For America’s Best Teriyaki, Head West (and Bring Napkins)


I’m sitting at a plastic desk in entrance of a strip mall on the fringe of Portland. I-5 hums within the distance. There's a Cadillac Escalade parked in entrance of me with tinted home windows and a bar lock over the steering wheel, which appears extreme for two p.m. on a Wednesday in June. I’m ready for the road to die down at Bentoz, one of many a whole bunch of Korean-owned teriyaki eating places alongside the I-5 hall within the Pacific Northwest. 

It has been greater than a decade since I’ve been right here for hen teriyaki. I’ve by no means ordered anything off the menu. I’m undecided anybody else has, for that matter. I used to come back to Bentoz on a regular basis in highschool, throughout our lunch hour. It was close by, low-cost, and I may get a detailed relative of my dad’s shoyu hen, which I always craved. I nonetheless do. 

Teriyaki refers to a Japanese technique of cooking slightly than a selected dish. “Teri” refers back to the shine that occurs due to the sugars, and “yaki” interprets to grill. Hen is the long-lasting receptacle for a teriyaki glaze, a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. You'll be able to teriyaki something, although—you possibly can teriyaki a sofa if in case you have a sufficiently big grill. 

Meals historians imagine Japanese cooks invented the method within the seventeenth century. It unfold with the introduction of mass soy sauce manufacturing through the Edo interval, which lasted from 1603 to 1867. Throughout that very same period, Chiba prefecture grew to become a middle for soy sauce manufacturing in Japan. International soy sauce manufacturers Kikkoman and Yamasa are nonetheless based mostly in Chiba at this time.

Japanese immigrants introduced teriyaki west with them to Hawaii once they got here to work on the white-owned sugar plantations on the islands on the finish of the nineteenth century, together with my very own great-grandparents. I hope that, regardless of the horrible working circumstances on the plantations, they at the very least acquired to eat some teriyaki each from time to time. 

Anthony Park, proprietor of Du’s Grill in Portland, Oregon, and his two children.

In the US at this time, for essentially the most half, teriyaki stays Japanese in identify solely. To grasp teriyaki in its present kind within the Pacific Northwest, one should study Korean immigration to the area as nicely. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 dismantled a quota system that restricted the variety of Asians allowed to enter the US. As soon as lifted, a wave of Korean immigrants got here to the area. In King County, the place Seattle is positioned, the Korean inhabitants grew from 712 in 1970 to 13,000 in 1990. Koreans introduced their meals together with them—desk staples like bulgogi, jjigae, and mandu, which had been unfamiliar to most Individuals on the time. 

A traditional bulgogi marinade—consisting of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, onion, and pear—isn’t terribly removed from teriyaki, which was already rising in reputation attributable to locations like Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill, which opened in 1976 in Seattle’s Nihonmachi neighborhood. 

Earlier than teriyaki took on its present Korean-American kind, Toshi Kasahara, the proprietor of Toshi’s, launched the Japanese dish to the area. Toshi grew up in Ashikaga, a metropolis 70 miles north of Tokyo. “I spent a variety of time with my grandma, and she or he was at all times cooking. I used to be cooking a variety of fish too, normally dojo, which I caught and cooked with a teriyaki sauce that I made,” says Toshi. “It grew to become my sauce.”

He introduced what he discovered with him when he immigrated to Seattle and opened town’s first teriyaki store on March 2, 1976. His teriyaki hen plate offered for $1.85 and have become well-liked instantly. 

Seattle’s vital Japanese inhabitants meant there have been already many Japanese eating places within the metropolis, however Toshi, now 73 and soft-spoken, was the primary to focus on teriyaki. 

Quickly others started to repeat him, however they began taking shortcuts, he laments. “They precook the hen, and it will get dry whenever you warmth it again up. A whole lot of locations do this as a result of it’s simple. They aren't taking teriyaki significantly. I get in at 8 a.m. and keep till 11 p.m.,” he says. “But when folks like dry hen . . . nicely, they've a alternative!”

Korean immigrants within the area, seeing a chance for rebranding, took the Japanese identify “teriyaki” and served one thing between bulgogi and teriyaki. It took off. Washingtonians seek for “teriyaki” on-line greater than another state, adopted by Oregonians in second place. 

Du’s Workers put together takeout salad orders serve with a creamy poppy seed dressing.

In a 2010 New York Occasions article on teriyaki, John T. Edge describes the dish as “omnipresent” in Seattle and “the closest this metropolis involves a Chicago canine.” It’s nonetheless an edible mascot for town at this time. 

Portland admittedly doesn't have the identical declare to teriyaki as Seattle. Though Toshi launched teriyaki to the unlucky metropolis to the north, it's nonetheless very important in Portland’s meals scene. NFL gamers Ndamukong Suh and Kenneth Acker cease by Du’s Grill each time they're on the town. Rapper Aminé shouts out the identical teriyaki restaurant in “Turf” (Pals used to do tablets and solely eat at Du’s Grill) and within the music video for “Blackjack. 

