November 7, 2016
Guys, we are super excited to share this with you for a number of reasons. We went to Saitamaya Yakiton, a very famous Yakiton (やきとん) joint in the Jujo area, and it’s out of this world. Let me tell you a bit about it.
Now, we’ve done meat stick videos before, with Iseya and Torikizoku. And both are good places that we still enjoy from time to time. Iseya was our first experience of Yakitori when we came to Japan, and it’ll always be a special place steeped in memories for us. So when our friend suggested we come to Saitamaya, and when we heard that this is the best Yakiton place in Japan, we were intrigued. I mean, how much different can you really get? Meat stick is meat stick, yes? Yes? No. Not even freaking close.
Let me just say, this is the best food I’ve ever had on a stick. Corn dogs go to hell. Popsicles? Pshaw. These nine sticks of meat right here are just something else. Every bite is glorious. Every time you get a new stick and taste it your eyes widen. You look around the room as if someone just David Blaine’d you, like “can you believe what just happened.” Every thing you put in your mouth will make you happy in your tummy and your heart.
If you’re confused, Yakiton is different from Yakitori, in that it’s pork rather than chicken focused. That’s about it. Though the last stick at Saitamaya is chicken, that’s more of a palette cleanser at the end of an oily meal. The rest of the sticks are beef and pork. And ohhhh god it’s so wonderful. Did I emphasize that yet? It’s really really good.
What’s amazing about this place as well is that it’s not expensive. We’ve been to restaurants before that are $300 a person. But here, the sticks are cheap, under two bucks each. The drinks are under 5 bucks. He could easily charge 20 bucks a stick and people would still come because it’s that good. It really is that good. People travel from all over to get here. Our first time here, in fact, we spoke with some people that traveled from Hiroshima, on a Monday, just to eat there. Some people reserve days to go to Disneyland or Harajuku: foodies reserve days to come here.
I’d like to talk about how we shot this a bit more, because I think it’s important. Our friend introduced us to Saitamaya, and we spoke with the owner beforehand about shooting a video. We told him we’d shoot only whatever he let us shoot, and it’s entirely up to him. He, for some reason, was all for it. I really don’t know why. He’s very strict about the no pictures rule. Even while we were shooting, someone else pulled out their phone to take a picture and the owner said “don’t you even think about it,” and the customer sheepishly put his phone away. We have another foodie friend who came there before and asked to take pictures and got denied. And, really, we were expecting the same. Fortunately, our friend who made the introduction has been going there for decades, and so the chef trusts him. Only him. We just happened to know the right guy, and got a super rare opportunity to shoot here.
The owner let us come in on a Saturday to shoot our video. We got there in advance and shot our interview with him, and then we set up before the customers were let in. When they all sat down, the owner told them what we’re doing, and asked if anyone didn’t want to be on camera. Two people didn’t want to be in the video, so you won’t see them in it. Everyone else was down for the cause!
The guy directly to the right of us, however, was MORE than excited about this video. He was giddy the whole time. He told us his story when we were done shooting: he takes a 90 minute train ride to eat there every week, sometimes twice a week, because he loves it so much. He’s a nurse for the disabled, which isn’t a glamorous job in Japan, and this is the only restaurant he cares about. I loved his passion. Saitamaya loves its food, and its customers love Saitamaya.
What’s shocking for me as well is that, when I first heard about the owner, I was expecting something reminiscent of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. I was expecting scowls and grunts, food thrown in front of you, and the only time he’d look you in the eyes would be to nod a command for you to eat it. But that wasn’t the case. He was so friendly. All smiles. He talked to everyone. When a customer was about to leave he would leave the grill and come over and shake their hand. He was unbelievably kind and warm. Just follow his rules, and you’ll feel the warmth of a loving grandfather making his special dishes.
We took some pictures of the place as well. We didn’t get as many as we wanted to because we were busy filming, so they’re not the best quality either. If you’d like to see more pictures, check out our friend’s Tabelog post on Saitamaya, who was there with us the day of the shoot. He’s the one that got us in contact with Saitamaya, and he’s the one that’s been getting us in contact with other awesome places, like Kurogi, and more to come. He’s a good friend and a cool guy, and he REALLY knows his food.
But here’s a few pictures I’d like to share:
These last pictures with the family are the ones that mean the most to me. When they finished up their service and all the customers left, we got to see the whole family come out. The wife prepared some extra food that the family eats after service, and she gave us some bowls. And holy shit I’m thinking about it now and getting really misty eyed, though to them it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. To me, to see a family that close together, working together on a passionate food project, and to be let in to eat with them, ah man it felt so special. We’ve been floating around for almost a decade now, just the two of us, with no family but each other and our animals. But this day we got to play with the grandkids, and talk to the grandfather about food and politics, and talk to the wives about makeup: it felt like Thanksgiving for me. And with how little this family is in the media, how they don’t even let people take selfies there or take any pictures of their food, to be invited was a really rare opportunity.
I’m moved. I love this place. I love this food. I love these people. And I really want you to try it out. Please be respectful when you’re there, don’t take pictures and don’t ask. Have a drink, be open to all the chef’s giving you, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best sticks of food you’ll ever put in your mouth.
If you’d like to come to Saitamaya, the address is 2-5-12 Higashi-Jujo, Kita-ku, Tokyo, or if you’re more comfortable with Japanese, 東京都北区東十条2-5-12. Get there an hour before it opens at 4PM to be safe. There are no reservations. There is no website. There is no English menu. Cash only.
(EDIT) Clarity on Restaurant Rules:
1. If you come here drunk, you won’t be allowed in.
2. If you can’t drink, just order one drink (beer or lemon sour) have a sip and leave it there. They don’t have any soft drinks.
2. They give you 9 sticks of grilled meat as a set menu, nothing more nothing less. You have to eat them all and if you can’t because something seems “gross” I wouldn’t recommend going.
3. No photos, phones, or video.
4. No smoking.
5. Adults only meaning 20 yrs above since drinking age in Japan is 20.
6. Cash only.
And if you’d like to check out some extra scenes, we’ve got them here. Check them out!