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The delights of Japanese izakaya

If you travel to Japan, you can’t miss the Japanese Izakaya, and if you have the opportunity to live there, it will probably become part of your life. Even if you don’t drink, it’s a good place to meet new people, share your stories with old people and enjoy delicious food while you relax. But what exactly is an Izakaya?

A Japanese izakaya is the equivalent of a British or American pub, but of course the Japanese do things their own way. It is unusual to go there just for a drink in Japan, so it is quite natural to eat at the same time as drinking.

Each izakaya offers a range of drinks and a range of cheap snacks that you can order throughout the night.

Understanding the menu

Izakayas have been part of Japanese culture for some time, which means that there are many traditional genres but also more modern ones. One of the biggest differences often lies in the presentation of the menu. The oldest “bars” will have their menu indicated on the walls, often on hanging wooden boards, and the prices will be in Japanese characters rather than Roman numerals.

The most modern places will probably have illustrated menus and some even have shelves where you can order directly without having to talk to anyone. If you want a more traditional experience, go to the oldest and smallest places, but be sure to brush up on your menu reading skills or you may end up with strange dishes that you don’t really want to try.

This is a perfect transition to talk to you about food in Japanese izakaya. As you can expect from a Japanese style “bar”, most of the things on offer will be small, easy to prepare dishes that can be eaten at any time of the night. The Japanese are used to using all parts of the animal, which you may quickly notice in Japanese izakaya. Yakitori is one of the main dishes available and includes grilled sticks of every part of the chicken: from the skin to the heart to the cartilage.

There is not only yakitori on the menu, there are also other types of kushiyaki with other meats and will often be accompanied by grilled vegetables. You will also find edamame, tofu, karaage, sashimi etc. There are many choices and it will vary from izakaya to izakaya.

For the more adventurous, some of the older places will offer interesting snacks, such as insects or frog’s legs, a food generally known as getemono. Hanbey is a good place to try these foods because some of the larger izakaya have English language menus, so you know what you are going to eat.

Rates

Although it depends on where you go, given the type of food used in the izakaya, most plates are cheap and vary between 60 and 300 yen. Some chains offer fixed prices for each menu item (food and drink) between 300 and 350 yen. This is worth considering if you don’t know if you will eat or drink a lot, because depending on the dishes you choose, it could quickly become expensive.

Many Japanese izakaya also charge between 200 and 500 yens per person or charge you for a mandatory aperitif dish. They are not always very straightforward when it comes to these conditions, so be careful and check if there is one before you settle somewhere, as you might be charged if you change your mind after sitting down.

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