Teriyaki -- Secret Is In Sauces For Popular Fast Food

It's a secret.

Even Young Park doesn't know the recipe for the teriyaki sauce at his parents' little restaurant, Yumiko's Teriyaki, in Redmond - and he works there.

"My father (Kyung Park) won't tell me," Young, 28, says with a smile. "He says he'll tell me some day, but not yet."

Whatever is in the sauce - besides soy sauce, sugar and ginger - it suits regular customer Jennifer Grossguth, a teen-center director and body-building competitor who eats there about three time a week.

"This is the best sauce around," she declares - this and the sauce at a favorite Kirkland spot.

Teriyaki lovers have plenty of local places to hone their loyalties. Tiny teriyaki eateries have sprung up like mushrooms in a damp meadow throughout the Seattle area in recent years. There are about 175 of them in King County, says the Restaurant Association of the State of Washington.

The restaurants seem to be everywhere, in city and suburbs alike. In Kirkland, three have staked out turf near separate corners of a single intersection.

It's a Seattle phenomenon that's reportedly just beginning to show up in other large West Coast cities.

Most of the eateries have only a few Formica-topped tables and a counter for placing orders - a big share of them take-out.

In your plastic-foam box, besides your teriyaki chicken - or beef, pork or shrimp - you'll usually find a daunting mound of rice, some cole slaw or lettuce salad and a plastic container of teriyaki sauce to slosh on your meat and rice. Sometimes you get stir-fried vegetables as well.

Why teriyaki meals? Plenty of reasons, customers assert. Teriyaki regular Daryl Schmidt of Bellevue, a Boeing engineer, reels off his:

"They're very healthy (although he's not sure about the salty sauce), they're convenient, they're inexpensive (about $4 to $6), and you get a lot of food."

Grossguth says the chicken and rice are just what she needs for body-building, though she skips the sauce when training for a competition.

Teriyaki also has an ethnic allure that doesn't intimidate Seattle-area eaters, who've long shown an appetite for Asian foods.

Some customers swear by the fare at particular eateries, praising the sauce, the meat, the vegetables or the volume. One disapproves of a place that mixes higher-fat dark chicken meat with low-fat white.

But another contends the restaurants are all about the same. The best? "The one that's closest."

Although teriyaki has Japanese roots, local shops are owned by Asians of many ethnicities. The Parks, of Yumiko's, emigratedfrom Korea 12 years ago. More Koreans than any other group are thought to own teriyaki restaurants.

But it was a Japanese immigrant, Toshihiro Kasahara, who in 1977 started The Original Toshi's Teriyaki, now a franchise operation with 17 Seattle-area shops and one in Phoenix. It's the largest chain in a field of mostly one-shop businesses.

Despite teriyaki's reputation as a cheap meal, Kasahara would like to see prices drop at Toshi's independently run franchises - though their prices are about the same as other places. He says sales have plateaued with rising prices and thinks a price cut would bring in more customers.

Teriyaki is a Japanese word meaning "glazed grill" - that is, glazed (teri) with a sauce and "seared with heat" (yaki), as in grilling, according to Elizabeth Andoh's book, "An American Taste of Japan."

The meat is marinated in a sauce before cooking. The same kind of sauce, or a variation, may be served over the cooked meat and rice or on the side.

The sauce usually starts with soy sauce and sugar, but the other ingredients vary with the cook. Some common ones: gingerroot, garlic, sake, sherry, honey, rice vinegar and mirin, a sweet rice wine.

Teriyaki restaurants may keep their sauce recipes a secret, but there are no wraps around the ones in today's recipe collection. Among them: Teriyaki Pork Loin with Pineapple Chutney; Hot Peppered Chicken with Vegetables; and Hot Ginger Teriyaki Salmon.