Japanese restaurants that cook in front of you: have an AWESOME time!

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 27, 2021

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Looking for a dinner and a show?

You can definitely have a ball at hibachi restaurants! Not only do the cooks put on a little show for you, but you can also enjoy the excellent flavor of the meat, vegetables, and rice, as well as the distinctive ingredients used.

The Japanese restaurants that cook in front of you are often called hibachi restaurants. But what they’re actually cooking is called “teppanyaki”, or grilling on a flat iron surface.

Japanese restaurants where they cook in front of you

Did you ever wonder where it all started? Where did the concept originate from for hibachi?

You may be surprised by some of the background behind hibachi cooking.

Keep on reading to find out more about this favorite dining experience!

What is hibachi-style cooking?

Hibachi is a grilling method that originated in Japanese cuisine and has developed over the years.

Typically, you’d cook meats, fresh vegetables, and rice on a big, flat-top stove made of sheet metal or cast iron. The grill is smaller and portable in some cases, instead of being a permanent fixture inside a table or countertop.

Cooking hibachi enhances food flavors instead of covering them up. So typically, seasonings are restricted to soy sauce and some salt, pepper, and vinegar. You can also use garlic in most dishes.

Hibachi goes by multiple names

As we know it, hibachi-style cooking has quite a few names.

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The one we’re all acquainted with is traditionally called teppanyaki, which basically translates into “grilling on an iron plate”.

A traditional hibachi grill has an open grill for cooking meals, while a teppanyaki grill is a plain, firm barbecue.

Over the years, we’ve accepted “cooking hibachi” as a term that can be used for both hibachi and teppanyaki alike.

Read more on the difference between hibachi and teppanyaki in our article here.

Hibachi has a debatable and complex origin

Hibachi cooking’s precise background is uncertain and debatable. Some argue that hibachi cooking started over 200 years earlier in Japan, while others argue that it’s only been around since the mid-20th century.

Hibachi cooking began on tiny, mobile grills. But over the years, it’s developed into a more complicated and interesting cooking method.

In 1945, Japan launched the first contemporary hibachi restaurant: Misono.

Chefs combined meals with amusement and made quite a show out of it using tricks like egg tossing and flaming volcanos, like the one in the picture above.

The Japanese restaurant was more popular with overseas tourists than Japanese citizens, considering it’s flashier and distinct from traditional Japanese cooking.

Hibachi has launched in the United States about 20 years ago and has only risen in popularity since then.

While little is recorded before 1945 and the roots are definitely debatable, one thing is certain: hibachi restaurants are adored all over the globe. Today, you might even be familiar with the Japanese restaurant chain Benihana!

Read more: table manners when eating Japanese dishes

Hibachi is a mix of entertainment and skills

Hibachi chefs spend months in dedicated instruction learning knife tricks, cooking methods, and entertainment for their clients.

The theatrical flair is part of what makes hibachi restaurants such an attractive dinner option.

To render your dining experience unforgettable, the mixture of knife abilities and distinctive tricks with mouthwatering flavors is enough!

What kinds of Japanese foods can be cooked in front of me?

yakitori

Here are all the kinds of food that are prepared in front of you when you go to these Japanese restaurants. Some are completely cooked, while others are served so you can cook them at your table.

They’re all delicious and are distinctively from Japanese cuisine, so be sure to try them all!

Types of food that are cooked at your table

Teppanyaki

Teppanyaki literally translates to “iron grill” and may include okonomiyaki in its definition. But it usually relates to meat or seafood baked over a grill in a high-end Japanese restaurant.

You can sit at the counter in this type of Japanese restaurant and see the chef cook all the ingredients carefully right before your eyes!

Robatayaki

Robatayaki is a boiled fish or vegetable cooked in a restaurant’s center area. You can also sit at a table and see the products cooked by the chef over a charcoal fire, giving them the subtle flavor of BBQ.

Kabayaki

Kabayaki is an eel skewer that’s dipped in soy sauce and they slowly cooked over a grill. It’s often consumed during the summer in Japan since it’s thought to help with fatigue.

Yakitori

Yakitori consists of different chicken pieces held together by a skewer that’s placed over a charcoal fire.

At casual restaurants, people gather around with friends and family. But at smaller street restaurants, people gather around at the counter to watch the chef grill the skewers.

Recently, high-end yakitori restaurants have started to appear. At these places, you can enjoy yakitori in a more familiar western setting and it’s even served with wine.

You can always ask the chef or waiter for what’s traditional. Be sure to use “sumimasen” when you call them over!

Foods that you cook at your table

Shabu shabu/sukiyaki

With these meals, you can cook food using a hot pot right at the center of your table. Both shabu shabu and sukiyaki are thin pork or beef slices paired with vegetables that you can cook yourself.

The difference is that sukiyaki is usually already in the hot pot and is seasoned and cooked with sweet soy sauce.

For shabu shabu, on the other hand, you slowly add the ingredients and cook them as you wish. You can then dip them into a sesame or ponzu sauce.

Okonomiyaki (Hiroshima or Osaka style)/monjayaki

When asked about these two dishes, Japanese people will usually describe okonomiyaki as a sort of Japanese pizza and monjayaki as a messier version of it. From my point of view, it isn’t really similar to a pizza.

It resembles more of a savory pancake packed with multiple ingredients. The ingredients can range from seafood, pork, mochi, and more. They can also be topped with mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and bull-dog sauce.

When you order these plates, you’re usually given the ingredients pre-mixed in a bowl. You can then mix them to your desired consistency and cook them yourself on an iron plate.

Yakiniku

Yakiniku is basically the equivalent of Japanese BBQ. It consists of pork or beef (in some cases, even chicken) that you can cook right at your table using a charcoal grill.

You can decide how cooked you want the meat. Even if you don’t have any BBQ experience, you’ll find it easy and enjoyable!

Enjoy entertainment at Japanese restaurants

The next time you feel like going to Japanese restaurants, treat yourself out to a hibachi restaurant! Not only will you delight your tastebuds, but also your other senses as well.

You’re sure to have a fantastic time experiencing Japanese cuisine with a touch of flair!

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.