at Toriyoshi and I ordered both. One with freshly grated wasabi and another one with grated parmesan cheese and olive oil. I prefer the standard fresh wasabi version as it was more refreshing and went well with the rest of the meal.
さび焼き-Sabiyaki is another name for grilled sasami (tender) that has wasabi on top (hence “sabi”). This Sabiyaki was still a bit pink inside, meaning it was perfectly cooked for mune or sasami Yakitori. Nice and tender. Also just the right amount of wasabi, which was rubbed on the chicken with the chef’s fingers, which surprised me at first. But since sushi chefs use their fingers for putting wasabi on Nigiri, I’m open to this.
Kawa and Sunagimo
皮- Kawa is skin. Rather than longer strips these were layers of smaller pieces so it came off cleanly from the skewers. Very good smoke, however I think they pre-boil it a bit, as it was more chewy than crispy. Pre-boiling the skin makes it easier to skewer, but it also cooks out some of the essential fats. To achieve a good extra crispy Kawa you slowly grill the skewer to let all the fat render from the inside out. I personally prefer to eat and serve non-boiled skin for my Brewzakaya guests to get this extra crispy skin.
Along with the Kawa skewer came out the 砂肝-Sunagimo - "sand guts". This is the gizzard, a digestive organ in birds where gravel is kept inside to help breakdown seeds since birds don’t have teeth to chew their food.
This crunchy skewer is definitely one of my favorites. Especially when it’s fresh it can be perfectly cooked with a pink center which keeps the crispy gizzard texture yet is not dry and rubbery.
軟骨-Nankotsu means cartilage, and usually refers to the soft chest cartilage. This is crunchy and smokey. Nankotsu is always a delight to order as you only get only one chest cartilage per whole chicken. A skewer with 4-5 cartilage pieces can be limited, so make sure to order before they run out!
ぼんじり-Bonjiri is the triangular shaped tail of the chicken. Mostly cartilage and fats, the tail skewer is crispy on the outside and fatty on the inside. There is also the tail bone inside which is crunchy. Awesome!
白玉-Shira (shiro) Tama means white balls. Usually on the menu as Uzura, quail eggs for Yakitori are marinated in soy or tare and are brown, but these eggs at Toriyoshi were plain white and just salted before being grilled. This alternate style is clean and good too!
The 手羽-Teba chicken wings are split and filleted. They were perfectly cooked and easy to bite off the skewers. I personally am a fan of Teba to be cooked whole and not filleted. It takes longer to cook but the meat is much juicier inside with crispy skin outside.
The ソリ-Sori or the chicken oysters are the most tender part of the chicken thighs. The word Sori is short for Soriresu (French: Sot-l'y-laisse) which translates to only the fool leaves it behind. These were big juicy pieces and intensely satisfying to enjoy each bite with my beers.
げんこつ-Genkotsu, also known as Hiza Nankotsu, is the knee cartilage and the thigh meat around it. You get the chewy and crunchy bite from the cartilage as well as the juicy thight meat so it’s definitely a fun skewer. Make sure to order it before they run out!
Dipped in tare, the レバ- Leba here is fatty white and is very creamy. With fresh liver, you don’t have to cook it for a long time, so you don’t get the iron heavy flakey texture found in dry and overcooked liver. If you never liked liver or tried it before, I recommend to order it here at Toriyoshi where it’s executed perfectly, and the tare here is delicious.
Shokudo and Hatsumoto
The 食道-Shokudo is the esophagus which is taken out from the chicken when removing the digestive tract. This was the first time trying esophagus. Very fatty and soft.
The ハツモト-Hatsumoto is the artery/blood vessels part that’s separated from the muscular part of the heart. You can see the artery sticking out the side in the photo. The Hatsumoto renders in its own fat and so it is a bit crunchy and chewy but because it's part of the heart, it has a nice red meat-like flavor.
Our group was already full from the many skewers so we did not opt for a shime rice dish which is how you normally would close off a Yakitori meal. Instead we opted for a non meat skewer and went with 銀杏-Ginnan. These gingko nuts are similar to eating roasted chestnuts and are a bit starchy like biting into a potato, but it is not mushy and has a chewy bite, similar to roasted garlic. Lightly salted and when mixed with the tare on the plate, the Ginnan was a nice clean finish to this big meal.
Okaikei Onegai Shimasu! Check Please!
At Toriyoshi, the cooks keep track of your skewers using a system of colored plastic chips which they add into a basket in front of your table every time you order a skewer. It is enigmatic as a customer observing it, but it appears to be a very efficient system as our assigned cook quickly sorted through the chips and the total bill came out quickly. From photos of Torishiki, Master Ikegawa uses this method too to keep count.
A Must Visit!
It was such a pleasure to enjoy a meal at Toriyoshi. Clean, fresh, upscale, yet energetic and the crowd diverse from young businessman to families, and tourists. The restaurant is worth the 15-30 minute wait. Get there early as some of the rare skewers may run out.
The grilling masters/cook were friendly and explained anything whenever I asked. The quality of the food, the range of the skewers, and the atmosphere is for sure a step up from anything in the states. I was also excited to experience the similarities with Master Ikegawa's Torishiki methods since he trained at Toriyoshi. The best part for me was being able to closely observe classic Yakitori cooking executed at a high level of sophistication, an experience which definitely has contributed to the growth of my own Yakitori for Brewzakaya.
I give it a 4.5/5 Yakitoriguy Stars!
For my second installment in the Kodawari Stories of Japan, I’m covering Ramen in Japan. More specifically Ramen in Sapporo, my hometown, and other nearby cities in Hokkaido, the northern island prefecture of Japan which is also an area famous for Ramen.
Why am I writing about Ramen if my passion is Yakitori? To start, Tori Ramen made with broth from simmered chicken carcass is often served as a Shime (closer) dish at Yakitori shops.
Second, like sushi, Ramen is one of the most influential Kodawari food from Japan that people passionately love to eat and cook worldwide. Ramen was born from the Kodawari of Care to provide sustenance for the everyday people by being a cheap and quick hot meal. In addition, when you eat at the best Ramen shop, you get to experience the Kodawari of Simplicity and the awe-inspiring craftsmanship towards making the most perfect bowl of Ramen.
But the more personal reason why I’m sharing this story on Ramen is because for the first time in years my father joined me for a trip to Japan and we ate 7 bowls of Ramen in 5 days. I’m obsessed with Yakitori but my father and I enjoy eating Ramen in Japan because it’s quick, cheap, and really delicious compared to what you can get here in the states.
Kodawari of Care: Feeding People Through Hot Ramen
Whether in the form of a fresh bowl of Ramen at food stands or in the form of packaged instant noodles, Japan experienced a Ramen boom in the 1950s after the war. Similar to using pork and whole onion to keep prices low with Muroran Yakitori (Kodawari Stories Part 1) for the working class, Ramen grew in popularity in Japan to meet the demands for a quick and cheap hot meal. Noodle dishes were ideal because imported wheat flour was more abundant and cheaper than rice due to Japan’s lack of resources right after the war.
Aji no Sanpei -味の三平-
During this time in Hokkaido, Miso Ramen was invented at 味の三平 Aji no Sanpei. By incorporating miso paste that’s thick and deep in umami as the main flavor instead of a shio or shoyu tare, extra sustenance and calories could be added to Ramen while maintaining its status as an affordable quick meal. This led to a Miso Ramen boom in Sapporo, and the birth of the famous Sumire/Junren Ramen shops in the 60s, which influences Sapporo Ramen even now the disciples from Sumire/Junren chains continue to open up highly ranked Ramen shops for their own.
It is at a Sumire 暖簾分け “Noren Wake” shop (meaning started by disciples and approved by the parent shop. See below for further explanation) called 八乃木 Hachinoki where I was slapped in the face (mouth) with a unique Kodawari feature of piping hot soup. Hachinoki is a highly ranked Ramen shop in the 2019 Hokkaido Ramen Walker guide (a catalog of nearly every highly ranked Ramen shop in Hokkaido) and everything was delightful.
