kruizing with kikukat

Monday, April 1, 2013

Batayaki Fever

I'm finally back at work for a seemingly endless stretch of days.  Its gonna be a brutal stretch.  43 more days of work until the end of the school year, and the only holiday in sight is Memorial Day.  For you non-Zone people, its 40 days and no holiday. . .Memorial Day will be the day just before the official beginning of your summer (I'm so jealous).

I think it was overkill with the anticipation of Easter (to me, Easter=all kinds of candy & sweets), but I feel like the only stuff I've been making has been sweets.  Right now, we have Easter sugar cookies (bunnies, eggs, chicks), orange slice cookies, brownies, hopping bunny buns, and mandarin orange cake.  I HAD TO buy a few boxes of Cadbury creme eggs too.  I wonder how many bags of Brach's pastel malted milk eggs Brucie boy bought this year.  Neither of us have  blood sugar problems. . .yet.  There is also a big box of See's Easter candy and some jellies from Grandma Help. 

I was unable to get motivated to cook dinner on Easter.  My excuse is I had a Dorito Locos taco from Taco Bell in the mid-afternoon, and that put me under.  The Help shelled out big $s for a gorgeous rib eye roast, but I could not bring myself to cook it.  I need to stop tweaking sugar and snap out of this high!  I need to get inspired to cook regular food again. If a rib eye roast won't do it, then maybe batayaki will, after all, the best batayaki is made with thinly sliced rib eye.

The kikukat house loves batayaki nights because there is something for everyone.  Batayaki nights provide an opportunity to exercise will power. . .you need to pace yourself with the cooking-eating cycle.

For those of you not familiar with batayaki, please allow me to explain.  Batayaki goes by several other names:  teppanyaki, yakiniku.  Thinly sliced meats and vegetables are cooked on a griddle which has been primed with butter.  Once cooked, the meats and vegetables are dipped in a shoyu-based sauce and eaten with hot rice.  Batayaki is a cannibalized word:  bata meaning butter and yaki meaning to cook.  Now I'm wondering if batayaki is a Hawaii word.

In the 70s, 80s & 90s, Restaurant Fuji in the Hilo Hotel was THE place to go out and enjoy a teppanyaki dinner.  Yukata-clad servers would bring a giant plate of raw food and a small dish with a block of butter to the table.  There were two options for teppanyaki:  teppanyaki which had an assortment of meat and some seafood and umi-no-ko which had only seafood.  The servers  would fire up the propane and begin the cooking process.  This is not the same as what you get at Benihana.  There were no fire knife theatrics.

To be honest, I never enjoyed teppanyaki at Restaurant Fuji.  I would always be disappointed when we got seated at a teppanyaki table because that meant I wouldn't be able to order anything from the regular menu.  They had two items on their regular menu that were awesome:  shrimp tempura and grilled butterfish.  I would have much preferred those things instead of batayaki.

When I lived in Honolulu in the 90s, there were (and still are) tons of yakiniku places.  Many of my family members would rave about Edokko or Yakiniku Camellia.  I went to one of those places with some friends, and I was not impressed.  It was a little different from Restaurant Fuji in that you went to a long buffet to load up your plate with raw items and then return to your table (with grill) to cook what was on your plate.  Same thing...cook food, dip in sauce, eat with rice.  Boring.

It didn't occur to me until I was older (close to 30) why I didn't enjoy batayaki/teppanyaki/yakiniku.  I never liked the dipping sauce.  The sauces were either too sour or just blecchhh.  The turning point happened when Mr. Dependable's friends suggested a batayaki dinner (I wasn't enthusiastic about this) and they insisted on bringing the sauce.  The sauce they brought was almost perfect and changed my whole take on batayaki.  For the first time in over 2 decades, I realized batayaki was something I could like. 

If you were lucky enough to have disposable income when Restaurant Fuji went out of business (mid/late 90s), you might have been able to score a table with a built-in propane griddle.  I don't think most people were so lucky (there were less than a dozen).  For most people, the most popular way to have batayaki at home is to use a table top griddle (I think mine is made by Presto) upon which a generous pat of butter is placed.  Some people use a frying pan on a butane burner for table top cooking.  If the cooking part isn't so important, everything can also be cooked in a skillet on a range and brought to the table already cooked.  I do the latter when I'm trying to finish the leftovers on the 2nd night. . .after the cooking drama from the 1st night is over.

What gets cooked varies from family to family.  We normally have  beef and pork (batayaki meat is sliced paper-thin).  Sometimes we have chicken.  Salmon is a non-negotiable.  Scallops and shrimp are good too.  I like eggplant (takes long to cook), won bok (napa cabbage), bean sprouts (mung), and mushrooms.  The best mushrooms are alii oyster (eryngii) mushrooms.  I've been told that some families will even cook sliced hot dogs and kamaboko (pink & white fishcake).  Mr. Dependable liked to have zucchini (yuck).  D1 will eat anything except mushrooms and eggplant.  D2 will eat only the leafy part of the won bok.

There is also great variation with the dipping sauce (each diner gets their own bowl. . .a community bowl would be disgusting).  Most sauces have some element of pucker, and in many cases, its too sour for my taste.  Ironically, pucker was the missing factor when Mr. Dependable's friends came over.  The sauce they brought was tasty but lacked any hint of tartness.  I fixed it with some minor adjustment of the ingredient amounts and the addition of lemon juice.  The grated daikon gives the sauce a slight heat, which is also important.

Speaking of heat. . .everytime I think we are going to start seeing warmer weather, a new storm system comes around and gives us days of rain.  I'm still having to turn on the electric blanket every night.  It doesn't matter what the weather is like because batayaki is something that can be enjoyed year-round. 

click on recipe title for printable recipe

     1 c shoyu
     1/4 c sugar
     1/4 c mirin
     1 c chicken broth
     juice of 1/4 lemon
     5" piece of daikon, peeled & grated

Combine all ingredients, except grated daikon, in a medium saucepan.  Heat gently, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  To serve, place desired amount of grated daikon in a bowl.  Ladle sauce over.  Replenish sauce and daikon as needed.

Regarding the food in the pics:  Costco sells thinly sliced rib eye (yes, they have prime beef).  KTA and Marukai sell thinly sliced beef and pork.  Doesn't the salmon look gorgeous?  Its wild Alaskan king salmon courtesy of cousin Kento and his fabulous, non-fish-eater wife Julie.  They go on a yearly fishing expedition to the Waterfall Resort in Alaska and are generous in sharing their spoils.  Thank you!


  1. Hey Kikukat,
    Very nostalgic post. I grew up in Hilo and Restaurant Fuji was the place to go for good Japanese food! Didn't have batayaki since Mom said she could make better at home.
    Your recipe sounds great and I'll give it a try.

    1. Thanks for the nice words, Matsu. I heard the Wafu Steak was ono too, but it was always the shrimp tempura or yakizakana (butterfish) which got me!

  2. I vividly remember Restaurant grandma served batayaki at her house which was even better!!!