Tsukune: chicken meatballs skewer with vegetables and spices, grilled and wrapped in a sweet and sour sauce. A dish belonging to the Izakaya Japanese gastronomic culture, excellent as an aperitif or to bring new flavors to our summer BBQs.

I tasted my first Yakitori the day I arrived in Japan, almost 1 year ago, and still today I remember being extremely impressed by the goodness and simplicity that characterizes this dish. By Yakitori we mean a vast category of skewers, in which the noble (and not) parts of the chicken are used. You can find many types, each characterized by a unique flavor. Among all, my favorite is absolutely the Tsukune.

How is made? Imagine a mixture for meatballs with chicken, enriched with flavors, molded around a skewer, grilled and soaked in a sweet and sour sauce: still served hot, golden brown slightly burned, is a real pleasure for the eyes and the palate.

The simplicity of the chicken “skewers” here in Japan, is appreciated and requested at all hours of the day. In addition to Izakaya, you can buy them in supermarkets, conbini and street stalls during summer Matsuri (festivals).

But despite their popularity, nothing is comparable to those served in traditional Izakaya. The atmosphere in which you are involved, the perfumes and the people, contribute to making this simple dish delicious.

That said, if Japan is still a far destination, why not try to experience this country gastronomic culture through its flavors in our kitchens?

Tsukune recipe

Today I propose you the Tsukune recipe, a popular dish not only serve as street food but also for use in the traditional New Year’s meal (Osechi Ryouri), where it provides a good dose of protein accompanied by rice and colorful vegetables, all set up in a beautiful lacquered Obento.

Tsukune differs from other Yakitori by its softness and juiciness of the meat. The Teriyaki sauce that surrounds it, gives it a homogeneous glaze that, when cooked, is lightly caramelized, giving off a pleasant sweet-sour smell and taste.

Following the good advice of my culinary guru, Harumi Kurihara, the secret to allowing the meat to remain moist and soft lies on its cooking times. It is recommended to cook a small part of it first, without seasonings, mix it with the rest of the ingredients and cook again. A quick and easy way to get a nice result.

For Tsukune cooking, I used a simple grill stove. If not, you can use the oven or a pan with the help of the lid. As for the Teriyaki sauce instead, you can buy it ready in some Asian supermarkets or you can make it at home (here’s the recipe link). I advise you to prepare it at least 1 hour before cooking the Tsukune as it must reach room temperature.


200 gr chopped chicken meat
1 tablespoon Sesame oil
5 Shiso leaves (if you can’t even use Basil, the taste is different but the result is still delicious!)
1 Leek
Teriyaki sauce
Skewer sticks

Let’s cook!

Start by chopping both the Shiso leaves (or Basil) and your leek (see photo). Put them aside.

In a pan, heat a tablespoon of Sesame Oil. Once warm, add 1/3 of your portion of minced meat. Cook it moving from time to time with the help of a spatula, trying to chop it into small pieces. Finally, transfer it to a plate and let it cool.

Once it reaches room temperature, add it to the mixture of raw meat and mix with the help of your hands. Add the salt, the Shiso leaves (or basil) and the leek until you obtain a homogeneous mixture.



With your hand slightly moist, shape your dough by wrapping the stick halfway along its length.

Wrap a grid with aluminum paper and position your Tsukune. Preheat your grill (or oven) to 180 – 200 degrees.

Warning! To prevent the sticks from burning, wrap them with aluminum foil!

Tsukune spiedini

Cook your Tsukune for 4-5 minutes on one side, take them out of the oven, and sprinkle the surface with some of the Teriyaki sauce. Reposition them in the grill on the opposite side for 4-5 minutes. After this time, repeat the operation this time cooking them only for 1-2 minutes (this last step allow the last layer of sauce to caramelize).


Here are your Tsukunas ready! Serve them on a plate with a few slices of lemon, a bowl of rice and why not, a good glass of beer!

Some meat leftover? Why don’t make small portions to bring in your Obento at work?

My Instagram Account “EveryDayObento”




Izakaya lovers here is another article to  : DISCOVERY JAPAN: IZAKAYA, MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLE BARS!