If you follow me on Instagram or on Facebook (If not shame on you!), you might have noticed that I fancy cooking all sorts of Asian foods. Chinese and Korean are the most dominant styles, but every now and then there’s some Japanese food too. It’s mainly ramen, as I love soup, but as with every Asian cuisine, there’s so much more to go for. In this article, I want to introduce to you do something you might not know, but will most likely end up loving, an izakaya.
This article is part one of a two-part series. Here’s part two, with cool recipes!
An izakaya is basically a Japanese gastropub. It’s really that simple. There are plenty of different types of them, though. What they have in common is that it’s usually a rather casual place, with decent prices, where you go to have something to eat and a few drinks (potentially after work). So far so unspectacular. What’ makes them interesting and enjoyable in my view is the menu and the set-up.
First of all, if you ever have the chance to go to an izakaya (I don’t have many chances, as there aren’t many where I live, i.e. none), you want to sit at the counter. The atmosphere there is unique, especially if you end up doing this in Japan. Just have a look at this video, it tells you everything:
Next you want to pick something to drink. Depending on what you intend to do later that day you can choose between sake, cocktails, wine, whisky (Japanese wishky great!) or beer (birru!).
Having some Asahi is fun, but you need food too. As it’s bar food we are talking about, the food is simple. Nevertheless the food is amazing. You can pick light items like, edamame or goma-ae. Maybe even some tsukemono or even salads and sashimi. Or you go the more savory route, opting for different types of karaage (love this! Especially as with chicken), tebasaki, maybe some yakitori or even yakisoba. In case you like tofu, look for agedashi tofu or hiyayakko on the menu. Some izakaya’s have even okonomiyaki. If they do, you should go for it. It’s a Japanese version of a frittata or a very egg-heavy pancake, with plenty of toppings and sauces. I love them!
The first time I actually went to an izakaya was earlier this year, when I was in London. When we were walking on the outer skirts of China Town my fiancée cried out loud “there’s an izakaya! We will eat there”. I had no idea what exactly an izakaya was back then, as I haven’t heard the term before. Once we were seated I knew very well what was going to happen next. [UPDATE: unfortunately the restaurant had to close its doors.]
So, to the surprise of the staff, we entered the Yumi Izakaya, and asked to be seated at the counter (the place was almost empty, on a Saturday evening!). After being cheap tourists and only ordering tap water, we studied the menu intensely. We basically went up and down the menu, ordering plenty of food and many drinks. We talked to all of the staff, who warmed up to as quickly (not only because I constantly wanted more food). Take your time when you are there and enjoy it. We were there for more than 3 hours and had a blast.
I hope I’ll be there soon again. Here are a few pictures of the drinks and food we had:
Izakaya Hashi – Japanese Kitchen
After this random encounter I made it an habit to look for izakaya’s whenever I go somewhere. As I was recently in Berlin, combining a weekend trip with my fiancée, a BJJ tournament and catching up with friends, a new izakaya visit was possible, in form of the Izakaya Hashi.
They brand themselves as the first izakaya of Berlin, bringing the people the art of sake and “Japanese tapas”. That description made me gringe, but if it helps getting people into the izakaya I’m OK with it. The next downside of the izakaya is the huge sushi menu. It’s very unfortunate that Japanese food always equals to sushi. It’s far from the truth and people are really missing out on great Japanese cuisine.
We had a few delicious cocktails and some draft Asahi. The later was great and the first time I had Asahi as a draft. The food was good too. A few items were sold out and unfortunately they had no okonomiyaki on the menu. The worst thing, though, was the service. They were slow and not very attentive.
Have you ever been to an izakaya?