By SHANNON MURPHY
When we found out we were moving to Okinawa, Japan, we had friends give us a great list of recommended restaurants. One of them was for a Korean BBQ place really close to where we live. We loaded the kids up in the car and decided to venture out and try it. Believe it or not, you can only eat so much sushi (although it is amazingly delicious here), and you really need to try something different every once in a while!
We followed the directions to the Korean BBQ restaurant, but when we arrived, the place had a different name – Horumon Tondou Yakinikuten. Just great. We are hungry with two small kids in tow – and now we have to decide whether or not we should risk eating at this new place without any recommendations.
We step out of the car and are immediately welcomed by the delicious smell of chicken and lamb kabobs that a chef is cooking outside in front of the restaurant. What a way to entice potential customers! We walk inside and are shown to our table where there is a round grill sitting in the center of the table. I immediately look at my hubby and give him a look that says, “Oh, oh, what did we get ourselves into?” But, you know, we are game and we are willing to stay and try it out.
We are given menus with pictures of what we can order. Honestly, none of it looked appetizing because it is filled with pictures of raw meats – chicken, lamb, pork and beef. A vegetarian’s nightmare, for sure! We are still not 100% sure what we are supposed to do, how we are supposed to order, etc. At least I know the chicken kabobs that were being grilled outside are an option, and we are prepared to order at least 15 of them for our dinner just in case this adventure does not work!
The waiter arrives and we are immediately relieved to hear his amazing English. He explains that we order the meats and vegetables that we want to eat, and we grill them ourselves on the grill located at our table. This is called Yakiniku.
- Yaki means “grill”
- Niku means “meat”
Yakiniku is the art of Japanese barbecue. Traditionally, the meat is cooked over a shichirin grill heated over odorless Japanese charcoal called binchotan. The charcoal leaves the food tasting fresh and free of any hint of charcoal taste or smoke. The restaurant offers an “All You Can Eat” option for 60 (1,280 yen/person), 90 (1,780 yen/person), or 120 minutes (2,980 yen for men; 2,480 yen for women). You can literally keep ordering food and stuff yourself silly within that time frame.
We have two small children with us, so we chose the short 60 minute option. It includes soup, salad, all of the meat and vegetables you want to order within that time frame, and a drink. We select chicken and beef, a variety of vegetables, which include mushrooms, cabbage, onions and carrots. The thin, raw beef arrives in a delicious marinade and we begin to grill. The smell is wonderful. Our stomachs are growling like crazy! In the meantime, we are eating a salad and we order several chicken kabobs that were prepared for us outside, so the children can eat their dinner while our beef is grilling. Then the vegetables and chicken arrive. The grilled chicken’s aroma is equally as amazing as the beef.
We are extremely pleased with the experience and super proud of ourselves for being adventurous in the face of uncertainty! We are looking forward to returning for a date night, so we can stay a little longer and really have a chance to enjoy our Yakiniku experience. Yakiniku would also be a lot of fun with a group of friends.
If you do not mind going to a restaurant where you end up cooking the meal yourself, it is an experience I greatly recommend.
A Short History Lesson on Yakiniku
There is a perception of Yakiniku being the same as Korean barbecue. Yakiniku originated in Osaka, Japan from Korean immigrants prior to World War II. Below is a great cartoon that explains the origin of Yakiniku.