The Miso Ramen bowl I ordered is topped with evenly cut crunchy onions, tender chashu, warm sweet bean sprouts, crisp menma bamboo, and bits of flavorful ground pork. However, it was the hot soup that remained hot even until the last sip that took me by surprise and left a lasting impression.
Junren - 純蓮-
Later that evening I visited Junren, one of the the historical big names in Sapporo Ramen. At Junren, I changed it up from the house special Miso Ramen and ordered the Shoyu Ramen, but there too, the soup was piping hot until the last sip. It’s not my first time having Ramen in Japan but I only experienced this hot soup at Junren and Hachinoki (which is from the same Junren/Sumire lineage). How did they do that? Why is Ramen from Junren/Sumire so hot?
I found out the big Kodawari factor from my Sapporo native friend Ryo who was eating at Junren with me. Hokkaido is the northern Island of Japan and is cold in the fall and winter months. To help the working class folks enjoy a hot meal that stays warm, there is a layer of hot “abura” (oil) on top of the soup to prevent the dish from cooling down. Later I checked in with Mike Satinover, The Ramen Lord (@Ramenover), my go-to expert for all things Ramen, and he explained that the abura is from lard (not oil) that’s cooked together with the veggies like bean sprouts and mixed with the soup directly in a hot iron wok.
You may have observed Ramen being plated together in the kitchen where it’s usually just strained hot noodles placed in a bowl, poured over with hot soup from a pot, and then the toppings are added. Cooking the vegetables with the lard along with the soup and pouring this hot mix into the bowl to keep the whole dish enjoyable and hot until the last sip is the extra Kodawari aspect of Sapporo Ramen from Junren/Sumire.
While Aji no Sanpei may claim to have invented Miso Ramen, Sumire/Junren refined it with extra Kodawari steps that make the dish special. The Sumire/Junren brand name and their offshoots are really popular in Japan and companies have packaged their flavors for instant Ramen that’s sold nationwide. This is a true example that demonstrates cooking honest solid food out of care and Kodawari will lead to a loyal following.
To read more about the interesting and maybe confusing history of Sumire/Junren naming of the shops see Ramen Lord’s post as he is definitely an expert on the history of Sapporo ramen.
Kodawari of Care in other Hokkaido Ramen
In the same time the Sapporo Miso Ramen boomed for its purpose to provide a flavorful sustenance in a quick meal, another Ramen shop in Hokkaido added original spices of their own and invented the Curry Ramen.
Aji no Daiou - 味の大王-
During the mid 60’s, Ramen Shop Aji no Daiou developed this Curry Ramen in the city of Tomakomai about an hour south of Sapporo. Similar to the new hot and hearty Miso Ramen, the Kodawari point in this Ramen was to have spicy (by Japanese standards, so it’s pretty mild) flavors of curry help warm the body during the cold winters of Hokkaido. Bean sprouts, chashu, and Hokkaido wakame seaweed top their classic Curry Ramen which I definitely would love to see executed in the states.
Kodawari of Simplicity: Restraint and Refinement
The beauty of Japanese food is in the Kodawari for achieving refinement even in the simplest of dishes. While Western cooking focusses on adding more ingredients and complexity to create something grand, Japanese cooking is focussed on doing more with less and letting the ingredients shine on their own (素材を活かすSozai Wo Ikasu).
The best example of Sozai Wo Ikasu is sushi in Japan compared with sushi in America. Think of the Maguro Tuna Nigiri in the Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary. The best tuna fillet from Tsukiji market (now Toyosu market) is precisely sliced in a single stroke with a special single bevelled knife that is masterfully crafted like a Katana sword. This bite-sized Maguro slice is quickly placed on top of perfectly cooked and vinegar seasoned rice cultivated from the best rice farm. Squeezed into nigiri at just the right pressure and speed to not compress the rice or raise the temperature of the fish, Jiro’s body movements are perfected from years of repetition. Just fresh Maguro, seasoned rice, maybe a brush of soy sauce, plus solid refined technique.
