What is teppanyaki?
By Leslie Dunn
The clue’s in the name with teppanyaki: teppan means iron plate and yaki means grilled or griddled. So, it’s food cooked on a hot plate, and I was treated to a high-end example of the art in the Palace Hotel Tokyo.
Compared to Japan’s ancient traditional cuisines, teppanyaki is ‘new’ – it was invented in 1945 by a Japanese restaurant chain and quickly became popular with foreigners, who found the food more familiar than sushi, noodles and the rest, and enjoyed watching the artistry of the teppanyaki chefs.
Nothing with four legs was eaten in Japan until 1860, reputedly when the emperor, on asking a US visitor why the Americans were so much taller than the Japanese, got the response “because we eat meat.” The Teppanyaki cooking method lends itself to a good hunk of wagyu steak (wagyu, incidentally, just means ‘Japanese beef’). The chef puts the oil and salt flakes on the hot plate together then, when the salty oil is smoking hot, adds the meat.
The chefs at the Palace Hotel manage to cook much more than steaks on the hot plate. Check out these en papillote steamed autumn vegetables (it was autumn when I visited Japan, and they’re strictly seasonal in their cooking over there). In case you’re wondering, as I was, why the wrappers don’t burn, it’s because the chefs use some clever transparent foil from Italy that can withstand high temperatures and direct heat.
The hotplate was also used to cook the broth, seafood and mushrooms for a delicate seafood and mushroom hotpot.
The result was mmm-inducing: gently cooked, light and flavoursome.
In fact, they pretty much cooked a whole multi-course meal, with side dishes, on the hot plate. They put saucepans and frying pans on there, as well as cooking direct. They even cooked rice on it:
Here’s some of the wonderful things we ate: red miso soup, steamed veg (complete with essential sour plum for the end of your meal) and fried rice with tofu…
…but the wagyu, cooked and seasoned to perfection, took some beating. It was kuroge (Japanese Black, one of the four wagyu breeds) sirloin, and had the right combination of chewiness, tenderness and juiciness.
Who knew you could get a meal like this, cooked on a hot plate? It’s just another one of the many amazing things about eating in Japan.
Les dined at GO restaurant in the Palace Hotel Tokyo