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What is Hibachi?

Updated on January 14, 2011

History of Hibachi

Before describing the modern-take on this ancient grilling device, let’s take a look at its history!

The hibachi, meaning “fire bowl” in Japanese is a traditional heating device from Japan. Originally, it was a round-shaped contained made to hold charcoal. Because the word is Japanese, many people associate Hibachi with Japan, however, the hibachi actually came from China. The Chinese nobility used the charcoal device to heat rooms portably. Due to the lack of metal in Asia, the earliest hibachis were made from cypress wood and clay. Today, however, hibachis have become something completely different altogether!

English Changes

In English, hibachis are small portable cooking grills made from cast iron. They are used as portable and small cooking devices. In Japan these are called shichirin. It has been speculated that these grills, upon coming to the United States were marketed as hibachi because shichirin was too difficult to pronounce.

Hibachi in America Today!

Hibachi style cooking is the equivalent of teppanyaki cooking in Japan. Hibachi restaurants feature a large gas-heated hotplate which is the focal point of a large surrounding table, generally seating 10-12 people. The hibachi chef is trained to perform tricks with the utensils and food for diners. Typical tricks include spinning egg and the onion volcano.


SO, Yay or Nay?

Personally, I love hibachi grilling! There’s nothing more exciting than watching a chef throw his knife and shrimp in the air, to see the shrimp land in the onion volcano. That being said, the food does not represent 5-star cooking! The cooking techniques themselves are very simple (grilling), but it’s the interactive dining thing that gets us to go. It’s perfect for holidays, birthdays and loud celebrations. (Sake bombs anyone?)

A close friend of mine swears by Hibachi for first dates, as you don’t really have to talk to your date if the date is awful.

The only two cons I can think of are price and forced socializing. Depending on the restaurants, hibachi eating is generally pricey. A rough estimate is $40 per person (Benihana, the largest chain hibachi restaurants). I have however, seen cheaper hibachi such as $19 per person at Ichiban and other local spots. Also try out hibachi lunch, where everything is the same, but twice as cheap as dinner!

About the forced socializing portion, it isn’t so bad when you’ve had a drink or two, or if your date sucks. There are people who love talking to strangers too! Overall though, I tend to focus on my dinner mates and ignore the other folks at the table, but each to their own!

HUGE TIP: You must tip the hibachi chef generously in addition to the waiter/waitress! So remember to bring cash!


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