Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Useful Japanese Invention - Yakitori Grill, Marukai Gardena

One of my all time favorite parody books is Kenji Kawakami’s “101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions”. Most of you have probably seen this at Urban Outfitters or the Giant Robot Store. It’s page after page of hilarious, useless (or not!) gadgets. Known as chindogu, it is the art of the weird, strange and unuseless idea. Most of the gadgets, in a practical sense, seem to be crafted with ingenuity. In actuality, they would cause embarrassing social and personal difficulties. It’s amazing what lazy people will do to make their lives easier. Kawakami did not make a dime off the gadgets and found this to be a therapeutic hobby. Although the Japanese do have some wacky inventions, the book is simply a source for quick laughs. These products are not sold in Japan. Listed above in the picture:

A. Chopsticks with Cooling Fan - For hot ramen!
B. Butter-Stick - Simply twist like a Uhu glue stick and apply.
C. Dust & Sweep Slippers - I love these.
D. Handi-Roll of Kleenex - For those with constant sniffles.


In light of that, I’ve found a pretty useful gadget, known as the tabletop Yakitori grill. If you’ve eaten at a yakitori restaurant like Musha, Shin Sen Gumi, Terried Sake House, Nanbankan, or Sasaya, you’ve probably seen the direct source of room pollution. They come from the rectangular-shaped grills 5’ in length and 7-8” wide to hold the skewers. A contraption like that could be well over a few hundred bucks if you were to construct it at Home Depot. But thanks to Marukai in Gardena, the Japanese superstore, table top yakitori grills can be found. J and I went there after the Bridge USA Food Festival in Torrance to look for my new toy. There it was for only $22.98. It’s made of a pinkish clay with a few dinky metal parts. MacGuyver could’ve built a better one with a trash can and 2 soda cans. The thing looks like a kids port-o-potty and is uglier than an AMC Pacer but beyond its ‘beauty’, it still does the job. I’m a huge fan of yakitori food, and it was only a matter of time that I would buy one.


Along with the grill set, you need to buy a round grill plate for only $2.29. Japanese charcoaled branches can be purchased at Marukai as well for a whopping $5.99 lb. I got maybe 8-10 nine-inch branches for about $7. Japanese charcoal burns at higher temperatures than your standard bbq briquettes, but does not last as long. The grill basin itself is only about 8” deep so you don’t to fill it to the brim otherwise your food will burn faster than it gets cooked. I suggest buying Trader Joe’s “Cowboy Charcoal”. It’s charcoaled wood that comes in a 5-lb bag for $4.99. Again, it burns hot, but does not last as long as standard charcoal.


Last Friday, we de-virginized the yakitori grill. I had been waiting all week for this moment. As soon as we got to my friend ND & JD’s place, I opened up the package. The grill stands about 12-13” high and weighs a good 10 lbs. There’s a small latch door made out of metal used to control oxygen intake. The wider open the door is, the hotter the charcoal will burn. I then lined up the inside of the grill with foil to catch any drippings and charcoal ash. ND lit up some of the Japanese charcoal in a separate grill for about 10 minutes and added the coals to the yakitori grill. Here’s what we had. (PETA requested that chicken gizzards and hearts be excluded from the posting.)


A. Japanese Charcoal - Solid, yet very light. If you bang them togeher, you get a slight metallic sound. I don't know what possessed me to even try that.

B. Cutting the Charcoal Branches - Since they came as branches, I had to cut them up into 3-4 pieces using a serrated knife. You only need to do a few swift cuts and break them up with your hands.

C. Isn't She Ugly? - Told you it looks like a flesh-colored port-o-potty. Actually the metalwork on it makes it look like it's wearing a lingerie or even a jock strap - depending on your preference.

D. Kryptonite - Never take photos of fire. They usually turn out like sh*t.

E. Skewers - Takes about 10 mins per side.

F. Sake - Again, I don't know much about Sake. Jeni had some at her place and we ended up killing the whole bottle. The sake tasted like tequila and cognac and I don't recommend it.

