Note: This is the second chapter in a two-part series about Precision Yakitori in Japan, featuring the Yakitori prep and the cooking at Yakitori Moe West. While you can read this chapter on its own to start, I recommend going back and reading chapter 1 afterwards to see all the work that goes into making Kodawari Yakitori skewers.
Kappabashi - The Kitchen District
After the magical experience of witnessing the whole prep process at Yakitori Moe West, I left to go meet up with my friends Keiko and Rashad who recently transitioned from a career of Hospitality in Las Vegas to start a food tourism venture in Japan. They had told me about Kappabashi, Tokyo’s Kitchenware district so we decided to spend some time before my dinner back at Yakitori Moe West exploring this part of town which was recommended as a must visit for any professional or novice cooks.
Because the district stretches for 10 blocks and spreads into the side streets you can spend all day just walking around, but it’s probably best to focus on few key items you may have been wishing for such as a quality Japanese knife. My ambitious goal was to look at Yakitori signs, Binchotan grills, knives, plates, aprons, and ceramic pots for Yakitori Tare sauce in the 2 short hours there.
These plates are very similar to the ones I can find in Japantown for $10 to $15 each. At these shops in Kappabashi they are around 200-400 Yen (about $2-$4) each. If you find a plate you like, I recommend buying two, just in case it breaks during the flight back.
Here are just a few of the grills on display at the commercial kitchen equipment shops. More variety of grills are available inside. When it comes to cookware like these Yakitori grills, you’re going to come across a variety of sizes and different quality levels that reflects on the price. Also, many of these appliances are not compatible with kitchen standards (electricity or gas connections) outside Japan so you need to keep that in mind.
Keiko helped me look for clay pots to store my one year old Yakitori Tare sauce. However, I decided I’ll get a pot like this when I have a brick and mortar Yakitori shop. Until then, my plastic pot with a sealing lid helps me travel around with my sauce.
You can find everything at Kappabashi for restaurants, including signs, chef's wear and even the model display food items you see in front of Japanese restaurants and cafes.
The Kodawari of Kappabashi
Along with plates, Yakitori sign, and a new apron, I purchased a Damascus petty knife in Kappabashi and the owner told me he will sharpen it for me before boxing it. When I asked why, he explained that knives from the factory come with only about 80% sharpness. This process of the first sharpening is called Honbazuke 本刃付け which means putting on (or exposing) the knife’s real edge.
He spent at least 15 minutes using various grits of whetstones to sharpen it to a razor-like edge that I still can’t reproduce even though I’ve gotten decent at using my whetstones.
Unlike shopping for kitchen supplies at a big-box retailer like Crate and Barrel or Bed Bad and Beyond you will receive expert advice and service because each of these shop owners in Kappabashi is a specialist in their domain. They may sell Japanese knives at Williams Sonoma too (at prices greater than Kappabashi) but no employee is going to teach you about Honbazuke or offer an expert sharpening service free of charge for you.
Getting to Kappabashi
To get to Kappabashi in Tokyo, take the metro and get off the Tawaramachi station. Just walk west for about 3 blocks and when you see a building with a giant chef’s head status on top you know you’re there. From there on just walk for block after block to experience an overwhelming collection of shops specializing in all things useful for home and professional kitchens.
100 Yen Yakitori on the Street
On the walk back to the Tawaramachi metro station I noticed a charming Grandmom and Grandpop street vendor selling a limited offering of Yakitori skewers for 100 Yen each.
In Japan, I just can’t seem to get away from Yakitori. Even though I was on my way to my first of two Yakitori dinners, I had to stop at this vendor and order a liver skewer.
It’s not the best tasting liver in my life, but definitely better than anything in the states. Most importantly it was only a single 100 Yen coin and to have hot food cooked with charcoal by the lovely grandma on this rainy night was truly heartwarming.
