Skewered foods, known as kushiyaki, feature delectable bites of meat and vegetables that go perfectly with beer or sake. “Kushi” refers to the bamboo skewers used to spear the ingredients, while “yaki” means grilled or fried.
Eating grilled meat on sticks is a Japanese tradition that dates back to at least the 17th century. Although for some time eating meat was forbidden in Japan due to Buddhist conventions, during the Meiji period of modernization people began to eat meat again and shops specializing in grilled meat on skewers took off. In the period between WWI and WWII, the battered and deep-fried skewers known as kushiage or kushikatsu also became popular. Today, both grilled and fried kushiyaki can be savored with all kinds of meat and vegetables.
Types of KushiyakiThe oldest and most common type of kushiyaki is yakitori, or grilled chicken skewers. Yakitori features various parts sourced from the entire chicken. Similar to yakitori is yakiton, or grilled pork skewers, upon which both common and unusual cuts of pork are cooked over a charcoal flame.In addition to grilled skewers, there are also kushiage fried skewers made with bites of meat, vegetables, and even cheese that have been skewered, breaded in flaky panko breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. Each skewer is served up piping hot and eaten with a thick and sweet dipping sauce from a large communal pot. The dish first originated in the western Kansai region, but today is eaten all over Japan. The name “kushiage,” which means “deep-fried skewers,” is more common around Kansai, but in other parts of Japan the same food may be referred to as kushikatsu, meaning skewers of katsu (deep-fried cutlets), because the breaded and deep-fried skewers are similar to chicken katsu and tonkatsu pork cutlets.Browse tonkatsu restaurants in Japan
Kushiyaki IngredientsAny food that can be skewered may be served for kushiyaki. For chicken skewers, common offerings include sasami (chicken breast fillet) and tsukune (chicken meatballs), while more uncommon morsels include chicken hearts, tail, and even chicken combs. For pork skewers, buta bara (pork belly) and negima (pork with leek) are some of the most popular offerings, but there are plenty of unusual options like kashira (pork jowl), shiro (intestine), and pork liver. Beef skewers include juicy cuts of steak and thinly sliced gyutan (beef tongue).
In addition to meat, there are plenty of seafood offerings such as fish fillets, squid, shrimp, octopus, and scallops. Practically any vegetables, such as shishito (Japanese green pepper), onions, shiitake mushrooms, bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes, and even items like cheese and avocado can be skewered and served kushiyaki-style.Browse yakitori restaurants in Japan