Teppanyaki, the showboating by-product of Japanese cuisine, either infuriates or entices diners. Teppanyaki generally caters more to Western tastes such as loose white rice heavily flavored with garlic butter, soy sauce and fried with egg right on the griddle. Meats, chicken and seafood are liberally salted and quickly fried. And an onion exploited right in front of your eyes to simulate a volcano gushing smoke and fire. It may be the “non-Japanese” of this all that does not sit well with some. To add to this, I think the last time I actually saw a teppanyaki chef of Japanese descent was in the 1980’s.
I could expand this topic to other dishes or dining styles that have evolved, and in some cases devolved (sushi comes to mind), but let me just stay on point with teppanyaki. Personally, I don’t need the exhibition of twirling, tapping, egg-flipping and volcano-producing, but I would be lying if a part of me was not dazzled by it. And if I’m sitting there with a bunch of friends with drinks in our hands, then game on.
Regarding food: one can typically order steak, shrimp, chicken or scallops (or a combination thereof) with a diner’s choice of steamed or fried rice. (If you are a vegetarian, you can get a generous serving of griddled vegetables or tofu.) I rarely order fried rice anywhere, but I always opt for it during a teppanyaki experience. I’m certain it is something about watching all that rice being tossed and turned with egg and onion, and then slowly transformed into a darker and more flavorful end product. I usually go with the steak and shrimp combination, and after they both have been salted, cooked to doneness, swiftly cut to bite-size pieces and served directly from the chef’s spatula onto my plate — I’m pretty eager to dig in.
To me, what makes the teppanyaki experience enjoyable is a restaurant’s commitment to high grade food products and good execution by the chef. All too often, meat grades can be so so and shrimp or scallops can be overcooked to a rubbery texture. But when done well, I can’t deny that I enjoy some steak and shrimp with fried rice.
So I wonder, does teppanyaki get a bad rap because of its “in your face” production? Does it seem brash/tacky compared to the austerity of traditional Japanese cuisine? Or do you think the food is overpriced (for what it is)? Just plain stinks?
Or… do you love it?
(All pictures/video taken recently at a friend’s birthday Nakato outing)
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog
– Gene Lee writes about International Cuisine for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Eat, Drink, Man… A Food Journal.