On the opposite spectrum visualize some Rainbow Rolls or the Caterpillar Rolls with an explosion of ingredients, flavors, and colors from the abundant garnish and toppings. So much happening on one plate, yet in terms of complexity as a dish a Rainbow Roll is easily approachable enough that it is often taught in a single sushi making class session. In this form of execution, the freshness of the fish or how precisely you slice it is not as important as the pure Maguro Nigiri. Roughly cut, previously frozen fish can be uplifted with extra toppings such as tempura crisps, tobiko, and spicy mayo sauce. This is “Sushi” that’s popular in American Japanese restaurants. You might argue that it’s an unfair comparison, but compare the Instagram food photos between diners in Japan and diners and what’s trending on #foodporn or search for Sushi on Yelp and you start seeing what Western restaurant trends and the Western palate is like.
However palates are evolving and films like Jiro Dreams of Sushi or global food documenting celebrity chefs like David Chang and the late Anthony Bourdain have been contributing to more exposure and awareness. This is why I’m excited to continue to push Kodawari Yakitori in America. People just need these Kodawari differences between Japanese and Western cooking pointed out to them so they can pursue something different than the current status quo.
Itadakimasu - The Culture of Purity on the Dining Table
The Kodawari for purity and refining simplicity has its deep roots in the Japanese culture that focuses on appreciating, respecting, and worshipping the spiritual life that goes into everything. All over Japan there are temples, shrines, and festivals dedicated to the Kami or gods that represent everything; animals, trees, rivers, lightning (More Spirited Away gods than sexy Thor).
This Japanese tradition of appreciating everything in life is apparent at the dining table too. Before every meal, the custom is to put your hands in prayer and say “Itadakimasu” いただきます. Meaning “I’m about to partake in this meal” but really is more about saying “thank you for those who cooked it, to those animals or plants who gave up its life, and I’m grateful I’m about to have this meal.” Go to any restaurant in Japan, and you will most likely see a group put their hands together and say Itadakimasu, right after a quick photo of their food. Got to do it for the Gram!
Refinement and Purity Kodawari in Ramen
Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q
When simplicity is refined you get sophistication, and that’s what you can experience at Ramen Noodle Lab Q located in Odori Sapporo. I seeked this shop known for their refined modern Kodawari Shoyu Ramen. Because heavy pork based Ramen is popular in the American Ramen scene, Shoyu Ramen is an afterthought on the menu in the states. Shoyu Ramen in America is just one dimension; salty from the soy sauce but bland with no additional layers of taste. I was looking forward to this highly rated execution at Noodle Lab Q to blow me away and believe in the potential of great Shoyu Ramen. And it definitely did!
I ordered their famous Shoyu Ramen with the extra chashu. I also ordered the binchotan chicken on the side as this restaurant switches into a Yakitori restaurant at night. First off, just juicy chicken + salt + binchotan = wow. What a start to set the tone of the Japanese refined simplicity Kodawari.
On to the Ramen. Starting with the presentation of this bowl, you can just experience refinement through restraint. Topped with gradients of pink in the Chashu, bright green Mitsuba leaf, with a peek of the noodles and the dark but clear soup through a gap between the Chashu slices.
This Chashu set blew my mind too. The server carefully describes the 3 different Chashu of shoulder, loin, and leg each with slightly different tenderness. Below the pork Chashu was the 4th Chashu made with Kombu dashi simmered chicken breast which was extra soft and packed with earthy spices; Sansho maybe.
The noodles are easy to pick up and slurp because the chef makes sure to pull it up and neatly folds it over, not just dumped in the middle of the bowl from the strainer. And the soup, made with Tare using 8 different soy sauces and Kombu is balanced with the chicken broth using 4 different types of chicken. All of this effort resulted in a soup with simplicity and complexity you’d expect from fine French Consomme. Perfect, just perfect.
The beautiful presentation along with the complex flavors and textures from the toppings, noodles, and soup, is sophistication that has developed with the Kodawari soul and evolution of Ramen. As of now, you can’t find a bowl of Ramen like this in the states especially for 1300 Yen (around $12) tips tax included. The owner has dreams of opening a Ramen shop in America. Yes, we need you now!
