Torito – Kyoto style yakitori (grilled chicken)
Torito signature dish and Torito storefront ‘sign’
Yakitori (Japanese grilled chicken) is one of Japan’s distinctive meals, it provides a vast and imaginative variety of flavors and textures. What’s more, yakitori is cooked! So, if you are not into the raw delicacies of Japan, with yakitori you can experience something both new and exotic — and safe!
Yakitori restaurants often serve toritsukuri (chicken sashimi), which you might want to steer well clear of, and lots of namatamago (raw egg). Toritsukuri often includes both meat as well as innards such as gizzard, heart and liver. Raw chicken liver in Japan is a particular delicacy. Chicken to be eaten raw is butchered and handled in a way very different than that to be cooked. (We have never experienced any ill effects from eating toritsukuri.) But rest assured, yaki means grilled and tori means chicken, so you are in safe territory with yakitori.
Japanese do eat most every part of the bird, literally from the neck to the tail and from the skin to the innards.
Chicken is cut into bite sized pieces, placed on a bamboo skewer and grilled. It is flavored with various tare, shoyu and Japanese mustard concoctions, salt and etc. It is often served, garnished with lemon (self squeeze), or wrapped in shiso leaf with pickled plum paste on top. Between the chicken pieces are often slices of leek, onion and even hard boiled quail egg. Variations are nearly endless.
Typically, yakitori conjures images of older men, drinking and smoking, talking loud and boisterously in an old, dark, smoke filled place with the staff sweating profusely over the charcoal grill. These restaurants are fairly rare in Kyoto. They are common in nearby Osaka, especially near train stations catering to commuters on their way home from work.
Yakitori restaurants often advertise on their storefront what kind of charcoal they use, both the wood species and the region of production.
Yakitori is another popular Japanese cuisine that is not very ‘Kyoto.’ Torito, is quite unique among yakitori restaurants and offers yet another expression of the sophistication of Kyoto.
Torito, is out of a newer mold. The founder and owner is a young man, he still looks to be in his 20’s. Additionally, Torito is located very close to Kyoto University and Kyoto University Hospital, so many patrons are young and many are female (professional women, in their 20s and 30s in Japan, always know where to eat out). Torito is said to be very popular among nurses at Kyoto University Hospital. Torito opened more than 5 years ago and is still very, very popular.
Torito has an excellent drink menu as well. It has a great selection of sake, shoshu, umeshu and also an excellent wine list.
The atmosphere is casual, the interior is a funky combination of black walls hand painted with white chickens and beautiful Japanese wood tables, chairs and counter.
Torito serves a number of raw items and uses raw egg in several dishes. The Torito special tsukune (tsukune is a kind of meatball) is a signature dish and if you are OK with raw egg, a must try. The Torito salad, grilled chicken and veggies wrapped like a spring roll, is also a winner. Another original is a whole grilled Hokkaido potato with butter and mentaiko (cod eggs and a little chili pepper) and draped with cheese on top. The chicken wings, delicately spiced with I don’t know what, is amazing, another must try.
From the grill, in addition to various chicken parts, there are usually lots of veggies to choose from as well as scallops and pork.
There are a number of rice dishes, donburi (丼) and ochazuke (茶漬け) that safe and filling.
Toritsukuri (chicken sashimi)
Heart and liver is served on a bed of daikon and shiso leaf. The wasabi and sprouts are added to the soy sauce (bottom right), same as for raw fish. On the bottom left is sesame oil with salt. This mixture is especially tasty with the raw liver. Toritsukuri goes very well with beer.
Pickled jellyfish and garlic, toritsukuri, grilled liver
Jellyfish and garlic cloves are pickled in umeboshi paste and red shiso.
This also goes great with beer. The garlic doesn’t leave you with garlic breath.
Grilled chicken cartilage
Torito also has a dish that is deep-fried chicken cartilage, both are excellent with lemon — and beer!
Torito Special Tsukune
A ground chicken and scallion based meatball like yakitori grilled on a skewer.
Torito Special Tsukune
The egg yolk quality test; impale it with a toothpick, if the tooth pick stands straight up and the yolk doesn’t loose it’s shape, you know you’ve got the best!
Torito Special Tsukune
Break the egg yolk and swirl the tsukune around in it, and eat. This is a real treat!
Kamonasu and Tofu
Kyoto eggplant and tofu slightly spicy with a lot of cilantro
Torito’s grilled chicken wings
Gyunyu Shochu (milk shochu)
This one of a kind shochu is made with rice and fermented with milk lactates. It is exceptionally smooth and people that don’t like shochu like this one.
About 10 paces east of Keihan Marutamachi Station
Prices are average for a nice dinner and drinks in Kyoto, say about 3,500 – 4,000 yen per person.
No English menu
Staff doesn’t seem to speak English
(don’t let this daunt you, lots of tourists visit Torito and everyone seems to enjoy themselves)