Teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) is a highly popular Japanese cuisine that aims to both feed and entertain its customers. The name itself is derived from the words “teppan” (鉄板; iron plate) and “yaki” (焼き; grilled, boiled, or pan-fried), giving it a literal meaning of “grilled on an iron plate”. Using both Eastern and Western flavours, highly skilled chefs aim to provide the perfect melody between old Japanese cooking techniques and more of a modern performance.
A “Beefy” Beginning
Although the use of the teppan plate in cooking can be traced back through many generations, Teppanyaki itself wasn’t popularized until post-World War II Japan. Opening in Kobe, 1945, the now popular chain, Misono, claims to be the first Japanese restaurant to key the idea of using this large teppan grill to cook in front of its diners to enjoy. Owned by the restaurant’s talented master chef Shigeji Fujioka, Misono’s origin story is now considered a recognizable part of Teppanyaki history.
Following the war, Chef Fujioka travelled down to the dockyards in hopes of obtaining a teppan plate in order to cook okonomiyaki back at his restaurant. However, Chef Fujioka quickly discovered a new use for this grill when he received a visit from an American soldier. After noticing the lack of beef dishes, the soldier felt he had chosen the wrong restaurant. Hoping to appease the new customer, Chef Fujioka grabbed some beef and began grilling it on the teppan plate.
Twenty years later, Teppanyaki was officially popularized by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, the recognized founder of the Benihana chain of Teppanyaki-style restaurants, a company who’s net worth is now about three hundred million dollars a year. With the cuisine’s new found fame, it was quickly discovered that this cooking style was far more popular with foreigners than with the native Japanese population. Tourists loved to watch the skilled manoeuvres of the chefs preparing the food, and as the shops located at tourist spots grew, the restaurants made the decision to increase the performance. Soon the chefs began performing food stunts for their excited customers, such as stacking onion slices and creating a flaming onion volcano.
What to Expect
Teppanyaki dishes commonly consist of fresh, seasonal and flavourful ingredients that are bound to excite the taste buds. The more Japanese-style dishes are typically cooked with yakisoba, cabbage, and sliced meat or seafood. These delicious ingredients are usually cooked in vegetable oil, animal fat, and sometimes both. Most restaurants proudly serve Kobe beef, an expensive, top quality beef, a popular choice for Teppanyaki, and will also offer other high-quality meat from Akita and Matsusaka. These beloved red meats are commonly offered alongside less expensive beef such as from New Zealand and the States.
For a more western-style Teppanyaki, it is usually composed of beef, scallops, chicken, shrimp, lobster, and delicious vegetables, commonly cooked with soybean oil. Many favourite side dishes that are offered involve mung bean sprouts, zucchini, fried rice and crispy garlic chips. Though not a popular choice, some restaurants offer dipping sauces, but only soy sauce is commonly offered in Japan.
A cuisine commonly referred to and enjoyed as a performance art, most Teppanyaki restaurants consist of the same, now famous, layout. Diners are commonly seated at a large table with the teppan grill plate located in the middle, allowing the chef of the customer’s choice to cook at the table and begin the performance. Starting with the tools, knives, forks, and spatulas will be tossed, flipped, drummed and clanged against each other. Following this, with mastered skills, the chef chops, dices, and slices the food, quickly lighting the propane flame for the grill whilst they’re at it.
Many restaurants and individual chefs implement their own original techniques, setting them apart from other cooks and restaurants in the Teppanyaki industry. Some of the more well-known tricks can include:
- Flicking a shrimp tail into a shirt pocket,
- Catching an egg in a hat,
- Throwing an egg in the air and splitting it with the spatula,
- Flipping flat pieces of shrimp into the mouths of customers,
- Arrange onion rings into a fire-shooting volcano.
Where to Go in Tokyo
First established in the 1960s, Hakushu has earned itself the title of being one of Tokyo’s authentic Teppanyaki restaurants. Known for its high-quality Kobe beef, the restaurant achieved first place in Tripadvisor’s “Best Fine Dining Restaurant in Japan” in 2016. It has been nominated and placed highly on the list multiple times.
