Teriyaki 照り焼き Origins: a surprising turn from tradition

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 4, 2020

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Teriyaki sauce is a very popular Japanese sauce, and it is used in many Japanese dishes. “Teriyaki” actually is a method of cooking.

“Teri” means gleam and “yaki” means to grill.

Not so traditional Teriyaki plate

What is the origin of teriyaki?

According to Food Historians, Teriyaki was invented by Japanese chefs in the 17th century. Teriyaki methods were first used during the Tokugawa period or else called the Edo Period (1603-1868). Nevertheless, some food Historians support that Teriyaki was actually invented by some Japanese immigrants that immigrated to Hawaii (1960).

In their attempt to mix some local products and create a sauce, teriyaki sauce occurred. Some of these products were pineapple juice, brown sugar, and soy sauce.

So the origin of teriyaki is twofold, the dish which is very much traditional, and the sauce which is not.

Teriyaki in America

To continue, the rise of the number of Japanese restaurants in the States made Teriyaki sauce very popular in the 1960s.

Teriyaki sauce is also considered a marinade in Western cultures, such as American. In the north part of the States, any kind of dish that contains Teriyaki sauce is called “Teriyaki”.

More specifically, even though Teriyaki dishes are of Japanese origins (regardless of where they were first invented), Seattle considers them as its trademark.

The Teriyaki culture boosted in the 1990s in Seattle. In 2010, it was observed that at least 83 restaurants had the word “Teriyaki” in their names.

Hence, Teriyaki dishes are now considered to be the signature cuisine of Seattle too.

In the passage of years, teriyaki sauce has changed and “evolved”. Urbanization, different agricultural methods, and the easier provision of ingredients from other countries and cultures affected Teriyaki sauce.

After this, many various recipes were created and had Teriyaki sauce as one of their main ingredients.

Also read: is Chinese hoisin sauce like teriyaki?

Teriyaki dishes

Teriyaki chicken dish

Teriyaki dishes in Japan are usually foods grilled with soy sauce, sake or mirin. Additional ingredients can be found in Teriyaki dishes such as fresh ginger and garlic.

Teriyaki sauce is usually added in beef, fish and chicken dishes. Some very popular dishes are Teriyaki chicken and Teriyaki Burger.

Teriyaki burger

Teriyaki burgers usually have the teriyaki sauce as a topping. It can also be integrated in the ground meat patty.

Teriyaki chicken: Japanese or American?

The Teriyaki chicken dish is based on the Japanese cooking method of Teriyaki. Nevertheless, the most “authentic” teriyaki chicken dishes that can be found are in Seattle.

These dishes usually include chicken breasts on rice with a teriyaki sauce as a topping ( “donburi” style).

Even though this dish is very popular in this way, Teriyaki dishes in other places are not very popular and they are not consumed on a regular basis.

Taking into consideration that teriyaki dishes are not found in Japanese menus in Japanese restaurants, people actually doubt its Japanese origin.

It might have been created by Japanese chefs, but it mainly exists in the States with Seattle being its base.

Nevertheless, many people support that there are actually two different teriyaki dishes:

According to this argument, the American Teriyaki chicken is created with the traditional teriyaki recipe but it is also sweetened artificially with corn starch or other products.

On the contrary, the original Teriyaki chicken dish contains the original Teriyaki sauce and nothing else.

What teriyaki dishes should you try

Since teriyaki dishes are one of the most enjoyed Japanese foods (outside of Japan too), here are some suggested Teriyaki dishes you should try making at home.

The many methods and ways to use Teriyaki sauce and many other products created with it develop many options.

  1. Teriyaki Salmon
  2. Teriyaki Tofu
  3. Orange Teriyaki Chicken
  4. Teriyaki Pork Donburi
  5. Teriyaki Steak Rolls
  6. Teriyaki Wings
  7. Yellowtail Teriyaki
  8. Sanma Teriyaki

Hope you enjoyed this article!

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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.