Teppan means iron plate and yaki translates as grilled or fried. Together they create the term teppanyaki, which usually means grilled food on a griddle or iron plate. In restaurants, cast iron plates are large, flat surfaces on which various teppanyaki foods can be prepared, including grilled meats and vegetables of various kinds. Other times, people in restaurants may grill their own food on smaller plates located at each table.
Teppanyaki is often served with soy sauce or other dipping sauces.
Many people are familiar with teppanyaki prepared in Japanese-style restaurants in other countries such as Benihana. The thrill of seeing food prepared and grilled is still entertaining, and these restaurants have been nicknamed Japanese steakhouses because they frequently use beef. In Japan, restaurants that serve teppanyaki generally cater to tourists and not Japanese, and the Misono Company owns the most famous chain of these restaurants. Misono introduced the cooking style to restaurants in 1945 in Japan, and companies like Benihana followed suit, creating restaurants in the US in the 1960s.
Although they are popular restaurants, most teppanyaki foods are not a part of the Japanese diet and therefore primarily appeal to Westerners or those who do not live in Japan. One exception is when these restaurants make okonomiyaki, which is a pan-fried cake that contains various ingredients such as fish or pork. These can be made in teppanyaki restaurants, but are also popular in a variety of other Japanese restaurants.
It’s easy to see that teppanyaki refers more to a cooking method than any specific food. The dishes prepared with this method can be variable. Another important element to dining at a teppanyaki or hibachi restaurant is the chef’s performance, which is especially enjoyed at restaurants like Benihana. Many chefs are trained not only to prepare delicious food, but also to juggle, make quick and light cuts, and entertain guests. This, more than anything else served in such a restaurant, may be its biggest draw, though many guests also rave about food prepared using this method.
Many of the dishes that are prepared use simple ingredients. Meat or fish, vegetables, some spices and a little soybean oil can be the main ones. Some restaurants serve foods with soy sauce or other dipping sauces, and may offer diners the option of eating with chopsticks or forks. Much of the food is prepared in bite-sized pieces to make eating with chopsticks easier, especially for those who don’t practice this method.