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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogKaraage: The Best Fried Chicken from Japan!

Karaage: The Best Fried Chicken from Japan!

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
November 01, 2023
A plate of kararage with vegetables on the side.

Karaage (fried chicken) is a beloved treasure, capturing taste buds across Japan. Known for its crunchy outside and juicy inside, this Japanese fried chicken dish is a foodie’s delight. But have you ever wondered about where it came from? You’re in for a finger-licking treat as we dive into this exciting culinary journey!

Who invented karaage?

Karaage’s history goes back to the 16th century when Portuguese missionaries landed in Kyushu, introducing Western frying techniques that influenced Japanese cuisine like tempura. However, the mainly fish-based diet in Japan, rooted in Buddhist beliefs, made eating meat nearly impossible.

Japan underwent big changes in 1868 when Emperor Meiji began modernizing the country. This transformation embraced Western ideas, leading to the popularity of meats like chicken in Japanese diets.

Someone frying chicken in oil.
This chicken is deep-fried to a golden crisp. Image via Shutterstock

Karaage’s origins trace back to Rairaiken, a Chinese restaurant in Usa City, Oita Prefecture. In the late 1950s, they started serving karaage as part of a set menu. This dish’s popularity led it to move to an izakaya named Shosuke across the street. It was there that the owner learned the frying technique from Rairaiken.

Eventually, Shosuke shifted its focus to become the first dedicated take-out karaage restaurant. The locals’ fondness for this quick and cost-effective meal rapidly spread to Nakatsu and other regions in Japan. Presently, Usa boasts over 40 karaage eateries, proudly establishing itself as a hub for this beloved fried delicacy. Along with Nakatsu, they share their love for karaage and celebrate with an annual Karaage Festival dedicated to their favorite food!

What’s the difference between Japanese and Western fried chicken?

Karaage and Western fried chicken may seem similar at first glance, both having golden-brown, crispy coatings and juicy meat within. However, there are differences between the two. Karaage is typically made with bite-sized pieces of boneless chicken, often marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sake, giving it a unique flavor! 

A plate of Japanese fried chicken with a slice of lemon on the side.
This dish uses chicken thigh meat. Image via Shutterstock

Western fried chicken, on the other hand, is often made with more significant cuts of chicken and a thicker, seasoned breading. The cooking technique for karaage involves double frying, which results in a lighter, less greasy finish. The Japanese style emphasizes the chicken’s flavor. In contrast, Western fried chicken is celebrated for its bold seasonings. Which one do you prefer?

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Where can I eat karaage in Japan?

If you find yourself in Japan craving karaage, you’re in luck! This dish is available at many restaurants, including several famous karaage chains. Here are a few notable ones:

Torian Karaage

Torian Karaage is more than a restaurant; it’s an ambassador of Oita’s culinary traditions. Famous for its chicken-based delicacies like karaage and chicken tempura, Oita has a rich tradition of simple, affordable, and delicious dishes. Torian takes care in selecting high-quality chicken from partner farms. 

A plate of fried chicken wings from Torian Karaage.
Torian Karaage is a staple in Oita City! Image via Oita Local.

The heart of their flavor lies in their signature sauce, using local Oita soy sauce with a blend of spices, garlic, ginger, fruit, and other premium ingredients. Torian promises to preserve the quality and taste of their karaage, even when calm, through a unique coating method. They’re not just serving food; they’re delivering a dining experience only found in Oita’s cuisine.

Furaibo

The tale of Furaibo starts with Kenko Otsubo in Nagoya in 1963. He established the initial Furaibo restaurant and introduced karaage as a secret menu item. This evolved into their renowned tebasaki karaage (chicken wing karaage). Using chicken wings, typically used for soup, created a dish loved for its lightness and taste. Simultaneously, the distinctive sauce, refined through travels to various regions, became Furaibo’s hallmark of success.

A plate of tebasaki chicken wings from Furaibo.
Tebasaki chicken has soy sauce, ginger, and garlic flavors! Image via Wikimedia

Otsubo’s commitment to preserving taste and teaching disciples led to the Furaibo family chain. Today, Furaibo is known for affordable and delicious dining, with tebasaki on every table. They’ve even made the journey to America, offering their famous tebasaki to international fans!

Tometeba

From Kyushu, Tometeba represents the best of the region’s culinary excellence, famous for its tebasaki fried chicken wings. These wings are a carefully crafted blend of secret seasonings, resulting in a delightful crunch on the outside and juicy tenderness within.

A plate of fried chicken wings from Tometeba.
These fried chicken wings are unique! Image via Wolt

Tometeba’s commitment to consistency has led to the creation of its Tebasaki Master Advisor certification, recognizing those who meet strict standards in the art of frying and seasoning chicken wings. 

The menu also has flavors like Amateba, crispy wings covered with a sweet and savory sauce, and Karatemeba, with a spicy blend of spices and Tometeba’s special salt. For a unique twist, try hiemeba, chilled, deboned wings in a sweet and salty glaze.

Beyond their chicken offerings, Tometeba proudly offers delicacies such as Fukuoka Motsunabe and low-temperature-cooked Aged Chicken Sashimi for those seeking culinary adventures. Tometeba’s enduring dedication to sharing the rich flavors of Kyushu cuisine shines through every dish!

Why should I try karaage?

Beyond its tasty flavor, there are several reasons why you should try karaage! The secret lies in its flavor! Marinated in a blend of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sake, bite-sized pieces of boneless chicken transform into a treat that balances savory and sweet. Paired with its light and crispy coating, karaage delivers textures and tastes that set it apart, leaving a flavor you can’t forget!

It can also be enjoyed as a snack, a starter, or a main course, making it a go-to for eating with friends or as a solo treat. Trying karaage is an experience that provides opportunities to immerse yourself in Japanese culinary traditions that showcase reverence for the ingredients!

A pair of chopsticks holding karaage.
Have you ever had karaage before? Image via Shutterstock

Overall, karaage is more than just a dish; it’s a cultural experience! With a history rich in tradition and flavor that’s impossible to resist, karaage has become a beloved favorite worldwide. Whether you’re a dedicated foodie or simply looking for a new culinary adventure, take advantage of the opportunity to try karaage and explore what sets it apart from its Western counterpart! 

Don’t forget to try out some famous stores or even look for smaller specialty shops! There’s so much waiting for you in the world of karaage! Have you ever tried karaage? Have you ever been to the restaurants we mentioned or one we didn’t? Let us know in the comments below!

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