The most important thing to know before heading to an izakaya is the difference between a restaurant that serves drinks and a bar that serves food. The second most important thing to know is that the latter can be so good you’ll never want to leave. Izakayas are Japanese pubs specializing in the cuisine of drinking. As in deep-fried food, or agemono. Food on sticks. Noodles in excess. Fried vegetable pancakes. Fried chicken. Feel like drinking at noon on a Tuesday yet?
While izakayas are not as popular as sushi restaurants in the U.S., they’re still worth tracking down for a Japanese culinary experience that really, truly encourages enjoying not only the booze but some of the best drinking food known to man. You know, in stark contrast to the time you went out for sushi with your friends, decided halfway through that sake bombs would be a good idea, and proceeded to piss off the management for the next two hours. Good thing there was a karaoke bar nearby, though. But I digress.
Some things to order, along with a couple of bottles of shochu and several pitchers of beer:
- Yakitori: The Japanese skewer and grill all parts of the chicken — yes, you can and should get that nubby grilled tail on a stick. Not to miss: crispy skin, hearts (usually served with a dab of fiery mustard) and cartilage. Do not order white meat.
- Takoyaki: Balls of dough filled with octopus chunks and grilled.
- Karaage: Bite-sized fried chicken, which begs the question: who discovered fried chicken and beer first?
- Geso: Fried squid, but a far cry from calamari with marinara. Instead of the rubbery rings of squid body, the Japanese prefer the more tender tentacles, which crisp up better. Served with a dish of mayo for dipping.
- Kurobuta sausage: Hearty, fatty, incredibly flavorful sausage made from heritage pigs.
- Uzura: Hard-boiled quail eggs, peeled, skewered, brushed with sauce and grilled. Goes nicely with kurobuta sausage.
Nothing against the traditional three-martini lunches of yore, but as a modern working lass I’d far rather down a pitcher of beer and platter of fried squid legs while the drunken Japanese people around me yell and take pictures of each other than suffer through buttered steak and gin with some depressed suit. Could it be the changing times?