For those who don’t feel like eating raw fish, Japanese cuisine has a wide variety of delicious alternatives. Yakiniku (焼肉) is a Japanese-style grilled meat dish with a distinct way to cook and eat it.
What is Yakiniku?
Yakiniku (焼肉) comes from the particles yaku (to grill, 焼) and niku (meat, 肉), referring to how one would cook this dish. Originally from Korea, it is now earning a reputation all over the world. The experience of yakiniku is inseparable from how one cooks it, its communal aspect, and the high standard of beef quality, distinguishing it from many other food experiences.
What Makes Yakiniku a Special Dish?
In Japan, there is particular attention paid to cattle breeding to achieve superior quality meat, making yakiniku restaurants the ideal place to discover the quality and freshness of Japan’s famous cuts of beef.
The Communal Cooking Experience of Yakiniku
From small shops to popular national chains, almost all tables at a yakiniku restaurant have a personal grill. Customers who pay a visit to these restaurants can grill their orders themselves, making for an entertaining communal cooking and eating experience.
Grilling and Consuming Yakiniku
Rather than cook an entire order of beef all at once, yakiniku is grilled piece by piece. Yakiniku is served raw without salt or dressing, and customers can grill their bite-size portions using tongs supplied by the restaurant. Once cooked, customers can eat the beef directly from the grill using chopsticks. This way, tongs that touch raw meat never get the opportunity to contaminate cooked pieces.
Usually, an order of yakiniku comes with a side of Japanese rice. For some additional flavour, customers can dip the cooked meat in a variety of tare sauces (たれ), from soy, miso (味噌), ginger, and garlic sauces, to plain old sea salt.
If you want to try yakiniku during your trip to Japan, there are several restaurants where you can enjoy this dish in an affordable way. Here are some of the most well-known:
Gyukaku is one of the most popular and ubiquitous yakiniku restaurants in Japan and is known for its quality beef at affordable prices.
They also have an English menu that features an informative guide describing the different cuts of beef and suggested ways to cook each.
Anrakutei has earlier business hours than most yakiniku establishments. It offers a full lunch-time service, including drink and dessert, for a starting price of 810 yen, and is an inexpensive way to enjoy yakiniku earlier in the day.
Lastly, Fufutei is one of the most inexpensive yakiniku places with the most extensive menu options – making it a popular dinner destination for young people for gōkons (合コン, organized group dates), parties, and other group gatherings.
Eating yakiniku is a fun way to share and experience one of Japan’s popular dishes with other people. During your trip to Japan, don’t hesitate to add a stop to a yakiniku restaurant. Enjoy!
Translation by Maria Peñascal.
Thank you to Todd Fong for supplying some of the pictures.