After Kappabashi, I hurried to my first Yakitori dinner of the night in Akasaka at a place called Iyama where I had some amazing Torisashi (chicken sashimi) including raw liver, raw gizzard, and raw heart. I’ll save that experience for a future blog post. For now, let’s get back to Yakitori Moe West!
Back to Yakitori Moe West
It was 8:40 PM when I finished my first Yakitori dinner at Iyama. I walked back to Roppongi to Yakitori Moe West for a 9 PM seating to meet a friend so we can enjoy Daisuke’s meal and devour all the grilled versions of the skewers I witnessed being prepped in the morning. I was greeted by the front staff and seated at the counter, where right in front was chef Daisuke in full focus mode with his bandana and Japanese chef uniform. This is what you would call カッコイイ！Kakkoii. Super cool!
Zensai - Appetizers
Along with my Oolong Chuhai (Shochu cocktail) to start came the elegant appetizer set that immediately told me this is not the typical Yakitori dining experience.
Small Ayu (sweet fish) roe and salted coffee powder on top. A Sablé soft cookie made with Matsutake, a premium Japanese mushroom sought after for its fragrant smell and flavors. Lastly, there is the house-smoked salmon with guacamole on a wafer cup.
Wow, am I at a French restaurant? The Japanese ingredients like Ayu and Matsutake and the Momiji (Japanese maple) leaf which is a common garnish in Kaiseki dishes reminded me that this is a Japanese restaurant. These Zensai items change all the time to make it fun for the guests.
Hatsu - Heart
I’m not sure if this was done on purpose, but the Yakitori that had the most meaning for my visit came out as the first Yakitori. As mentioned in the heart section of chapter 1, it was this unique Yakitoribaka heart skewer style that sparked the cross-county conversation with Daisuke on social media.
By skewering the heart with the halves split and the fattiest parts in the inside, you get a very juicy bite of heart. One bite and I’m in heaven, but luckily this skewer comes with 3 Yakitoribaka hearts!
Konbuzuke Sasami - Tender
This chicken tender has been marinated in Konbu dashi for 2 days which enhances what would normally be a tender but rather simple white meat skewer. The Konbu flavor is subtle and does not get in the way of the natural delicate flavors of Jidori chicken tender.
Topped with wasabi and cooked slightly rare, this was soft and delicious.
Sunagimo Engawa - Gizzard Skin
This is the skin portion of the gizzard skewered with slivers of Tokyo Negi (large green onions) which he made and stored in basil leaves along with the whole gizzard skewers.
I’ve never had this skin part of the gizzard isolated as a skewer piece like this. It has a slight crunch of gizzard but it is more tender and easy to bite.
The World's Best Kawa - Skin
To simply call this Kawa, like any other shop calls skin, I feel is almost a discredit to the magnificence of this perfected skin skewer. Although the picture might be small and a bit blurry, notice all the oil bubbles on the surface of the skin. When the Kawa skewer came out, the oils were still loudly sizzling and crackling on the surface.
Because of Daisuke’s original intricate way of folding each layer in multiple directions, the effect was essentially a skin skewer that looked like and tasted like it was deep fried in its own fat. Imagine the best tasting fried Chicken, (I like KFC when it’s super fresh) and this is the granddaddy of that skin on that fried chicken. I have not been, but I’ve seen photos of Kawa from other famous and well-acclaimed Yakitori shops in Japan, and at least appearance wise, it does not look this perfect.
Evenly golden in color and bubbling with chicken juice, this Kawa skewer alone is worth the trip to Yakitori Moe West!
Hatsumoto- Main Arteries
This is the fatty veiny artery part at the top of the heart that connects to the liver. With the special tare (more on that later in the liver section below) that’s smoked over Binchotan, it’s such a satisfying and rare skewer. Take a bite, swallow it down with beer and take another bite. This is the Yakitori life I think about everyday.
Hizagashira - Kneecap
This is the juicy thigh meat around the kneecap. Flavored with only salt and the smoke of the Binchotan, it’s a nice refreshing and meaty follow-up to the chewy and flavorful Hatsumoto with tare right before.
