Japan is known for its excellent and unique cuisine. Sushi perhaps is the most commonly recognized with ramen shops running a close second. When you arrive in this great nation however you will discover that the variety in Japanese cuisine is much broader and far reaching than you would anticipate. Everything from interesting variations of fried pork called tonkatsu, battered balls of octopus - takoyaki to Japanese barbeque or yakiniku.
Yakiniku is more than a type of food; it is a dining experience. The origin of Yakiniku is a slightly contentious issue as it is a variation of the Korean bulgogi and many say that although it had its beginning in Japan it should be considered Korean. Either way it’s delicious and makes for an excellent evening out.
Translated, yakiniku means ‘grilled meats’. Quite appropriately, if you venture to a yakiniku restaurant you will discover tables with grills in the center brimming with hot charcoal under the metal grate.
The menus are filled with a broad array of meat, seafood and some vegetable choices all which will be brought to your table raw; giving you the opportunity to cook each morsel to perfection at your table. When selecting your grill-able items you will also choose a style of marinade (or plain is also available). The most common marinades include miso, teriyaki, garlic and shallot or tare, which is a traditional Japanese marinade.
As items are prepared they are brought to your table throughout the meal in bite-sized pieces and the fun begins. Everyone can grill items themselves or some restaurants will grill for you at your table though these are more uncommon and generally less exciting.
When your piece reaches perfection, it can be dipped into one of the sauces provided. The sauces usually available include tare, salt, garlic, and lemon juice. All are fabulous and worth trying as they enhance the flavor. Of course it’s still completely fine to just enjoy it plain as the meat is great quality, but at least give the sauces a try.
All over Japan yakiniku restaurants can be found however the Gyu-Kaku restaurant chain is perhaps the easiest to spot with over 800 locations throughout the country. Plus, if you crave yakiniku when you get back home, Gyu-Kaku also has opened a few branches in the US, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and Singapore.
For a traditional yakiniku experience, the Nakano branch of Gyu-Kaku is an excellent option, and will bring you to an area not usually found in the tourist books. Complete with tables where you have to remove your shoes and tucked back in a behind the busy street, this restaurant has an authentic and off the beaten track feel to it.
The Nakano neighborhood is full of university students and as such affords a number of very well priced restaurants and charming winding alleyways full of bars, cafes and pubs as well as a nice shopping area called Nakano Broadway. This is a nice area to spend the evening and experience you first Japanese barbeque or even to just do some exploring after dinner.