Anthony Park has been operating Du’s since 2009 when he took it over from his mother and father, Bae and Muncha Park. They took over the enterprise from one other Korean proprietor within the late ’90s after listening to it was an excellent enterprise alternative. Muncha, Anthony’s mother, modified the teriyaki recipes to lean extra into Korean flavors—extra garlic, ginger, and onion. 

Anthony had just lately moved again to Portland from Los Angeles when he determined to take over. His mother and father had been getting older, and he didn’t need Du’s Grill to finish. “I did it due to a way of loyalty and obligation as a son, however now it’s turn into my approach to assist my household.”

Du’s Grill stays a logo of teriyaki in Portland. Anthony instructed me how teriyaki has grown in reputation, together with East Asian meals typically, since his mother and father began the restaurant. “It has turn into a go-to quick meals possibility right here.”

“It’s our dish within the Pacific Northwest, like tacos in LA or pizza in New York,” stated Park. “I lived in LA for some time, and I by no means discovered teriyaki pretty much as good as within the Pacific Northwest. I can’t actually clarify it. I'll say with confidence that we do it the perfect right here. We acquired teriyaki on lock.”

I left Portland for ten years to shiver in Minnesota and be confused in New York Metropolis. In each locations, I famous the shortage of teriyaki—the sort I grew up with. I may discover it, however it wasn’t inside ten minutes always, like it's right here, and after I did have it, it was method too saucy, too candy. 

In an age when the perceived “authenticity” of meals propels their Instagrammability and recognition, meals like pho, birria, and xiao lengthy bao are seen as sexier than teriyaki, which performs extra of an unglamorous and utilitarian position—attributable to its unadorned presentation over rice, low value, and convoluted cultural historical past. It’s hardly ever written about in publications or hyped on social media. However for those who go to a strip mall teriyaki restaurant through the lunch rush on a weekday, it’s clear that clients don’t care.

Again at Bentoz, there’s a big group of contractors sporting neon inexperienced shirts ordering on the counter. All of them order hen teriyaki to go. The contractors decide up their meals, and one squirts sriracha throughout his takeout field in little zigzags. I stroll inside to order from a small girl sporting an indigo apron named Kate Park. She opened Bentoz 25 years in the past with one other proprietor, and she or he has been operating it on her personal for the final seven years. Typically her daughter helps. 

Takeout from Bentoz in Portland, Oregon.

Subsequent to the register is a plastic signal that reads “Dwell, Snigger, Love.” Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” blasts from a increase field within the nook. I’m sorry Ms. Jackson (ooooooh), I'm for actual!

I get the hen bento—grilled teriyaki hen thighs, rice, and a small portion of steamed broccoli, cabbage, and carrots for $9.95. Kate works furiously behind a curtain and solely emerges when a buyer involves the counter. She bursts from the kitchen via curls of smoke, like a WWE wrestler making their grand entrance. She doesn’t suplex me, however she does hand me a Styrofoam container. The highest reads: Get pleasure from your scrumptious second! 

The restaurant is small. I depend 4 tables, together with one stacked with condiments and big jugs of Lee Kum Kee soy sauce. Bentoz sits throughout from a motel, a halal market, and a spot known as Pleasure Spa, which options a picture of bamboo and the face of a huge white man, smiling, as disembodied palms rub his shoulders. 

I open the bento container to discover a pile of teriyaki hen. It has stunning grill marks and is completely cooked and seasoned, however the teriyaki sauce coats the hen a bit of an excessive amount of. I want it had extra independence! Every teriyaki place varies the sauce amount, thickness, and sweetness. Probably the most egregious sauce-to-chicken ratio I had was in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, the place it cruelly drowned each the hen and, worse, the harmless rice. 

Fortunately, this isn't the case with my Bentoz plate. I'm diving in, having fun with my scrumptious second.

Hiding beneath the hen is a bigger scoop of white rice, and on one finish of the container rests the pile of steamed greens. I poke round on the steamed greens as a medical scholar would possibly poke their first cadaver. I acknowledge that roasted crispy greens have a hegemonic grip on us, however steamed greens do bore me. If we're going to undergo with seeding, watering, tending, harvesting, and transporting these greens, isn’t it type of unhappy to allow them to find yourself boiling in a pot of water?

Once I’m carried out, I thank Kate for the meal and ask if I can interview her. “No time,” she says, smiling. I insist. “That is for {a magazine} from New York . . .” I say expectantly. Kate dips into the again and says she's going to come again. I hear the sound of hen scorching on the grill, and smoke floats out from behind the curtains. The cellphone rings, and she or he scribbles down the order. I perceive that the interview shouldn't be going to occur, so I stroll out the door into the strip mall parking zone. It smells like rain on asphalt. I inhale deeply. A bunch of teenagers tumble out of a sedan and into Bentoz. Kate takes their order and waves to me via the window. 



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