Next up came the Tsukune, which is the ground chicken or "meatball" skewer. Because the Tsukune had a chance to rest and cool in the fridge, it has hardened a bit so that I can hang on the Yakitori grill. However, in the photo above you can see Daisuke carefully kneading it firmly to ensure it won’t crumble on the grill.
As I was biting into the Tsukune I remembered what Daisuke said in the morning during the prep. He half seriously mentioned that the secret to making his Tsukune tasty was to give it happy thoughts and love as you carefully knead it on to the skewer. Daisuke’s Tsukune here is very gentle with an initial aroma of the Yuzu zest. I was getting full at this point because of my earlier dinner, but the lightness in the texture and the fresh citrus smell of this Tsukune made it easy to enjoy and finish in two bites.
Drinking with the Master
If you have enjoyed your Yakitori so far, always ask if you can get them a drink of their choice. It’s really hot back in the grill area so an ice cold beer is very refreshing! As Daisuke was working on the last skewer of the night, it was time for a drink. Kanpai!
For the last skewer came out the fatty white liver dipped in his special Tare sauce. The Tare here is very special and full of Kodawari. It is a 4 years old, Tsugitashi 継ぎ足し meaning you add more new sauce to the mother sauce which has collected the flavors of previous skewers. However, for the last year, Daisuke has altered the recipe by using Madeira wine instead of the traditional sake to match with the flavors of the liver skewer.
This skewer is very rich and creamy like Foie and this was surely going to put me over the top. I’ve already loosened my belt several skewers ago. So far all the liver skewers I had in Japan had been firm yet melts in your mouth after the first bite. This is very different from the liver Yakitori experiences in America which always is generally flakey and leaves a bit of that metallic flavor in your mouth. This skewer, because it is the fattier white liver, took all the good parts about liver Yakitori in Japan, but made it even better because of the extra richness and perfectly matched Madeira Tare.
This was superb way to finish my Tokyo Yakitori tour!
There's More? Chicken Ramen with Matsutake Wonton
I honestly thought we were done. My dinner guest Marie and I had just enough room for the last sips of our drinks but Daisuke has been looking at my Sapporo ramen posts on Instagram and told me I had to try his ramen for the Shime (closer dish). He said they will make it a smaller portion. A few minutes later, out came this clean and simple bowl of noodles. Highly restrained, with a clear broth and just radish sprouts on top.
The aroma is that of a crisp chicken broth, but there’s also a fragrance of something earthy. He explains this is chicken ramen with handmade noodles and in the middle is a wonton with Matsutake mushroom filling. The Matsutake flavors add further depth to this clear but flavor-rich broth made by the discarded carcass, feet, tendons and cartilage during the prep.
The handmade wide noodles felt similar to that in Okinawa Soba. It was refreshing for me after my Hokkaido ramen binge the week before with the traditional round noodles.
What a meal! I didn’t have room for desserts but at the end of the dinner Yakitoribaka gave me his signature “Yakitori Life Goes On” T-shirt that I’ve seen him wear on a bunch of his social media posts and also earlier during the morning prep. These are custom made and not sold anywhere. This is definitely what every fanboy loves and wants, limited edition collectibles of whatever he’s passionately following!
Thank you Tokyo! It was a quick visit, but this fanboy of Gundam and Yakitori is very satisfied.
I may not be building Gundam models these days, but I am tremendously blessed that almost every day I get to use my hands and creative mind to build amazing meals out of chicken parts. Just like there’s a global community around anime and collectibles such as Gundam, I hope the Yakitori community continues to grow with awesome people like Yakitoribaka and others I’m meeting who love Japanese grilled chicken on sticks.
Yakitori Life Goes On
Make sure to follow Yakitoribaka, and if you’re in Tokyo make sure to visit Yakitori Moe West (map) and get Daisuke a cold beer!
I give Yakitori Moe West 5/5 Yakitoriguy Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️