Torigen – Eating Raw Chicken…On Purpose!

by Ed Lau on August 25, 2008

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Right, I’ve been back for a week now, which is plenty to sleep off the little bit of jetlag and relax at home before getting back to “work”. Unless I go on another extended trip, there won’t be any more missed days…back to my once-per-day frequency of blogging. There’s still plenty about my trip and I’ll be getting back to movie reviews, various pop culture references and Dot Com adventures shortly.

Yakitori is difficult to screw up. Grilled meat on sticks? How hard could that be? But at the same time, it is quite difficult to achieve a truly great yakitori as just about every single supermarket or department floor basement puts out a relatively decent variation at extremely low prices. In fact, on one of my early days living in Tokyo, I picked up dinner at a supermarket with eight sticks of various meats (chicken, gizzard, chicken hearts, chicken wings, short rib, meat balls, etc) for less than 1000 yen (around $10).

After meeting up with old school Dot Com Pho (or as we called it, Dot Com Midnight Golden Award) crew member Carl Nelson in Tokyo, he mentioned that there was a fantastic yakitori place in Shinjuku where they not only grill fantastic meats on Bincho charcoal (the charcoal of choice for high quality grills around the world. Small batch, high carbon, low flame/smoke.) but serves chicken tataki. Tataki basically means the outside of the meat is seared at high heat briefly while the inside remains uncooked, quite a common way to prepare fish like ahi tuna but I’ve never had chicken in this way.

Torigen is quite difficult to find since this particular section of Shinjuku all looks roughly the same. Although it helps that there is a very large Yodibashi Camera in the area, it doesn’t help that it is split into seven or eight separate nearly identical buildings. The easiest way to find Torigen (1-12-7 Nishi-Shinjuku, 03-3346-2662) is to look for the ABC Mart (a large chain of shoes stores) in the area, which is one or two spots away from the restaurant.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Like nearly every restaurant in Tokyo, Torigen is a smoky (from a combination of cigarettes and charred meat) but despite the small space, it isn’t particularly cramped with two floors of tables and counter seating as well. The menu is extensive with a wide selection of beers, liqueurs and mixed drinks of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety. Food is mostly meats and vegetables from the grill but there is also a number of soba dishes available as well. The lunch set menus seem to be a particularly good value at around 1000Y.

It was tough deciding what we wanted so we pretty much just tried nearly everything (we ate at Torigen twice).

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Above you see a fraction of our meal. On the far left is a plate of various grilled meats. The darker one is pork while the other is chicken with leeks. The two vegetables you see are edamame, which are young soy beans boiled in their pods and seasoned with salt, and grilled white asparagus. Edamame is a very popular bar food in Tokyo and catching on quick in the Western world as they are simple, cheap, delicious and incredibly good for you, full of various vitamins and minerals and low in calories. They go great with beer…which will offset any of the health benefits and return the world to normal.

I ate tons of this stuff when I was in Tokyo. A great snack.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

One of our favorites was the grilled pork with brown sugar sauce. Although the name says otherwise, it isn’t overly sweet and the thin slices of pork are cooked to perfection. We ordered this several times on our two visits.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

This is grilled chicken cartilage, which I’ve never tried. I usually enjoy cartilage in small fried chunks advertised as “chicken knees” appetizers at sushi chains. It is a very crunchy texture, smoky and delicious. The other one covered with seaweed is chicken with wasabi, which is exactly how it sounds. The wasabi is quite strong and might not appeal to everyone but I personally love wasabi.

It’s like getting punched in the face…with deliciousness.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Continuing with the wasabi, these are ground chicken skewers with wasabi mayo. Ground chicken usually evokes images of those horrible generic chicken burgers but these are made fresh. As you may remember from Japadogs, I love wasabi mayo. These are spectacular. I think I had this three or four times.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

One of the other highlights was the grilled chicken gizzards, which Carl recommended over the chicken hearts, one of my favorites. Actually, he was quite right. Chicken hearts don’t hold up well to being grilled but the gizzards remain crunchy and maintain that great texture.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Grilled squid’s legs. Not bad but not great compared to everything else we ate.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

The skewer on the left is chicken with cod roe that I found a bit too salty but that is to be expected of fish eggs. It had some great flavors though. The right is something that neither of us could identify (although I’m sure it is something we ordered). It tasted great but again, we couldn’t really tell what it was even though it tasted extremely familiar.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

We had several other dishes as well but both times we went, we were starving (since we got very lost the first time and went straight across town the second) so I didn’t document everything since we ate it so quickly. We had already been drinking beer all day so we had a bit of a refresher first with some fresh fruit juice (this one is grapefruit) and what I believe is grape liqueur.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

Ah, the main event. This is what we got the first time we ordered a chicken tataki. To be honest, I expected the inside to be much more raw than this. This seemed like it was more accidentally undercooked than left that way on purpose. However, it was very good. Really fresh, free range tasting chicken cooked well and very tender.

