The child-like pleasure that comes from eating food grilled on sticks is certain to coax a smile from even the most jaded or finicky of eaters. Flame-licked morsels of meat and vegetables, often glazed with a sweet or savoury sauce equate to casual, delicious simplicity at its best. Yet, as yakitori enthusiasts will attest, it is also an art — one that combines mastery, precision, intuition and, that most elusive of all good traits, patience. For it is only the true sensei who knows exactly when to turn, flick or remove each stick — in a constantly-unfolding culinary drama involving smoke, fire and flavours — at the precise moment it is done.
There are, honestly, only a few yakitoriya in the Klang Valley foodies like to frequent — chief of which is Sumi-ka in Subang Jaya. Our recent discovery of Toritama in Publika, however, has added to the belly’s bliss. A franchise of the famous Tokyo-based Toritama Group, which has outlets in Hong Kong and Singapore, it makes a good choice for dinner on a cool, wet night (particularly now that the monsoon season appears to be upon us).
Purists might deign to only eat at the original Toritama Honkan in Shirokane district, Minato-ku, but I personally cannot think of a better way to pass a few hours than with a mug of Suntory in one hand and the other busily (and greedily) grabbing piping-hot, food-pierced sticks the minute they are wicked off the coals and graciously proffered by the chef.
Toritama Publika opened in October 2016 and, unless you are looking for it specifically, it is easy to bypass amid the buzz and bustle. There are only 22 seats around an elegant, angular counter as well as a private room with two tables that seat 12. But there is no fun being sequestered away when you want to be at the frontline of the grill’s action, where the heat from the glowing binchotan embers is lightly palpable. All meals here start with a welcome dish of crudités with oroshi — grated daikon. Sadly, you will not find premium chooks like, say, Hinai Jidori from Akita or Shounai Saikei from Yamagata, so there is no chance of eating chicken sashimi here.
But, rest assured, the menu features a wide and ample range of cuts, from the Achilles heel to the hagoita (coccyx), no less than what you would find at any yakitoriya worth its shio (salt) in Japan. Enthusiasts however would be most excited over the availability of chochin — unfertilised egg yolks grilled in its membrane and served still dangling from fallopian tubes — so named for its obvious visual similarity to the Japanese word for lantern. The chochin’s initial description might sound off-putting but, if you enjoy the unctuous creamy richness of a traditional egg yolk, trust us — this takes things to an altogether higher level. Or better yet, pair it with saké to complete the experience.
If you are new to all this yakitori gobbledygook, make your life easier by opting for the restaurant’s O-susume course meals comprising of seven, 10 or 12 skewers, that is guaranteed to give you a good beak-to-tailfeather introduction. And if too much mention of the chicken’s internal bits is making you a tad queasy, Toritama’s menu thoughtfully offers more traditional (and palatable) picks like wagyu, lamb and pork belly. Finish off sweetly with the only dessert listed — a scoop of ice cream lightly anointed with mitarashi, a soy sauce syrup most often paired with dango mochi.
Toritama, D3-G3-1, Solaris Dutamas, 1 Jalan Dutamas 1, KL. 03 6211 0306. Daily, 5.30pm-midnight.
This article first appeared on Oct 14, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.