Japan is a great place to come for food, and whilst it may be most famous for its seafood offerings, meat options should not be sneered at. From the delectable steak in Kobe, to Genghis Khan lamb in Sapporo and even the ubiquitous yakitori and yakiniku grilled chicken and meat restaurants, meat lovers can enjoy an array of juicy and tasty slices in bite size portions. Sure, you can eat a lot of small pieces to sate your appetite, but it's just not the same as carving into a big chunk of meat for yourself.
So where can you get your cave-man on? The answer is at Ikkaku, to be found in Marugame, Takamatsu, Yokohama and Osaka. It is, in my humble opinion, the home of Japan's best chicken leg - it comes with thigh and drumstick still attached!
Originating in Kagawa prefecture on Shikoku island, Ikkaku is an institution. It started back in 1952 and has been delighting carnivores ever since, gradually expanding across Japan in the process. Admittedly there are other things than chicken on the menu (though not much!), but the winner at Ikkaku is most definitely the 'young chicken' (hinadori) leg. You will see tray after tray rushed out of the kitchen, and even some in boxes for take-out.
At Ikkaku, chicken is treated with respect; there is even a whole A4 instruction sheet on how to enjoy yours! After being seasoned to a secret recipe (repeat tastings lead me to believe it includes red pepper and garlic), the legs are grilled to perfection in a series of huge ovens in the kitchen and served up on simple metal platters swimming in oil and juices. Regulars know to scoop this ambrosia up with the handy cabbage leaves provided, and I also enjoy drizzling it over my chicken rice (torimeshi). The chicken itself hides under crispy golden skin and is steaming and succulent, begging you to tear into it like an animal.
Once you've indulged in the hinadori a few times, you may want to try the oyadori, or 'old chicken'. This is a tougher piece of bird and quite the challenge for your teeth. In my opinion it's more of an acquired taste/texture, but friends who grew up with Ikkaku love it.
I am a regular of the two Osaka branches in Umeda and Shinsaibashi, but as a good chicken pilgrim I started my Ikkaku odyssey in a branch in its Kagawa home. The three branches I have visited are subtly different in decor and atmosphere (namely business men in Umeda, hungry shoppers in Shinsaibashi and Sunday-lunch locals in Marugame) but united in quality. Ikkaku is the place to go if you crave a little more to get your teeth into than a yakitori skewer. Oh, and make sure you wear the bib!
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