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Saitamaya: The Master of Grilled Meat

November 7, 2016

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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!

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Saitamaya: The Master of Grilled Meat

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  1. I was the commenter that was in line two years ago excited.
    The experience was amazing, food was amazing and will definitely visit again this place this autumn in the end of october when I travel to Tokyo again. ^-^

    6 months ago
  2. Hey Simon and Martina, I know the rules specify you have to be 20 and over. Now it seems here that he is very strict with his rules, and my girlfriend and I are coming to Japan in a few months time however she is just under 20 (only 2 months away from 20 while in japan – but I am of the legal age). Do you think he will still allow us in or is that out of the question as we have really been looking forward to going here so it will be a shame if we are unable to get in after waiting.

    2 years ago
  3. I’m at the Saitamaya waiting in line at the moment. So excited!

    3 years ago
  4. hi! coming from say shinjuku or tokyo station, how do we go to saitayama? seems google map’s not familiar with the place. just got home from a 2-week trip in osaka, kyoto, and kobe. had a great time! and i prolly will go visit tokyo again next spring :) would love to add this to my must eat list. thanks!

    3 years ago
  5. This was an amazing video. I’ll say right now that if I ever get to Japan this place is now absolutely the top of my To-Do list.

    Do you guys have someplace that you write down the music you use for videos nowadays? I’ve always enjoyed the BGM selections you have, but the music in this video was GREAT! I especially loved the opening music and the closing, more instrumental music. If it’s on tumblr or some other site just point me that way, please!!

    3 years ago
  6. This sounds so amazing. I wish I was planning a trip to Japan just for this. I’m picky with my foods but watching this, even things like liver and spleen, made my mouth water and I could just imagine how yummy it would taste. It’s really amazing that you guys were not only invited to take video but also to sit down with the family after – it’s a great honor and I’m sure you’ve become special people in their hearts as well.

    Thank you for sharing!

    3 years ago
  7. I have to say that reading the last bit of this entry got me all misty eyed, also. It’s been a really bumpy road for us for a while now. It seems like every other day there’s some new catastrophe or something. We don’t have anybody to help us when something goes wrong. It’s just the two of us against the world. Yet, last year, an old friend came out of the blue and invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with his family. It might not have meant anything to them, but being accepted like that meant the world to us. Made us feel a little less alone in this big wide universe.

    3 years ago
  8. Wow it finally logged me in! So I posted on my FB page, but I really want to know…does anyone know of a decent Japanese restaurant in Milwaukee area? And also is that music in the background Kitaro? I have been such a fan of his since the 80’s I think. His “Silk Road” is a classic. Awesome video people; I feel like I was there with you!

    3 years ago
  9. This is so amazing! And I’m really happy you guys are doing so well..I had some of the best experiences of my life when I visited Japan for two weeks a few months ago, it was a dream come true and I hope to come study the language next year. Can’t wait to see more food adventures!

    3 years ago
  10. Oh man.. Offal is some of the best meat. Liver is so tasty and my mouth was watering at that spleen. This video was really something special. I hope to try the food for myself one day!

    3 years ago
  11. I’m hungry for yakiton… Too bad the Japanese yakitori place in my city is a little too pricy for my liking. The fiancé loves his Chinese meat sticks so I don’t mind eating those.

    Maybe I’ll go here when I go to Japan in a couple years.

    3 years ago
  12. Shit, I got teary just reading the blog post. Simon, I’m so happy for you guys. I was really worried you know, how you would survive in Japan, when your main livelihood is filming, and with Japanese people being famous for hating being filmed? I thought you would get in trouble eventually. But now I see how wrong I was. You’re in good hands. It’s so awesome that you have a local company supporting you, and lots of local Youtubers, bloggers, and foodies to show you around. I’m so glad. And now you even get stubborn ojiisans on your side?! Dude. I couldn’t be more proud. And I haven’t even watched the video. Hah!

    3 years ago
    • We’re actually doing a lot better than we expected. Right after publishing this we met a man who many believe is the best sushi chef in Japan (not Jiro, by the way). And we’re just coming across more and more places that actually, oddly, like us. It’s amazing. We’re incredibly lucky, and we’re having the best time of our lives lately. This year in Japan so far has actually been the greatest year of my life.

      3 years ago
      • Oh wow….sushi next? You know my mom didn’t realise there was a proper way to eat sushi until she watched your videos. She appreciates it a lot more now ;)

        Btw, I noticed tokyorocks put a list of rules on his review. Do you think you could put a copy on this blog post too? Because I think it’s better to be clear than having people rock up and pick and choose what to eat/drink….not a good look.

        3 years ago
    • Just saw the video. It’s so beautiful, with all the camera angles and music and editing, but it still has the friendly, personal Simon & Martina vibe, you know? Btw that carer dude is awesome. He looks so happy~ xD Massive respect for his job too, not an easy one that. Well I guess I just found my next food destination ^^

      3 years ago
  13. Hi Simon and Martina! I’m really glad you guys have a great time at Saitamaya!!
    I have a question though, you mentioned that they only have a Japanese menu. I am planning to visit Japan in two months. Do you have any tips on ordering there without any knowledge of Japanese?
    Please help, the food looks amazing!

    3 years ago
    • Easy tip: Don’t order. He’all just give you sticks. Eat them, and that’s it. There’s extra stuff on the menu, but you can’t order it. So just take it all as it comes :)

      3 years ago
  14. Awesome! This sounds and looks like a wonderful experience, and not just the food. Though the food looked marvelous.

    3 years ago
  15. Looks awesome! Always thought Yakitori/yakiton was a very easy working people food, like 서민음식 in Korea
    but it seems like he really takes it to another level of artistry!
    Were you guys served more Omakase style? IS that an option? I’m not sure what you guys meant when you said there’s only 1 more left… was it a course-meal of 9 sticks or just 9 different menus in general?

    3 years ago
    • Ah. Sorry for the confusion. It’s omakase. He gives you nine sticks of food and then you’re done. Sometimes he gives you extra but don’t count on it :)

      3 years ago
  16. Terrific video! Looks like exactly the type of little, family run places I like to find on my journeys. Cheers!!

    3 years ago
  17. When he mentions that you have to drink at the bar – does he mean be of drinking age (not a kid) or actually drink alcohol? I just ask since I’m ridiculously allergic to alcohol and cannot drink :( (I had a peach bellini once and almost passed out…)

    I’d love to go though – it looks amazing! You can see the love that is put into the food and the work they do.

    3 years ago
    • I’m curious about this too, since I can’t drink for religious obligations. Hope they answer that more clearly! Also, do you choose what you want or you have to get the whole courses?

      3 years ago
    • I’m assuming he means of drinking age because he talks about it being like a bar and in the video, it looks like an izakaya somewhat.

      3 years ago