Other Kodawari in Ramen:
Hakodate Noodle Ajisai -函館麺厨房あじさい-
The Shio Ramen at Ajisai, a small chain based out of Hakodate has been around since 1930. Being that Hakodate is a port city in Hokkaido, the ultra clear and clean broth made with sea salt, Hokkaido Kombu, pork, and chicken represents the old school Kodawari that still holds well with age even nearly a century later. For those who’re familiar with the House of Prime Rib in San Francisco, or Katz Deli in New York, this experience is similar, the taste and experience just takes you back in time but doesn’t feel dated. And because black pepper goes with salt, you need to try their special pepper oil to help compliment the dish to preference.
Mendokoro Maruha Rise - 麺処まるは RISE-
At Mendokoro Maruha Rise, their speciality is a scallop based Ramen with Kodawari Chashu. At shops that are proud of their Kodawari chashu, you can always order more, often served on the side. For the Scallop Ramen, the fragrant aroma of shellfish hits you hard with each sip of the soup. However, because it’s a lighter broth, the Kodawari point is in their use of earthy noodles which incorporates soba (buckwheat) flour.
Shirakaba Sansou - 白樺山荘 -
At Shirakaba Sansou, every table at every one of it’s chain shops comes with a basket of hard boiled eggs. Like bread, these eggs are free to consume so you have something to eat while you wait for your Ramen. It’s this kind of small touch of hospitality that’s the care point of Kodawari. Just don’t eat too much egg, you still need to leave room for their hearty Miso Ramen.
And just like you start the meal by gratefully saying “Itadakimasu”, you end the meal with your hands together and say “Gochisousama” ごちそうさま or “Gochisousama deshita!” ごちそうさまでした Meaning Thank you, I am grateful, and satisfied with your great meal. The ramen bowls at some shops had messages printed at the bottom for those who finished the entire dish. This is another Kodawari experience of eating ramen.
The Kodawari I experienced eating Ramen in Hokkaido has definitely influenced my Yakitori cooking style upon my return from my trip to Japan. My biggest takeaway is to focus more on refinement and simplicity which defines the Japanese culinary way. Although I always incorporated Kodawari in my dishes already, my standards toward the attention to detail and being disciplined about doing more with less have further increased after eating the Ramen and Yakitori in Japan.
However I still grew up in America so my Yakitori does include my own Western (or global) influences on top of my Japanese identity. I believe there’s a new point of culmination where both Japanese Kodawari and the melting pot of Western culinary flavors (South American, Southeast Asian, Mediterranean etc.) can merge together in harmony.
Ramen evolved in Japan through the thoughtful use of local ingredients and necessary tweaks to meet the needs of customers and circumstances in that generation. Just like Miso Ramen and Curry Ramen developed as new ideas to THOUGHTFULLY serve the needs of the customers, I believe I can do that with Kodawari California Yakitori utilizing local ingredients and refining my technique to let the local and carefully selected ingredients shine by elevating it’s distinct strengths (“sozoi wo ikasu”). I use Chicken from Central California, and incorporate a variety of California grown citrus, Avocados, and Gilroy Garlic because it just tastes better when it’s local and I want to graciously support the local growers that provide for these ingredients.
Food is a medium for a conversation between the chef and the customers. It’s a non-verbal emotional dialogue of flavors, smells, sounds of cooking reciprocated back by body language like smiles, giggles, nods, wide open eyes, and even joyful hands in the air dancing.
You appreciate amazing food, and as the chef we enjoy seeing you taking in every bite of you food with a smile. Even if you don’t remember the word “Gochisousama”, I want to make sure you feel the spirit of that phrase and you’re grinning inside-out as you complete the meal. And just for that, I’ll continue to work hard in the kitchen.
If you have any questions, or feedback about the Ramen in this post always feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com!
Addendum: What is Noren Wake 暖簾分け?
