There’s a time and place for everything. For example, a traditional Japanese meal can be a fantastic, but rather serious affair. The order of dishes is pre-determined, the tastes nuanced, the plates beautiful, and a certain level of decorum is asked, nay demanded, of you. So you’ve got to be in the right mood. However, if you feel a need to be free, eating whatever you want, in whatever order you want, and possibly doing so with copious amounts of beer or other alcohol, then the izakaya is your heaven waiting with open arms.
The izakaya experience is sometimes compared to making a night out of a Spanish tapas bar. Izakaya menus are chock full of small plate dishes that are well suited for sharing. Everything from sashimi to fried chicken, and the galaxy or two of items that fall in between those two, is available at a proper izakaya. Many izakayas have extensive “specials of the day,” which makes each visit something a little different.
Not that you have to follow the rules, but if we may be so bold as to suggest, it is recommended you start with a cold dish or two after your otoshi (a compulsory, tiny starter dish). Perhaps some tofu in the hiyayakko style? Next, some sashimi is never a bad choice. The healthy portion of your evening now behind you, feel free to move on to devilishly delish items like yakisoba (grilled soba noodles with various goodies mixed in), some nankotsu (chicken cartilage — and it’s yummy!), or perhaps some grilled or slow cooked meat dish. Remember, the dishes are all small, so you should order at least three per person.
The dishes are designed to compliment an evening of joyous imbibing, be it beer, sake, or otherwise. Many izakaya, in fact, offer all-you-can-drink plans which are generally priced at around what three beers would cost. Talk about a value proposition! Best of all, drinking or not, at an izakaya in Japan you get to see locals letting loose after a day of work, or just because they want to. It’s not high brow, but it is authentic!