Teppanyaki is more of a performance than a style of cooking. It originated in the Japanese restaurant chain Misono in 1945, where the chefs cooked using the teppan grill. The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan (鉄板), which means iron plate, and yaki (焼き), which means grilled, broiled, or pan-fried. In Japan, teppanyaki refers to dishes cooked using an iron plate, including steak, shrimp, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and monjayaki. Modern teppanyaki grills are typically propane-heated flat surface grills and are widely used to cook food in front of guests at restaurants. Teppanyaki grills are commonly confused with the hibachi barbecue grill, which has a charcoal or gas flame and is made with an open grate design.
Curiously, the art of teppanyaki is more popular with foreigners and tourists than the native Japanese. As a result of this, teppanyaki steakhouses place an emphasis on the chef performing a show for the diners, continuing to introduce new variations and tricks. I can remember as a child, begging my parents to take me there, just so that I might gaze open-mouthed at the chef’s histrionics, then curl up in a ball and go to sleep without having tasted a single morsel. The chef might juggle utensils, flip a shrimp tail into his shirt pocket, catch an egg in his hat, toss an egg up in the air and split it with a spatula, flip flattened shrimp pieces into diners’ mouths, or arrange onion rings into fire-shooting volcanoes.
Teppanyaki is very popular in America, thanks to the Benihana restaurant. Restaurants that practise the teppanyaki style of grilling are referred to as Japanese steak houses. The teppanyaki style is used to prepare noodles (yakisoba) or cabbage with sliced meat or seafood (okonomiyaki), which are cooked using vegetable oil, animal fat, or a mixture. In Japan, many teppanyaki restaurants feature Kobe beef. This interesting style of grilling has evolved over the decades into a veritable artform. It’s no longer just about the food.