But that wasn’t what we came here for. We came to the conclusion that perhaps we ordered incorrectly and decided to try again. We tried a different item on the menu and when the waitress warned us (in decent English) that only the outside was cooked and the inside was raw, we were assured that we had ordered the correct dish.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

What we got was even more cooked than the first time. In fact, it was perfectly cooked…moist and juicy chicken that would be delicious if we weren’t expecting something entirely different. This time we called the waitress over and asked why our chicken was cooked…something that I’m sure the whole of human history has never complained about. In hindsight, I’m sure the chefs were trying to be nice and shield the silly foreigners from the horrors of raw meat, something I’m sure every other foreigner is worried about with avian flu scares everywhere…but we were determined…or just stupid.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

This time, we got exactly what we were hoping for. Seared on the outside and raw on the outside. It’s a strange taste and texture to eat raw chicken on purpose. I don’t really know how to describe the taste of good rare chicken…although I can say I prefer raw fish or a really rare steak. It’s really worth a try if you’re not squeamish. And no, I didn’t get sick at all. Of course, do so at your own risk…I won’t be responsible for anything if you do happen to get sick.

Torigen is probably one of the better places to get one of Tokyo’s simpler foods. The bill didn’t come cheap, though. With a couple of beers, tea, etc, it came to about 10,000Y ($100) for us but we were stuffed. Dishes varied in price with each skewer going for about 250Y and larger dishes like the pork coming in at around 800Y. The chicken tataki ranges from 500Y to 1200Y.

Torigen, yakitori, tataki, grilled meat, skewers, raw chicken, Japanese food, Japan, Tokyo

It doesn’t seem like much but it really adds up when you’re ordering as much as we did. As I mentioned before, a less pricey option is available for lunch with set combos in the 1000Y range.

Highly recommended if you’re a meatatarian. There are more grilled veggies available other than asparagus but going to a place like this, even you vegetarians have to summon your inner carnivore.

in Food and Fine Dining,Travel

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl August 26, 2008 at 1:11 am

Torigen is by far my favourite restaurant in all of Japan. I go there at least twice every time I am in Tokyo… And now I find that there are like 10 locations in the area!

Chicken tataki is such an amazing an unique experience. If they didn’t use the highest quality, freshest chicken, the dish would be a complete disaster. But as they serve it, it is one of those dishes that you just never forget.

I am also a huge fan of the tsukune (chicken patty skewers). I know you like the wasabi mayo ones, but I am more partial to the miso sauce/raw egg variety. What a perfect combination of taste and texture!

Reply

John Lew August 26, 2008 at 4:53 am

Hi the.[ED]ition,

While I admire your hard work in these write-ups, I can’t help but just wanna share with you some other perspectives at:

http://lews-info.blogspot.com/search/label/Diet

Thank you.

Reply

Ed Lau August 26, 2008 at 12:28 pm

I actually read the first post about…eating meat. Don’t eat meat because the Chinese character for meat contains the character for person? Oh man…that’s just about the least convincing thing I’ve ever heard.

There are plenty of good reasons to be a vegetarian but that simply isn’t one of them.

Reply

Jenny August 26, 2008 at 6:22 pm

I am in the same position as you Ed. I know that to be a vegetarian is good. But I can’t start myself doing that lifestyle.

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Carl August 26, 2008 at 8:12 pm

Wow… just, wow. That is one of the most out-there blogs I have ever seen!

Reply

Custom T-Shirts Toronto August 26, 2008 at 8:06 am

I’ve had raw beef sashimi before and I found it too weird for my taste. I could only imagine how much I’d dislike raw chicken. Some great pics though!

Reply

Ed Lau August 26, 2008 at 12:29 pm

That may be a result of where you’re getting it at. Beef sashimi is no different than a really rare steak and quality beef is key.

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Jenina August 26, 2008 at 1:13 pm

Oh my god, these picture are looking so amazing!
I would be glad if I were you.
The time in Japan must be very very nice-and the food is looking SO good.
Next time, you have to take me with you ;-)

Reply

Eva White August 28, 2008 at 1:17 am

Love the spread on the table. It looks good. But raw chicken???

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Interests Are Free January 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I should have found your blog sooner! I feel so dumb passing this by! When I went to Tokyo last, I stayed at the Sunroute Plaza just a few blocks from here! Super Arg!! If you’re planning another trip, take me with you. I’ll need someone to smack me in the head if I pass it over again!

Reply

Emma January 17, 2011 at 1:34 am

I found Torigen in Jakarta, Indonesia too.
I dont know was it the franchise or not. So I try shabu-shabu menu.
Seems like Indonesia version of yakitori (called “sate”) is more delicious.

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