A Guide to Japanese Deep-fried Skewers
While almost everybody has heard about the ever-popular yakitori and sushi, one of the most tastiest and popular local snacks that is not as well known as its two counterparts is Kushi-age, or Kushi-katsu. It is one of the most popuar forms of quick street food, available in almost all parts of Japan. Kushi-age was first created in Shinsekai, in Osaka, when hostesses at local restaurants began serving golden-fried, bite-sized meats, vegetables and even cheese, on small bamboo skewers, to local workers and labourers in the middle of the day, as a quick snack. It is essentially chunks of battered meat and vegetables, deep fried and skewered on a stick. The dish gets its name from the bamboo skewers – “kushi” – and different types of meat cutlets – “katsu”. In the Kanto region, the dish is popularly known as “kushi-age”.
Kushi-age v/s Tempura
For those with a limited experience of Japanese cuisine, the deep fried skewers can easily look similar to fried tempura, which is a much more popular deep fried Japanese dish. However, the main difference between Kushi-age and tempura is the way the delicious batter is prepared. Tempura batter is generally made with water, flour and beaten eggs, and is much lighter. However, Kushi-age batter is made from a more stronger flour, and usually has breadcrumbs added to the mix, to give the fried food a more rugged texture, and also to make it more filling.
Popular Forms of Kushi-Age
For a long time, some of the most common kushi-katsu ingredients included beef, pork and seasonal fish, although variations of the dish can be made from many other ingredients, including vegetables like lotus root, potatoes and even cheese. This fried snack is extremely easy to prepare and easy to carry, and can be easily eaten when standing. This makes it a perfect snack for people who want to grab a quick bite, without spending too much time on their food. Another reason for its popularity is that Kushi-age makes perfect finger food that can be enjoyed with a glass of sake – or your favourite Japanese beer – at the end of a long, hard day.
Some of the most common types of kushi-age include :
- Asparagus and Pork
- Chicken Breast
- Seafood, such as shrimp, scallops, octopus and squid
- Vegetables like lotus root, onions, bell peppers. Other exotic flavours include bamboo root, okra and Japanese pumpkin
Either ways, whether you enjoy Kushi-age as a quick mid-day snack or an after work starter, tastes great and will keep you asking for more.
Traditional Kushi-age or Modern Twist?
Since the dish has its roots in Osaka, some of the best Kushi-age is available in Osaka. Many places have given the dish a modern twist that include serving Kushi-age with strawberries and even cheesecake. But I recommend you stick to the tried and traditional version of Kushi-age to begin with, and then work your way up towards the more complex and innovative flavours.
What To Expect When Eating Kushi-age?
Since Kushi-age is a street-food meant as a quick snack, there are not many rules that you need to follow while eating. But, it always helps to know what you are going to be dealing with, before hand. So, read on…
Kushi-age is generally served with a side-dish of raw cabbage coarsely chopped into strips. The cabbage may be served along with your portion or Kushi-age, or may already be kept on the table in a common bowl. This is generally to aid with digestion, after eating a lot of deep-fried food, but you can also eat it along with your kushi-age chunks to give the meat a different, even more crunchy texture.
Generally when you order Kushi-age, it will be served with a tonkatsu sauce, which kinda reminds me of Worcestershire sauce. However, in different parts of Japan, you may get different types of sauces in small metal containers. You can dip the fried skewer in the sauce, but do remember that the sauce is common for the table and others at the table will also dip their skewers in the same bowl of sauce. So, whatever you do, resist the temptation to “double-dip” a piece of kushi-age that you have taken a bite out of, into the sauce again. One tip for sauce-lovers : you can use the strips of raw cabbage to scoop up some extra sauce and pour it on your plate or directly on your skewer as well.
Order smaller portions
Since Kushi-age is best served fresh and directly out of the fryer, don’t order too many portions of a set menu, or even too many skewers at the same time. Order about 3-4 skewers – or one portion – at one time, and then order some more again. Remember that eating it fresh is key to enjoying the kushi-age!
While many restaurants serving Kushi-age have an English menu, the most popular way of ordering Kushi-age, to take a look at the visuals on the menu, and choose what they like.
After you are done eating the delicious kushi-age, remember to drop off your used skewers in a special bamboo cup, which will be placed on the table, for used skewers.
Is eating Kushi-age an expensive affair?
You can either order Kushi-age as individual skewers or as a part of a set menu. Set menus will have anywhere between five to twenty skewers in a portion. In most cases, you will pay for each skewer that you eat, which can cost anywhere from 50 JPY to about 250 JPY , depending on the meat or vegetable used to prepare the stick. If you are eating on your own, order individual skewers or a portion of 5 skewers. This way, you can sample more variety of kushi-age at a single time. It also saves you the trouble of deciding which skewer to order next!
On an average you will spend about 1000 JPY for about 8 – 10 skewers, which is quite filling. Nor is it too expensive. Obviously, fancier restaurants will be more expensive, but on a whole, eating tasty Kushi-age need not be an expensive affair.
While Kushi-age is not as well-known as sushi, it definitely is a tasty snack to enjoy on the go. So, Remember not to double-dip your skewer and enjoy kushi-age to the max, the next time you are in Japan.
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