Noren 暖簾 is the curtain type signage that's in front of shops in Japan. It also serves as the open/closed signs you see in businesses in the states. A wooden bar holding the Noren is put up when the shop is open, and taken down and stored inside to signify that the business is done for the day.
The term 暖簾分け Norenwake (Wah-Kay) refers to when disciples of a shop decides to go independent with the lessons he/she learned with approval from the master. The influences of techniques, operations, or menu items from the original shop can clearly be seen in the new shop. The resemblance in the Ramen between Hachinoki and Junren or Sumire and Saimi is because they are all from the similar lineage. Some shops may go as far as leaving the name of the master shop on the side of their own Noren to signify its roots.
This past October, I took a trip to Japan with two important motives so I can develop further as a Yakitori chef. The first motive was to eat at various Yakitori shops in Japan for inspiration and train with Yakitori masters. The second motive was to experience the こだわり"KODAWARI" (the care, passion, and attention to detail) found pretty much everywhere in Japan whether it’s in food (sushi, ramen, even donuts), drinks (green tea, sake, whisky), consumer products (electronics, kitchen tools, high-tech toilets), or even in the customer service (flight attendants, hotel staff, monks at temples).
Over the next few blog posts I’ll be sharing a variety of stories on ramen, drinks, and even giant robots that reveal the Kodawari culture of Japan. For this post, I'm starting with the first Kodawari discovery of Japan; Hokkaido Yakitori which is the inspiration for my Hokkaido Negima I serve at Brewzakaya events.
The first Yakitori shop I got to try in Japan during this trip was Yakitori no Ippei (焼き鳥の一平) a popular chain in Hokkaido which serves Yakitori that is definitely distinguishable from Yakitori in other regions of Japan or in the states.
History of Muroran Yakitori
Yakitori no Ippei has its humble roots in Muroran during the Meiji era in 1909. Muroran was one of the first major port cities that led to the modernization of Hokkaido, which until that point was populated by the indigenous Ainu people. This city became a trade and cultural portal between Hokkaido and Honshu (the mainland) during the 1800’s.
Because Muroran is a port city that’s populated by blue collared workers from the steel mills, shipyards, coal and cement factories, izakaya dishes had to be accessible for these diners by being quick, fresh, and cheap.
The Unique Kodawari Details of Muroran Yakitori
Kodawari 1: Pork -For the purpose of serving fresh and cheap bites, Muroran Yakitori uses pork instead of chicken. Considering Yakitori means grilled chicken, it’s definitely confusing that it’s still called Yakitori and not Yakiton, with “ton” meaning pork like in tonkotsu or tonkatsu. Because pork was more accessible in the region and cheaper to raise especially during the resources depleted world war era, grilling this alternate meat allowed the working class people to enjoy “Yakitori” in Muroran. On Yakitori no Ippei’s menu, we see this historical significance but it's also mentioned that they continue to use pork because of its rich texture and flavors. Although pork is this shop’s best seller, many chicken dishes are available too.
Kodawari 2: Whole Onions- Similar to the use of pork as a cheaper and more abundant source of meat, Muroran yakitori uses yellow onions instead of green onions commonly found in the negima in Honshu. Yellow onions provides a natural sweetness and a nice crunchy texture from the thick slices. Onions are even placed in other Yakitori skewers at Ippei such as in the skin, liver, and gizzards.
Kodawari 3: Karashi Mustard - The use of hot karashi yellow mustard as the main condiment. While there's a variety of sauces and spices you can put on Yakitori such as ume plum, shichimi, salt, lemon, or yuzu kosho, Muroran Yakitori uses spicy yellow mustard. Their kodawari reason is that the mustard further enhances the rich flavors of pork and other fatty skewers.
Kodawari 4: Legendary Sauce - A century old tare sauce. The base of all Yakitori sauce is sake, sugar, and soy sauce. However by dipping the meat and vegetable skewers into the sauce as part of the cooking process, the juice drippings add to the flavors of the sauce. By adding new virgin tare into a container of old tare every night, Yakitori shops can maintain sauces that are multiple generations old. In Yakitori no Ippei’s case, their sauce is over a hundred years old! My sauce is currently at 10 months old. I hope to one day have a deep old sauce too to serve to my customers.
