One Japanese word that is making an increas- ingly frequent appearance in Australia in recent years is izakaya the term for combined restau- rant and bar spaces in Japan that offer both alcohol and a range of simple food.
Where the concept of a bar or pub in Japan conjures images of western-style stores serving western-style drinks, the izakaya is all Japanese. Many offer beer, chuhai, and Japanese sake, and a wide range of food as well. Something else that sets the izakaya apart from standard restaurants is that what you drink is the star here, and not what you eat.
Here are a few tips that will help ensure maximum enjoyment and a genuine izakaya experience during your next visit, whether it’s located Down Under, or in Japan.
ENJOYING THE APPETISERS
When you enter an izakaya and order a drink, you are first served some small dishes without
even having to order.
These appetisers, called “otooshi” or “tsuki- dashi”, fill the time between your first order and the arrival of your food.
Such dishes are prepared in advance so that they can be served straight away, and are designed as a match for your first drink. While you may hold some reservation over paying for something you didn’t order at first, learning to expect and appreciate such appetisers is the first step in enjoying hospitality izakaya style.
THE RIGHT FOOD FOR THE RIGHT DRINK
Good food is the perfect partner to a good drink. While it is popular to stick with beer throughout the evening in Australian pubs, the draw of an izakaya is the food that accompa- nies and brings out the flavor of the drink.
The term “sakana”, also called “ate” or “tsumami” refers to the food enjoyed alongside alcohol. Often served in small portions like the tapas of Spanish food, such dishes allow you to enjoy a wide range of different food.
Popular items on the izakaya menu include oden, yakitori, edamame, sashimi, karaage, stews, dried foods, pickles, and eggs rolls.
A PLACE FOR EVERYONE
While izakaya were often seen as a place for male businessmen up until the 1970s, izakaya catering to
more feminine tastes in food and in drinks such as chuhai and wine are increasingly common, and many stores have worked on their interior to provide a place that anyone, women-only groups and families included, can enjoy.
In the 1980s, izakaya chain stores started popping up, and they came to be known as places with a good range of low-cost food and drink, and a venue where large groups can gather informally without having to worry about a bit of boisterousness. This accessible image has made izakaya a popular place for students, businesspeople, and friends to hold simple gatherings. Those out by themselves are more than welcome, too.
Some izakaya also offer the option of smoking areas. While the number of nonsmoking stores has risen in recent years, some permit smoking. For those looking to enjoy their time without worrying about smoke, nonsmoking seats are also available.
Some izakaya have seating areas where you must take off your shoes at the door, so it is a good idea to be wearing clean socks! Finally, other locations for a good drink in Japan include snack bars, cabarets, and clubs, the last two of- fering a uniquely Japanese style where female staff members serve drinks and enjoy a chat with the clientele.