G. Agedashi Tofu - Photo makes it look like swamp food but it turned out tasty. I boiled the pre-fried tofu packets for $.69 (4-pack) in soup base, dashi no moto and water. Served it with furikake seaweed and radish sprouts. My friends kid's loved them.

H. Chicken Karage - A dish you'd always find at an izakaya/yakitori joint. Recipe can be found here.

I. Chicken Thigh with Negi Leeks - I had the best tare negi at Shin Sen Gumi. This is my version of it. I used yakitori sauce from Marukai and basted the chicken three times: before grilling, during grilling and after grilling.

J. Bacon-Wrapped Quail Eggs - This is for Pirikara and Rickmond who bashed me for not trying the version at Shin Sen Gumi haha. I used Berkshire pork bacon also from Marukai, which is more expensive. You can use any type of bacon. The only thing to watch for is the quail eggs... they explode if you overcook them! Q-bombs are no good!

We had a great night drinking and eating chicken parts. For $23, you can cook a bunch of food for little money. The only pain-staking thing about yakitori is the skewering. I wonder if the "Unuseless Japanese Inventions" guy has a solution for that. I'd definitely buy it. Thanks for reading.

11 comments:

Jeni said...

Great post D. Everything was super oishii! Your karaages are hawt!

Tanshio (tongue) and Berkshire Bacon wrapped enoki for next time ok!

Gochiso sama deshitaaaaaaa!

s. said...

Can you actually use the grill indoors!?! How smoky does it get? As a balcony-less apartment-dweller, this may be the end of my quest. I've set many a smoke alarm off attempting indoor "barbeque".

yoony said...

yes i have the same question as s. is this a indoor grill? if it gets smoky maybe we can use the college fan. you know, the large square fans you lodge in your window to get the smoke out. :) college students use their noggins.

BoLA said...

Mmmm.............. when's the next BBQ? =)

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Jeni, that was a fun night. Yes we'll have to do beef tongue and more bacon-wrapped goodies.

S/Yoony, I don't think it's a good idea to grill indoors unless you're one of those food network chefs with a grilltop-viking and overhead fan. If you really wanted to, you can lay a cookie sheet over the rangetop and use the overhead fan to clear out the smoke. I've bbq'd in an open garage before when it rained... it was probably the dumbest thing we've ever done. I was in college. haha.

Bola, I don't know. Maybe next week?

Yuzu said...

I don't think I've ever seen Japanese charcoal. It looks like burned chicken legs. :D

Congrats on your super-cool Marukai buy. That store is so awesome. I haven't been to the Gardena one in a while. I usually go to the Cypress store. The Gardena one has better finds.

Happy grilling!

Tokyoastrogirl said...

When are you going to open up your Eat, Drink & Be Izakaya? I'd become a regular customer!

rickmond said...

haha that rocks! i dunno if this is the kind, but i know for some you're never supposed to washed them. eventually the burning binchotan colorizes the ceramic into beautiful brown/bronze textures. grab your nearest j-person and see what they say!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Yuzu, it looks like burnt branches. I think the Gardena Marukai is the only one that requires membership. Haven't been to the other ones.

TAG, I'd open one up but I'd have to do it outdoors bbq style because I'd probably burn my restaurant down. Plus, a menu with only 5 things on it would suck.

Rickmond, wash the grill pot?

Renee said...

Dylan,
What are you talking about? You could be a restaurant that specializes in 5 items and charge an armfull of money for them. OR the fact that you only specialize in 5 items, you could profit a bundle even if you charged nominal prices as your ingredient costs would be in bulk.
Plus, if you can't man the grill that night or skewer things in the small kitchen space you would need, you can be comforted to know that your minions can't screw up that much, as there's only a minimal number of items that need to be prepared/cooked.

rickmond said...

this is the one i'm thinking of that some guy once said you're not supposed to wash... maybe yours is similar?

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