The Yakitori no Ippei shop I visited was in the downtown Susukino area of Sapporo but there are several location across southern Hokkaido. Although in Japanese you can see the other locations on their website.
Other Dishes to try at Yakitori no Ippei
Raw chicken breast sashimi. However they cooked the outside a bit here. Served with soy sauce and wasabi. Torisashi refers to all types of tori (chicken) sashimi. Other shops in Japan serve other parts such as heart, gizzard, and even liver (tastes like uni) as sashimi.
Kawa - Skin
The Muroran way with tare, onion, and karashi mustard. The crunch of the onions in contrast to the crispy skin was very satisfying.
Sasami with Ume
Sasami (chicken tender) grilled with just salt (no tare) topped with tangy pickled plum sauce was a nice palate cleansing change to the other Hokkaido style skewers centered around the tare and mustard.
Yakionigiri and Tori Zousui
For the shime closer round, I went with the Tori Zosui (chicken and egg rice porridge) and the Yakionigiri with the butter. Hokkaido is famous for the dairy farms, so having the fresh butter on the crispy grilled rice was a no brainer. The Tori Zosui is a very simple chicken broth with dashi and is very comforting at the end of the meal.
Kodawari is Contagious
Eat around and you will easily find the influence of Muroran Yakitori in other Hokkaido Yakitori shops. Whether it was the use of whole onions or karashi mustard, it’s amazing to see how food trends can spread and creates an identity for that region.
Kodawari brings out the Best of Those Around You
Whether or not resources are limited such as in old town Muroran, using what’s available in the best way to serve the customer is one of the biggest example of Kodawari practiced by chefs in Japan. Through eating the unique Yakitori in Hokkaido I got to understand that first hand. This lesson has strongly influenced me to take advantage of local ingredients and flavors that make up California cuisine.
I already use avocados, local meyer lemons, and incorporate American salts in my dishes, but I wouldn’t rule out Mexican flavors or other ethnic influences in future Yakitori dishes in America. I use lime as an alternative to traditional lemon in many of my plates and if you think about it, Yuzu-Kosho is basically a Japanese Salsa Verde. How about some Crispy Yaki Pollo Skin Tacos? Maybe that could be the next big food truck trend!
The next public Brewzakaya event is December 8th at Itani Ramen in Oakland!
Come checkout a 7 round Izakaya dinner featuring crowd favorite menu items off the grill. I'll be cooking with Itani Ramen chef-owner Kyle Itani in the kitchen, finishing the dinner with a collab dish, a chicken yaki-ramen soup for the "shime" closer round!
And just like neighborhood Izakayas in Japan, we'll be offering a special "nomihoudai" option too, meaning all you can drink of various beverages that pairs with Yakitori like cold mug Asahi draft and oolong chuuhais during the duration of the dinner!
The event will be held in the private and fun Genki room, featuring amazing Japanese print artwork from @fuji1kenobe.
Space is limited so RSVP now by calling: (510) 788-7489 or emailing: INFO@ITANIRAMEN.COM
Looking forward to meeting friends and fans of Brewzakaya!
BREWZAKAYA POP-UP MENU
$65 PER PERSON
Optional $45 nomihoudai*
Miso Avocado – 24 hr. miso + mirin marinade, meyer lemon
Tori Hamu – sous-vide chicken breast, olive oil, peppercorn
Bacon Tomato - kumato mini tomatoes, hickory smoked bacon, kewpie mayo, ichimi
Momokawa - grilled chicken thigh, lime, salt
Enoki Karaage - soy + sesame marinated enoki mushrooms, fried in a mochiko rice flour, matcha salt, yuzu salt
Miso Eggplant - grilled Japanese eggplant, garlic miso
YakitoriBaka Heart - chicken heart, shichimi togarashi, sansyo. Special skewer technique by Chef YakitoriBaka, Tokyo
Hokkaido Negima - chicken thigh, onion, tare sauce, karashi mustard
Teba - grilled chicken wings, lime, yuzu kosho
Miso Pickles - radish, carrots, cucumbers
Shiso Maki – shiso wrapped chicken thigh, ume sauce, salt cured shirasu sardines
Chicken Skin - breast, butt + shoulder skin, aloha sea salt, meyer lemon
Yaki Ramen Chicken Soup - grilled ramen noodles, chicken bone shio soup, shiso, yuzu, bonito, tempura crisps
For the Road
Chocolate Truffle To-Go - ganache with cocoa + matcha powder
CALL: (510) 788-7489
*Nomihodai - We can not and will not knowingly sell or serve alcohol to any individual who is drunk or intoxicated.