A family-owned restaurant, Hakushu offers a warm, cozy atmosphere that is accompanied by authentically cooked quality Wagyu beef. Situated in Shibuya, one of the most popular shopping and dining districts in Tokyo, the restaurant enjoys a high amount of foot traffic and is a popular choice for dinner and lunch. Thus for those who want to enjoy this establishment, booking your table in advance is an absolute must. Reservations can be made through Tripadvisor or the number listed below.
Teppanyaki Yamanami (鉄板焼やまなみ)
For those looking for something on the luxurious end, Teppanyaki Yamanami is the place for you. This high-end restaurant promises premium teppanyaki griddle pan cooking, comfortably handled in the hands of the highly trained master chef Juniichi Hirano. As the restaurant’s grill master, Hirano oversees the preparation of the high-grade premium wagyu beef sourced from Kobe and Hida. Beautiful seafood dishes such as lobsters and abalone, can also be purchased for those who are not as big fans of red meat.
Located on the 7th floor of the Keio Plaza Hotel, the restaurant’s main counter offers a gorgeous view of the cityscape below. Similarly, the second counter in the main dining room faces the well-manicured roof garden, as well as stunning private rooms for those who need a more private and personal experience. Whilst considerably pricey, Teppanyaki Yamanami will provide its customers with a unique and sophisticated dining experience that is an excellent stop for those looking to treat themselves. Bookings can be made through the number below as well as through Tripadvisor.com.
Aoyama Gyusai (青山牛彩)
A quiet and comfortable store, Aoyama Gyusai is a creative Teppanyaki restaurant that offers a perfect fusion of Japanese and Western cuisines. With a commitment to quality , the restaurant’s menu is designed for fresh and seasonal produce that compliment the dishes offered at the venue. Customers can choose from a range of selected ingredients including excellent Wagyu beef and lovely fresh seafood.
Situated in a quiet back alley of the Aoyama area, this modern-classic restaurant provides the perfect atmosphere for any occasion. The venue also offers amazing lunchtime deals, making it an excellent choice for those looking to enjoy a quality lunch without having to break the bank. Booking and reservations can be made through the number and their website below, as well as through Tripadvisor for those who have trouble navigating a primarily Japanese site.
Where to Go in Kyoto
Kyoto Teppan Tachibana (京都鉄板たちばな)
A popular and reasonably priced restaurant, Kyoto Teppan Tachibana is a fusion-style restaurant that offers its diners a lot more than just excellent Teppanyaki. Besides this loved cuisine, customers can also enjoy other dishes cooked beautifully using the teppan grill, such as Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba, and Izakaya. Although lower in cost, each and every dish offered is cooked with care and is highly delicious and enjoyable for customers to enjoy without breaking the bank.
Located near Karasuma Station, the Izakaya atmosphere creates a welcoming and comfortable environment for a large range of customers. Capable of holding 28 people, the restaurant can cater to all occasions, offering counter seats, regular tables, and private rooms for its diners to enjoy. A great place for travellers and locals alike, bookings can be made through their number and website below, as well as through Tripadvisor.com for those looking for a more easily readable site.
Where to go in Osaka
Misono Osaka Store (みその大阪店)
Part of the infamous Teppanyaki chain Misono, the Osaka Store was opened in the Osaka Minami area in 1962, and has become a popular destination for the locals and their high standards for food. The store has since moved to its current location, Kitashinchi, in 1982, where it has continued to be highly evaluated and is now considered a famed place for night time social gathering. Striving to maintain Misono’s reputation as the creator of Teppanyaki, this chain restaurant promises to provide quality customer service and the best ingredients the region has to offer.
Misono’s Osaka Store can be found on the National Route #2 and is easily accessible for both locals and tourists. Only a one minute walk from Kitashinchi station, the restaurant has two usable entrances for diners located at the front and the back. The retro style interior sets an atmosphere reminiscent of the Showa period, and, increasing the comfort and style, each private room consists of a Japanese Harigatsu low table built into the floor. A must on a tourists list for those looking to walk the history of Teppanyaki, bookings can made through the Misono website and/or the number listed below.
Extremely popular with tourists, Teppanyaki is a cooking style that aims to both excite the senses and be visually entertaining, providing its diners with both a dinner and a show. The skilled chefs spend years learning the skills to provide you with an unforgettable performance that will stay with you for time to come.
Featuring photo credit: stockyimages on Shutterstock
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