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Skewers of succulent chicken dipped in barbecue sauce, grilled to perfection over hot charcoals, and cold beer -- it's easy to see the appeal of yakitori after a hard day's work. Not surprisingly, Yakitori-ya(yakitori restaurants and stands) are popular early-evening gathering places, filled with office workers stopping off for a quick snack before go back to home.

Yakitori stands are far from fancy; often they'll consist of just five or six stools pushed up against a counter. Clouds of aromatic smoke waft off the grill and into the street to lure hungry passersby. Even at the "nicer" places, the emphasis is less on decor and more on providing good food and a convivial atmosphere.

Yakitori-ya can be recognized by small red lanterns in front of stands, with the character for ?Tori-or bird. Another clue to finding a yakitori-ya is the clouds of fragrant smoke coming from the vent.

Two of the main factors that set one yakitori-ya apart from the next are the ingredients in the Tare(the sauce used to baste the chicken) and the quality of the charcoal used for grilling. Hard, aromatic charcoal produces the best results, better than cheaper charcoals and far better than gas or electric grills. Some places use free-range chicken- Jidori- , which is tougher than ordinary chicken but also more flavorful.

Although other foods are served, chicken is the mainstay of the yakitori-ya. Morsels of chicken are skewered by themselves or interspersed with pieces of leek or other vegetables. Other dishes include chicken wings, tender white-meat chicken breast fillets ? Sasami- , dark-meat chicken-leg chunks, chicken livers and other organs, ground-chicken meatballs, and even chicken skin. Non-chicken items include large mushrooms, green peppers, ginkgo nuts and small quail eggs.

Food in yakitori-ya usually comes on skewers, with a minimum of two skewers per order. Before it's grilled, the food is dipped into either a sweetish soy-based sauce - Tare or salt ? Sio- -- sometimes you get a choice, but often one or the other is the specialty of the chef. You can also sprinkle your chicken with- Shichimi- (a mixture of red pepper and six other spices). There's usually a handy receptacle on the counter where you can deposit your used skewers.

Some fancy places have a wider variety of choices, with more exotic delicacies like asparagus, rabbit or sparrow, but generally smaller restaurants and stands limit themselves to the basics. Most patrons drink beer with their yakitori, although soft drinks are also available. After you've had enough chicken, - Chazuke- (a soupy mixture of tea and rice) is a very filling way to top off the meal.

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