Today I’m very excited to launch the Brewzakaya website and share about my new journey in life. The purpose of this site is to capture my journey of learning about the history, culture, and cuisine of Izakaya dining. From Yakitori and other small plates to sake and other Japanese drinks I hope to share my passion of Japanese food culture with friends, family, and the online community.
On this site I will be posting stories about the food and drinks found at Izakayas as well as the masters (the Japanese way of saying head chef) of these establishments. Because I believe everyone should be able to eat good food, I will also be posting recipes and other cooking related content in hopes that anyone following my work can recreate some of my favorite dishes in the comforts of your own home.
So what is Brewzakaya?
Like sake or beer, good things that can be enjoyed with family and friends are slowly brewed over time with great Kodawari (meaning care and attention to detail). Brewzakaya is my dream of brewing an Izakaya from scratch. I’m working on this dream by hosting Izakaya parties and pop-ups where people can come together and enjoy a relaxed night with my Kodawari Yakitori and Japanese cocktails.
Maybe one day I’ll be running my own physical Izakaya or possibly multiple establishments around the world. However I’m not thinking too far out yet because Brewzakaya isn’t really just about my desires and isn’t tied to a physical location. Already, friends have started Yakitori parties on their own based on recipes, techniques, and cooking tools I’ve shared with them. Brewzakaya has the potential to be part of a global movement where Izakaya dishes can be enjoyed by everyone anywhere. And that’s a dream I’m super thrilled to be a part of.
Why am I passionate about Izakaya and Yakitori culture?
Izakaya simply is the Japanese word for a drinking establishment that serves food. Whether at a restaurant, pub, or a party at home, coming together with friends and family to enjoy food and drinks is something every culture has their version of, and anyone should be able to get behind.
Yakitori is one of my favorite food items along with ramen and tacos. Ever since my 2018 New Years resolution to learn how to make Yakitori, I have eaten Yakitori at least few times a week, every week, and I have not missed a beat. The smoky smell from the char, the sizzling sound of the oozing juices, and the flavors of the perfectly skewered chicken in my mouth is something I obsess about everyday. When executed at the highest level like a complex bowl of ramen or a precisely pressed nigiri, the perfect Yakitori has the potential to be a dish that will blow the minds of any diner within the first bite of the skewer.
I’m still new on this endeavor but I’ve been eating at delicious Izakayas and meeting amazing Yakitori and sake masters this year. The world needs to know about these places and people.
Did I mention that I’ve been cooking up lots of Yakitori this year? I’m getting pretty decent at it too, especially when the Yakitori masters have been very awesome about sharing their techniques with me. I want to share all these experiences and stories with you too!
Until recently, my career has been in developing and connecting with product users from around the world as a community manager for tech startups. While in that career, I realized the part of the job which I enjoyed the most is the role of a facilitator that brings together the diverse group of users sharing the same interest for that product.
It’s the same relationship for Izakaya masters and their customers. Instead of talking about app updates and Bluetooth connections, with Brewzakaya I'm bringing together the community through my Kodawari cooking and discussions about Japanese food and drinks.
Irrasshai mase! And welcome to the Brewzakaya kitchen. I’m ready to serve you!
To see new menu items in development for the next pop-up check out @brewzakaya and to see other behind the scene things I’m working on, make sure to follow @yakitoriguy.