Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Japan's Favorite Bar Food: Yakitori

Now that the weather has warmed up, I have resumed my legendary quest to visit every restaurant and bar in town. As a result of the apparent lack of zoning laws, tiny little restaurants and other shops are often tucked away within the gnarled web of residential streets. This makes about every foray into a new area likely to produce a new place to patronize.

One day after school I was feeling particularly energetic and I wanted to do some exploring. My usual companions were either occupied or uninterested, so I went it alone. I rode my bike around Ashikaga's central train station a bit, just zagging down the narrow streets in the direction of anything that caught my interest. I enjoy riding my bike without any purpose: it gives me some time to reflect as well as a bit of exercise.

Eventually I found a place that looked good. It seemed small enough that it would have some character to it. One of those restaurants where the owner lives in the back room. When I entered, the worn man behind the counter didn't react. He hesitated, probably waiting for me to ask directions in some language he didn't care to understand. I asked him if he was open in Japanese, and that seemed to placate him. He snapped back into service mode and brought a hot towel to the counter where I had decided to sit.

The humble front door to "Michan".

I ordered a beer first to give him something to do. We were the only two souls in the place, and I needed time to make sense of the menu without him standing and eyeballing me. I wasn't having much luck. I could read many of the words, I just didn't grasp their meaning. I had hit a wall and I needed to make a choice fast. Not wanting to just sit and order the cheese sticks, I just winged it and ordered one of everything under the menu heading "yakitori".

This was a yakitori pub, I had gathered that much from the sign outside. Yakitori is literally "grilled chicken". Its just a bit of chicken or other animals grilled on a mini kebab: the fun part is what bit of the chicken is being offered.

So one by one the skewered animal bits came, on a stick alternating with slices of leek. The barman kindly added salt or tare sauce to give them flavor.

Tan. It means tongue. I'm pretty sure that this is cow tongue rather than any piece of a chicken.

Hatsu. Heart, of a chicken I believe.

Kashira. Temple. I assume that this is from a cow because I can't imagine there being a ton of meat on a chicken's forehead.

Nankotsu. Cartilage. I have actually developed a taste for tiny bits of fried chicken cartilage. Its both crunchy and chewy in parts. Knees, knuckles, ears? I don't care to know.

Himo. This one is a bit worrying. After a bit of asking around, I was told that this was fallopian tube. I got a second opinion who says the word means something more general like "blood vessel".

Rebaa. Liver. I enjoy the liver to the point that I purposefully order it on occasion.

Gatsu. I think this is what you call tripe. Stomach or intestines, around that area.

I don't think I would knowingly eat all of these things in one sitting. My partial ignorance meant that I had to wait until the next day at work to ask my teachers what exactly I had eaten. It wasn't half bad really.


  1. That yakitori looks delicious. I love that you can find yakitori or ramen shops hidden in neighborhoods. I have been to a few myself.

  2. Anonymous12:20 PM

    You had to be really hungry to eat all that stuff! It looks really good. I think it is cool that you have been exploring different areas, I used to do that we I first got here to the US, of course the places are really different..

  3. Tornadoes28,

    Yes it is cool to find the little hidden places. I don't do it all the time though, because the menus are usually a lot harder to read and the staff aren't used to foreigners so they are a bit grumpy on occasion. A good opportunity to practice my Japanese though!

  4. Angelica,

    They might look a bit bigger because I took close-up pictures. I can easily eat 10-15 of these things in one sitting. Have any new restaurants opened in Carlinville lately?