Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yakitori - Grilled Meat on a Stick

There is simply nothing wrong with yakitori. Like many things Japanese, the concept is simplicity itself, executed to perfection: get high-quality ingredients, put them on a stick, and grill them over open coals. Yakitori is usually grilled with salt or with a mild, vinegary basting sauce somewhere between soy sauce and teriyaki. Technically, the word "yakitori" refers to chicken, but it's usage also covers a variety of meats and sometimes vegetables.

You can find yakitori places all over Japan - the smoke billowing out into the street is usually the first clue - but the town of Kurume here in Fukuoka prefecture is especially famous for its yakitori. They host a big festival every year that's part of their claim to fame. Nana and I missed the festivities last year, but this year we gathered a group of coworkers and headed down for the day.

Like any other late-summer day in Kyushu, it was hot and humid with a pretty good chance of some rain. We got to the festival just in time for lunch, after a train ride from Tenjin and a short walk down one of Japan's ubiquitous shopping arcades (shotengai).

A dense cloud of aromatic smoke hung over the square - so dense it made our eyes smart, in addition to our bellies.

Long lines of people snaked towards the different booths, each of which, like nearly any Japanese eatery, offered its own slight variation on the classic dish.

In each booth, piles of meat were stacked high on metal platters, ready for the grill. The cooks worked feverishly, trying their best to keep the lines short without sacrificing quality.

Of course, this being Japan, quality won out, and a few of the lines stretched out to twenty or thirty minutes long. After a quick appraisal of the situation, we adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy and settled in for what promised to be a long and tantalizing campaign.

Still, good food and good company kept spirits high.
Pictured: elan.
Our first siege was brutal (you try smelling grilled meat for thirty minutes on an empty stomach), but we ultimately emerged victorious. And the spoils of victory, it turns out, were well worth the wait.

Seriously, how many photos do we have of Nana eating?
Almost as many as we have of Nana looking satisfied after taking a bite.
Fortified by this victory, we found our subsequent foes much easier to defeat.

By the final reckoning, we had eaten over a dozen skewers each - in addition to various bits of chicken and pork, we also indulged in some Korean-style marinated beef and Nana's beloved chicken meatballs (tsukune), with a tebasaki (grilled salty chicken wing) taking the place of desert.

Cold beer and grilled meat on a hot summer's day? For an American, I'm not sure life gets any better than that.

1 comment:

  1. Never in my life have I seen so much yakitori, and so little jazz.