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Yakiniku

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  November 2, 2022

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Yakiniku (焼き肉 or 焼肉), meaning “grilled meat”, is a Japanese term which, in its broadest sense, refers to grilled meat dishes. “Yakiniku” originally referred to the “barbecue” of western food, which was given by Japanese writer, “Robun Kanagaki (仮名垣魯文)” in his literature, “Seiyo Ryoritsu (meaning “western food handbook”)”, in 1872 (The Meiji period). Meat has been eaten in Japan since the Jōmon period. However, the rise of Buddhism made the eating of meat tabooed, and consequently some people have theorized that meat “disappeared” from the table from the Middle Ages to the Edo period. The term “yakiniku” became associated with Korean-derived cuisine during the early Showa period. Due to the Korean War, Korean restaurants in Japan were divided into North Korean (Kita Chōsen) and South Korean (Kankoku); “yakiniku restaurant” arose as a politically correct term to refer to restaurants of either type. Today, it commonly refers to a Japanese style of cooking bite-sized meat (usually beef and offal) and vegetables on gridirons or griddles over flame of wood charcoals carbonized by dry distillation (sumibi, 炭火) or gas/electric grill. In North America, mainland China and Taiwan, Yakiniku is also referred to as “Japanese barbecue” while in Japan the origin has become a subject of debate, though it is conventionally considered to be Korean cuisine. In 2002 the NHK program NHK Ningen Kouza (NHK人間講座, literally NHK Humanity lecture) stated: “While some tend to think that yakiniku came from Korea, it was born in post war Japan.” Yet there are those who say that while yakiniku may have its beginnings in Japan, they believe it was first made by Korean Zainichi and should therefore be considered Korean cuisine. Yakiniku is a variant of bulgogi that has been modified by Zainichi Koreans to appeal to Japanese tastes. The present style of yakiniku restaurants are also derived from the Korean restaurants in Osaka and Tokyo which were opened around 1945. In a yakiniku restaurant, diners order several types of prepared raw ingredients (either individually or as a set) which are brought to the table. The ingredients are cooked by the diners on a grill built into the table throughout the duration of the meal, several pieces at a time. The ingredients are then dipped in sauces known as tare before being eaten. The most common sauce is made of Japanese soy sauce mixed with sake, mirin, sugar, garlic, fruit juice and sesame. Garlic-and-shallot or miso-based dips are sometimes used. Different kinds of Korean side dishes like kimchi, nameul, bibimbap are also served alongside.

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

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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.