We all like to eat & drink – that’s pretty much a given (I hope).
Many travellers would also tell you there’s nothing quite like eating and drinking the cuisine of another country, especially something that’s; for lack of a better word; not so ‘touristy’.
When it comes to Japan, lovers of real ‘street food’ would do well to check out the numerous Izakaya (居酒屋).
Comprised of the words ‘to stay’ and ‘sake shop’, an Izakaya was meant to be a place where people could stay for a drink.
These days though, Izakaya are so much more than that, being havens for great food, good times – while still not being shy from offering a good bottle of sake and beer!
An Izakaya differs significantly from the pubs and bars you might be familiar with, so let’s learn about 6 Awesome Things about Izakaya!
#1 ‘Ikitsuke’ (行きつけ)
If you’re tagging along with a group of Japanese friends, they’re very likely going to suggest heading to their ‘ikitsuke’ (行きつけ).
As the name suggests, an ikitsuke is basically a regular joint that one frequents.
The benefits of working your way up to ikitsuke status with an izakaya can be numerous. Regular customers of an izakaya often receive fringe benefits in the form of ‘previews’ of new dishes, keeping your unfinished bottle of alcohol in a ‘bottle keep’ service, and course an extra amount of warmth and friendship from the staff who greet them!
#2 Otoshi (お通し)
Sometimes also called a tsuki-dashi (突き出し), an otoshi is an appetiser that is always served when you’re seated in the izakaya.
Made to whet your appetite in preparation of the inevitable feast ahead, an otoshi is usually a good way to get an idea of the kind of food a particular izakaya will serve.
While some izakaya give the option of skipping the otoshi, it’s always a good idea to at least give it a try – you might be surprised at the new flavours you may discover!
#3 Starting with a drink
Just about every Japanese patron of an izakaya starts off with a drink, regardless of whether or not how the rest of the evening’s session will turn out.
Don’t be surprised when asked “Toriaezu, nama?”「とりあえず、生？」, or “How about starting with a beer?” when you and your friends are seated.
#4 Shime (しめ)
Every beginning has an end. Likewise, a shime is literally the last dish one would order at an izakaya to round up an evening’s session.
Ideally, this would be a staple dish to fill one’s self up; a rice or noodle-based offering that helps to bring an izakaya outing to a fitting and satisfying conclusion!
#5 Hashigo (梯子)
Just like how people in the West and other countries go for bar-hopping, Izakaya-goers would likewise go for ‘hashigo’, a term used to describe the act of ‘izakaya-hopping’!
People engage in hashigo for a myriad of reasons – a desire to have a change in environment to continue a conversation, wanting to try a different izakaya’s offerings, or perhaps even just for the fun of it.
It’s common for regular hashigo-ers to visit several izakaya in a single evening – and not remembering where they went to the next day!
#6 Nomi-nication (飲みにケーション)
No matter what way you cut it, Japanese are classically rather shy people.
Indeed, casual conversation in their day-to-day lives doesn’t come so easily for many, more so in a strict working environment where tight bureaucratic hierarchies rule the day.
It is thus, through nomi-nication, literally splicing the words for ‘drinking’ and ‘communication’ together, that people are able to more openly discuss problems, settle deals, and bond with one another better.
There’s nothing like a dose of ‘liquid confidence’ to break the ice!
WRITTEN BY: Koh Yong Qiang