Japanese Izakaya: Order Like a Local
Japanese are known to be hard workers. Extending hours in the office is a norm more than an exception. The trains are usually crowded with salarymen and women rushing every morning. This busy lifestyle might be one of the reasons they don’t speak nor smile to tourists in public places. However, if you want to hang out with the locals and have good times with them all you have to do is go to the Japanese version of Irish pub or American bar, Izakaya.
Originated from sake shops (liquor stores) that allow customers to drink within the premises, it evolved into a place where good food that comes well with liquors are also served. Izakaya began sprouting everywhere in Japan. In izakaya, you will see a different side of the Japanese especially of Tokyo salarymen. You can enjoy informal conversations with friendly Japanese while getting a taste of every food and drinks available.
With almost 80,000 izakaya around the Japan, you can find them almost everywhere. Regardless of the type of izakaya you are in, below are some guidelines to make sure that you enjoy your first izakaya experience in Japan!
How to Order in izakaya
Japan is known for its efficiency and organization. Even in an informal setting like izakaya, those two traits are observed by the locals. Below are some guidelines on how to experience izakaya like a local.
When you enter izakaya, you will be seated at a table, bar counter or at a tatami. You will then receive your servingware or an oshibori, a hot or cold towel you should use to clean your hands before your meal. In most cases, an otoushi or tsukidashi, a customary small-sized appetizer will be served to you even before you order. This is part of the table charge (200 or 300 yen) added on top of your bill. Some customers treat this appetizer as an indication of the food quality and taste of the rest of the izakaya’s menu.
Whether an appetizer is served or not, you should start your izakaya experience by ordering a nama-biru or draft beer. This will keep your waitress busy while you take time to scan the menu and choose your drink and food.
Then, you should decide whether to stick with beer or try either sake or shochu. If you go for the latter option, you should pair it with two to three food dishes. Ideally, when your beer arrived you already have decided your next order. If not, you can quickly order “edamame”, a famous Japanese drinking snack.
The dishes in izakaya come in small servings and are meant to be shared. It is recommended to go for 2-3 dishes per order. Having 3 plates at your table will enable all the people in your group to eat with ease. Imagine having to put more than 5 dishes where everyone is trying to grab a piece of each order. It might also be too crowded on your table. With this amount of food, you will be able to finish them all before they get cold. You can also order a mix of hot and cold dishes, so you can leave the cold ones until you can order again. Remember that you are in izakaya not only to eat and drink but to have a fun and informal chat with the locals or your friends. You want to pace your ordering that you don’t break the action because of your food orders.
What to Order in izakaya
Depending on the izakaya you are in, there are two promotions that you can look for. Some izakaya offer nomihodai or an all-you-can-drink course which covers both non-liquor and liquor drinks. A tabehodai or an all-you-can-eat course is also common in some izakaya.
For starters, you can order small dishes like edamame, chilled sliced tomato hiyayakko (chilled tofu) and Japanese tsukemono pickles. There are also available salads but the famous one is potato salad. In Japan, they have their own recipe for mayonnaise, so the taste is different from your usual salad.
Grilled dishes are also popular izakaya food. You can have yakizakana (grilled fish) or yakitori (grilled chicken). Yakitori are marinated either with plain salt or sauce. If you are hungry, you might want to try nimono (stewed dishes), nabe (hot pots), and ochazuke (a dish of rice and toppings with hot tea poured over).
Japanese typically ends an izakaya night with either rice or noodle dish. You can order yakisoba(fried noodle), okonomiyaki (pancake yakisoba), onigiri (Rice ball)and ochazuke (green tea poured over rice with fish toppings of your choice).
Aside from the famous sake, you can also try another traditional Japanese liquor which is sochu(distillate alcohol) . While sake is made from rice, sochu is made from different ingredients – sweet potatoes, barley and rice and buckwheat.
Another local drink that you can try is “sour” or also called as chuhai. It’s a combination of sochu, soda and fruit juice. It has many flavors like lemon, grapefruit, apple, orange and oolong tea. You can also order high ball which is a mix of whisky and soda and a recent crowd favorite.
The most important part of your izakaya experience is the opportunity to bond with Japanese locals. You will learn more about izakaya and other Japanese culture through their stories. You get to have informal chats with the friendly Tokyo city dwellers. It might be intimidating to go to izakaya and make friends with other groups. Luckily, Tokyo Localized offers day tour in Tokyo which allows you to interact and make friends with your local guides. In the morning, you can join the Meiji Shrine & Harajuku Culture Tour to understand the history of Japan. After that you can experience izakaya after the Night Tour in Shinjuku! Shinjuku is known for having many izakaya of different types!
Izakaya is one of the unique experience you can have in your Japan Trip. Plan ahead and don’t forget to include joining free walking tours in Tokyo to get the most out of your trip in Japan --- you’ll get the most interesting tips and secrets as told by a local!
Tokyo Localized provides visitors and travellers to Tokyo with a unique perspective of this great city, what makes us unique is that our tour guides live and work in Tokyo, have a passion for this city and love meeting and welcoming new faces. Find out more about our Unique Day and Night Tours of Tokyo - we can't wait to meet you!
About the writer
Rocel is a believer of living life to the fullest through creating memories with her loved ones – family, friends and self. One of the things she enjoys doing with them is travelling where they get to experience new cultures, new cuisines, new stories to share and memories to look back. In 2018 alone, she travelled to 5 continents which exposed her to the world’s wonders. After all those trips, Japan is still one of her favorite countries because of its unique and rich culture and natural resources. She lived and studied in Tokyo, Japan for one year where she developed deeper love and appreciation towards the country.