A Beginner’s Guide to Robata

By Liv, DMT Collaborator on 6th January 2022 in Blog

We rave a lot about our sushi, and while it’s great, sometimes you just crave something hot to warm your heart and belly.

Not many people know about the Japanese grilling technique of robata, but we’re here to change that. After reading this article, your next Intoku order might just have a little bit more variety!

What is Robata?

This traditional grilling technique has recently become a bit of a restaurant trend, but as this blog post will reveal, robata has a long backstory and a history as rich as its flavour.

Short for ‘robatayaki’, which translates to ‘fireside cooking’, robata is a Japanese method of cooking which, like Western barbecue, happens over hot charcoal.

The more you learn about Japanese cuisine, the more there is to love!

half a grilled robata aubergine dish on a light pink plate.

Aubergine dishes are the perfect robata option for vegetarians and vegans.

The Cooking Process

While robata is similar to Western barbecue, there are, however, a few differences:

  • Unlike your typical summer barbecue in the garden or park, robata can be prepared in or outdoors, over a wide and flat open fireplace.
  • Modern robata cooking sometimes involves theatrical performances by chefs for the entertainment of diners.
  • Robata is not prepared with any old charcoal. In fact, the charcoal that is used to cook the food is very important in bringing out the flavour and ensuring proper cooking. It’s called white oak ‘bincho’ and has unique properties. Bincho burns clean, with very little smoke, odour or flame and a very high burning temperature, which can even melt typical stainless steel charcoal grills.
  • Lighter fluid or accelerants are not used to cook robata, as they can spoil the delicate flavours of the dishes.

Robata’s unique and unmatched flavour is created when juices from the food drip onto the surface of the charcoal during the cooking process. The food smoke which rises, unpolluted by the smokeless ‘bincho’, then flavours the food.

Precision is key when cooking Japanese robata. Once the charcoal is heated, its temperature cannot be changed. This means the chef must pay close attention, cooking each dish at the right distance from the coals, for the right amount of time. The perfectly prepared robata dish has a crunchy exterior, with a juicy interior and a clean, pure flavour.

grilled robata lamb chops presented with rice, lemon, and a garnish.

Robata cooking brings out the purest flavours of meat and fish.

The Origin Story

So where does robata come from? Obviously, we know it comes from Japan, but what’s the story? 

Traditionally, Japanese homes have had sunken charcoal pits for the purpose of tea ceremonies for hundreds of years. A teapot hangs above on a chain, ready to heat.

Legend (mixed with history) has it, that robata grills were first invented by fishermen, hungry and cold from their hard work. They wanted to ensure they had a hot meal waiting for them on their return from a tough day of fishing, so, inspired by the tea ceremony pits, they secured charcoals into a stone box. This provided them with warmth at sea, as well as a means to cook some of their catch on the way home.

At the beginning of the day, they lit their charcoal. Later, once the charcoal had cooled, warming them, they would place their fish directly inside the box, slowly cooking it on their return journey. Once they got to land, the fish was perfectly cooked and ready to eat!

But robata wasn’t just enjoyed by fishermen. Japanese families on the shore realised the second use of their tea pits and began cooking the same way. The method became so popular across Japan that dedicated robata restaurants sprung up, and now, it’s popular across the world! Today, some restaurants still serve robata on a wooden oar, reminiscing to its fishing roots.

What Foods Can be Cooked Robata Style?

The robata method is by no means limited to fish, despite its origins. Nowadays, we cook meat, vegetables and fish in the robata style, making it a versatile and delicious option for any diner.

grilled robata chicken wings, presented artfully alongside grilled red and yellow peppers and lime.

Chicken is the perfect candidate for robata cooking.

Intoku Chelsea specialises in Robata grilling, and our menu has something for everyone, whether vegan, veggie, meat eater, gluten-free or halal. Here are just a few delicious examples to get your mouth watering and your tummy grumbling.

Lamb Chops Kalbi

These delicious lamb chops are infused with soy and garlic flavours and served with mint and toasted sesame.

Adobo Tebasaki

These sweet and spicy chicken wings blend Japanese tradition and Phillipino flavours into a beautiful fusion.

Okra Chargrilled

The perfect vegetarian or vegan option, we serve ours with kale and sweet miso.

Asparagus Skewers

A delightful vegetable side served with miso ketchup.

Check out our full menu to view the rest of our robata dishes. We can’t wait to welcome you to dine in at our Chelsea location. 

 

Book via the links in the side menu to avoid disappointment, tables are popular!

If you’d fancy more of a tasty night in, our robata options are also available to take away, with local delivery options.

 

Want to know more about Japanese cuisine and beverages? Check out our other blog post ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Bubble Tea‘.

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