What do teppanyaki chefs and magicians have in common? A magic touch.
Before I moved to Japan, I would have never used the word “magical” to describe a teppanyaki restaurant. But now that I’ve been lucky enough to visit one on several different occasions, I can honestly say that, each time, the experience had a touch of magic to it. So what types of magic tricks do teppanyaki chefs have up their sleeves? A lot more than you might think.
✓ They make things disappear. My first taste of steak at my first visit to a teppanyaki resto in Japan made my already dwindling desire to become a vegetarian vanish for good.
✓ They do daring fiery stunts. I actually once watched a chef cooking while engulfed in flames. (Note: This had more to do with how the food is cooked and the angle from which I was observing the chef, and less about a human who was immune to fire. But it felt like I was watching a magic trick at the time!)
✓ They turn you into a bottomless pit. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told me that the chef had literally turned my stomach into a bottomless pit. (What kind of black magic was making me eat more and more, not considering the exorbitant cost or the fact that I needed to unbutton my jeans well before the meal was through?)
See, there’s something you need to know about teppanyaki restaurants. The steak is really, really good. Like, melt-on-your-tongue, go-for-a-fifth- helping, lick-your-fingers-and-thumbs good.
Think The Keg is tasty? You’ll never look at it the same way after you’ve been to one of these gastronomical havens. Think you don’t like steak? Come here and be cured.
Okay, okay. I’ll admit that there are foods other than steak on the menu at a teppanyaki restau- rant. There’s typically quite a beautiful assortment of seafood to choose from—those whose pits are more bottomless than mine might even consider getting the “surf and turf” option to double up on the deliciousness. Or, if you are a vegetarian (and want to stay that way), you’ll find they have tons of seasonal veggies they will grill right in front of your eyes. (I’ll admit I probably had some of the best shrimp—and mushrooms!—of my life at a teppanyaki restaurant.)
But here’s the thing: If you want the chef to truly work their magic for you, you’ve got to try the steak.
Just don’t go and mix up the Japanese word for “steak” (gyuniku) with “milk” (gyunyu) and order their “most famous gyunyu” over and over while the wait staff stares at you, dumbfounded. And pointing to a photo of the meat doesn’t help. I guess overcoming language barriers is the one place where these culinary wizards are missing the magic touch.
Kathleen spent years living in and travelling around Japan—and blogging about her adventures while she was at it. Now back in Toronto, Kathleen continues to write about her life-changing experience abroad when she can—in between discovering new and delicious Japanese restaurants in the city, working as a copywriter and raising her baby boy.
Illustration by Reiko Ema