Streetside Yakitori and a Haircut

What better way to jump start the spring than a quick no fuss haircut and then picking up some yakitori from a street stall on the way home.  It might sound simple but that’s all it takes to get me going.

Because of years of bad hair cut experiences living in South Korea, when I first moved to Tokyo I was hesitant when it came time for my first haircut.  So I went to a nearby QB House, a quick 10 minute/ 1000 Yen, haircuttery, with the necessary Japanese phrases to navigate through the stylists initial questions… and hoped for the best.  To my relief and surprise, the QB staff was able to give me an efficient and well manicured cut.  Most importantly, the haircut matched my non-Asian proportioned head, which has always been a barrier in my past experiences.  Since that first experience was so hassle free, I have (for almost three years) returned monthly to QB House and have consistently walked away pleased.

So once again, this past afternoon, I got my standard men’s haircut in under 10 minutes and then strolled on back towards my apartment spotting the glowing sign of Ajiyoshi’s yakitori stand.

Every week I pass this stand, and every single time I want to take home some yakitori, or at least stand next to the grill and take in the smells.  It’s not that the yakitori itself is anything remarkable, just your standard variety:  ねぎま(negima: chicken and leek), レバ(leba: liver), とりかわ(torikawa: chicken skin), ect.  All for around 150 yen a skewer.  What makes each morsel seem to taste even better is the fact that a 70+ year old grandma is doing the grilling inside a small wooden stall.  The ambiance is great, but my own overactive mind transforms this yakitori into the best in the country, nay… the world.

You see, I’ve created my own narrative about Grandma Yakitori, not backed up by facts or even reality, that gives the yakitori at this relatively nondescript stall some added charm:  Grandma Yakitori, working in tandem with Grandpa Yakitori who handles the money (and only handles the money), has been turning skewers over this grill for nearly half a century.  So long in fact, that her hands have become so disfigured by yakitori grill mishaps and carpal tunnel that she can only do this one task, turning skewers, and do it so flawlessly that she can literally will the flames to do her bidding.

Yakitori Magic in action – Notice the rusty fan, Grandma’s grossly disfigured hands (known as “yakitori hand” in local parlance), and a charcoal grill blackened by time = the holy trinity of yakitori.

There are some magical talismans which allow Grandma Yakitori to create her incredible spectacle.  Most essential are a rusty and uncleaned electric fan, a solitary pull-string light bulb, a hand written menu on yellowing paper thumb-tacked to the back wall, and a pre-war grill (self cleaning?).  All of these create an organically pleasing experience for everyone waiting in line, which is always three persons (no more, no less).

So, after taking in this onslaught of  makeshift gourmet necromancy, I order my  六本(ろっぽん (roppon, 6 skewers) of  ねぎま (negima, chicken and leek), watch as it sizzles on what appears to be two rails from an ancient narrow gauge railway, hand my yen to Grandpa Yakitori (who calculates my change instantly without machine assistance) and then after an almost unbearable amount of waiting (about 5-8 minutes) my order is complete… placed in a reused Tokyu Supermarket plastic bag and courteously handed to me.

When I get home it’s still hot, marinated only with salt and the sweat of Grandma Yakitori… delicious.

Grandpa does his part
negima: chicken and leek