Vancouver is justly famous for its sushi, with hundreds (if not thousands) of restaurants around the city. We’ve also got plenty of izakayas, the Japanese-style pubs that became popular in the late 1990s. And we’re no slouch when it comes to ramen restaurants, which serve exclusively the popular Japanese noodle soup.
But I was surprised to discover another Japanese import in the city last week: a yakiniku barbecue. In yakiniku-style restaurants, diners cook up raw, bite-sized chunks of marinated meats and veggies over a grill built right into their tables. It’s an interactive, hands-on form of dining, quite similar in many respects to Korean barbecue (a controversy rages to this day about whether the practice originated in Korea or Japan).
Considering how fun the experience is (and how tasty the results are), I was surprised I hadn’t tried a yakiniku restaurant in Vancouver before. I know there must be a bunch out there, but they don’t get much attention.
Do you enjoy Japanese yakiniku barbecue? Do you have a favourite yakiniku restaurant in Vancouver? Let us know below.
I’ll start things off be describing my first yakiniku adventure in downtown Vancouver. I stopped by Gyu-Kaku on Nelson and Hornby. The sprawling restaurant opened last year without a lot of hoopla, but it was packed when I went in on a Friday night, mainly with Japanese and Korean students craving a taste of home. You’re seated at wooden tables with propane-fired grills built right into the middle. The atmosphere is festive, but not quite as boisterous as at a rowdy izakaya.
The menu can be a bit bewildering at first, with a dazzling variety of beef, chicken, seafood and vegetable options, not to mention Japanese appetizers like gyozas and edamame, plus ramen and udon soups and rice bowls. There are also some less conventional cuts of meat, including tongue, liver and intestine.
I chose the “#1 BESTSELLER”, the harami miso skirt steak, as well as spicy miso chicken and garlic shrimp. Most of the meat options can come marinaded in a sauce of your choosing: from miso to yuzu, garlic, tare and more. Servers bring your selections raw to your table and fire up the grill. After some basic cooking instructions, you’re left to prepare your own meal.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to yakiniku. The beef, for instance, cooks very fast, while the chicken takes a few minutes. But once you get the hang of it, it’s a fun and very social way to dine. Bring a few friends and add a couple pitchers of Sapporo and it makes for a very memorable night out.
Do you have a favourite yakiniku Japanese barbecue restaurant in Vancouver? Let us know below.
Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond? Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza.