Winter is really starting to set in here now. Out come the scarves, mittens, sunsets at 4:30 pm and a faint sense of gloom. One of my favourite cures: a great way to spend a cold winter’s night is eating yakiniku, Korean barbecue:
There’s a yakiniku place I love to go to near my house. Under a canvas awning on the street outside the store, there’s a row of earthen jars filled with lit charcoal, flames licking around their lids. When you sit down, you’ll get one of these white-hot jar of coals to play with (tong are recommended for this). They also thoughtfully give you a small plate of ice to quench the inevitable grease fires as the meat drips into the embers.
It’s a self-service type affair. You order by the dish of raw ingredients, which generally go for between $3 to $6, and include beef, chicken, pork, cow’s tongue, liver, chicken innards. Nothing seems to get wasted. To make things extra challenging, the menu is written in Japanese, but some of the words used to describe the cuts of meat come from Korean. So, unless you know someone familiar with the various varieties, you’re taking a leap of faith on exactly what you’re ordering. Don’t let that stop you though – randomly pointing and trying is the best policy! Just about everything is good, and most of the problems of eating the unknown are purely psychological. Except for liver – seriously, who eats that stuff?
The thing I like about the yakiniku place near me is that it’s very simple – big wooden sliding doors leading into a bright, cavernous tavern made of lightly-coloured wood. It’s warm and smokey with plenty of chatter, and all the staff shout an enthusiastic welcome to you as you sit down. You’re sitting around a wide wooden benchtop, seated with maybe ten other people tending to their grills, drinking and talking loudly. Except for the cash register, there’s very little that’s high-tech about the store – just glowing coals, beer, raw meat and vegetables. There’s something comforting in the fact that precious little must have changed in this restaurant for many, many years.
My final tip: don’t wear good clothes. The all-pervading smell of meat is your souvenir of a fine night of eating. It’s well, well worth any dry-cleaning costs later.