Welcome to another delectable lesson from the Japanese kitchen. In this post I'm going to explore the wonderfully robust world of Japanese grills, or robatayakis.
Robatayakis are close cousins of the boisterously cheery izakayas – traditional Japanese pubs – and in many cases their identities merge effortlessly. From my numerous visits to Tokyo’s various eateries, I can share with you a pointer on how to pick out a robatayaki – the open charcoal grill. And you don’t have to make your way to the kitchen to pick out evidence of it. Because in robatayakis, the open charcoal grill is not stowed away out of sight, but located square in the middle of the restaurant.
This format recalls the more rustic and simple arrangement of the traditional Japanese farmhouse where the fireplace was at the centre of not just the house, but most activity as well.
As in sushi bars, robatayaki dishes are prepared right before customers. Customers are seated at counters around the open grill. Between the grill and the counter is a long platform on which fresh raw vegetables, mushrooms, seafood and meats are laid out on a bed of ice.
Customers are meant to point to items they want prepared on the grill and the chef picks them up with the help of a long wooden bat that’s similar to a paddle. As soon as he prepares the food at the grill, he delivers the finished dish back to the customer on the same bat.
These paddles recall a custom practiced by some Japanese seafarers several centuries ago when they would barbecue their catch on their boats and share their preparations with those on other boats by passing the food with their oars.
Favourite picks for the robatayaki include shiitake mushroom, Japanese bean curd and asparagus. On the non-vegetarian side, popular robatayaki dishes include grilled sea bass (yaki suzuki), grilled chicken skewers (yakitori) and grilled squid (ika).
I would be remiss to omit mentioning the performance that along with the food is an over-riding feature of the robatayaki experience. It’s the first thing that strikes guests when they walk in. The good-natured shouting of orders and responses by staff and chefs, not to mention the animated movements of the chef wielding the robata bat, have even been described as “interactive theatre”. This defined chaos has a way of putting guests at ease and before long you might just find yourself contributing in no small measure to the cheery chaos.
Edo – ITC Hotels first purely Japanese bar and restaurant at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru – brings the robatayaki into your experience of the fine art of Japanese after hours. At the robatayaki counter, you can point to your preferred items from the fresh seasonal food on display and have it grilled right before you. Enjoy your selection with servings of superlative Japanese sake or beer.