Friday, September 21, 2012

10 Japanese Izakaya Dishes for Beginners

japanese fried chicken kara age
Japanese fried chicken (tori no kara age)

Japanese food can be intimidating if all you know about the cuisine is sushi
and miso soup. Take a trip there and you'lI quickly see that more Americans
eat sushi on a regular basis than Japanese people. True traditional Japanese
food is so much more than that and unlike popular belief, not everyone over 
there likes raw fish (in fact, I have 3 cousins in Japan who are so repulsed by 
the thought of raw fish, they refuse to try it even just once). A good way to 
discover the many different facets of Japanese cuisine is to visit an Izakaya 
(Japanese drinking establishment where they serve a myriad of appetizer size
dishes) and try as many different plates as you can. This is a great way to get 
your feet wet into one of the world's most colorful and complex cuisines. 15 
years ago you would've had to have been in Japan to find Izakayas but thing
have changed; nowadays Izakayas are becoming more popular in the western
world and can be found in big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A, Toronto and 

Izakaya menus are great because they're filled with pictures which makes it easy to
understand and see what you're about to order.
Japanese izakaya menu pictures
A typical Izakaya menu looks like this
 But this can still be a challenge if you're not familiar with this type of food and can quickly get confusing as Izakaya menus are large and incredibly varied, offering everything from a simple tomato
salad, to oddities like fermented firefly squid.

I love the fact that more and more people are interested in Japanese food and
wanted to help by giving a list of 10 basic can't go wrong dishes to order for
beginners. Nothing too out there in texture or taste, popular dishes I've seen
groups of friends and English teachers ordering frequently in Tokyo and all over
Japan. This list is for all of you out there (including the lovely couple at Sake bar
Hagi who so eagerly wanted to expand their knowledge of Japanese food and
were brave enough to ask for our help) who want to discover what the world has
to offer, who want to become more adventurous and add new notches to your
culinary belt.  

okonomiyaki  japanese pancake pizza
1 - Okonomiyaki
(also known as Japanese Pizza)  meaning "what you like" or "what you want", this is a classic savory pancake made with flour and eggs, and mixed with veggies such as cabbage, onions, carrots, meats like pork, bacon, or seafood like squid or shrimp. It's topped with bonito flakes, mayonnaise and tonkatsu sauce (sweet sauce, similar to worcestershire without the smokiness).

japanese bershire sausages dijon mustard
Berkshire Sausages

2 - Berkshire Sausages 
Yes sausages! What makes these sausages special is the casing;
thicker to bite into, the sausage pops into your mouth and lets all the juices out. Served with a little Japanese hot mustard, these sausages are available regular or spicy. Once again the Japanese have taken something that wasn't theirs and made it better.

japanese pasta naporitan or napolitan spaghetti
Spaghetti Naporitan

3 - Spaghetti Naporitan (Napolitan)
So simple; It's spaghetti made with ketchup, tabasco and butter, and it tastes GOOD! This easy pasta dish is topped with sliced onions, green peppers and ham (or sausage).

yakisoba are japanese stir fried noodles

4 - Yakisoba
Similar to ramen noodles but stir fried, yakisoba comes with pork, cabbage, onions and carrots. The yakisoba sauce is mainly made of soy, rice wine vinegar and a dash of worcestershire. It's topped with seaweed powder and pickled ginger. 

japanese cream croquettes mashed potatoes miixed with meat or seafood.
Cream Croquettes

5 - Cream Croquettes (korokke) 
Deep fried balls of creamy potatoes and white sauce mixed with chopped meat, seafood or vegetables, these are incredible! The
outside is made of crispy deep fried breadcrumbs, while the inside
oozes out fluffy creamy deliciousness as you break your chopsticks
into it. Croquettes are often served with tonkatsu sauce and shredded cabbage. 

agedashi tofu deep fried silken tofu dusted with potato starch bonito flakes
Agedashi Tofu

6 - Agedashi Tofu
Deep fried silken tofu cubes (dusted with potato starch or cornstarch) served in a hot tentsuyu broth (mirin, soy sauce and dashi) which tastes a little sweet but more on the savory side. It's topped with grated daikon (radish), bonito flakes and scallions. One my absolute favorites.

mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and ume (pickled plum) onigiri rice balls japanese

Triangular or round shaped rice balls with the middle filled with salmon, pickled plum, kombu, mentaiko (spicy cod roe), or okaka (bonito flakes with soy sauce), wrapped with nori (dried seaweed sheet). 

Japanese deep fried squid ika geso no kara age
Ika Geso Age

8 - Deep Fried Squid (Ika geso age)
Simple and delicious; deep fried squid served with lemon wedges. Japanese people use potato starch or cornstarch to fry the squid, giving it a much lighter texture than the typical deep fried squid you'd find in a pub or greek restaurant.

tori no kara age japanese style fried chicken
Tori no kara age

This is Japan's version of fried chicken. Prepared the same way as deep fried squid and also served with lemon wedges and fresh grated daikon, you'll want some more.

yakitori f tsukune of ground chicken with fresh ginger and onions.
Skewers of grilled chicken patties (ground chicken mixed with onions, sake, ginger, garlic) brushed with a sweet soy sauce, it's a classic yakitori (grilled chicken) dish not to be missed. I don't know one person who doesn't like this!

I know I said I'd give 10 recommendations but I had to add one last that should never be skipped!

zaru tofu, fresh made silken tofu in water
Homemade Tofu

I've always said "you don't know what real tofu tastes like until you've had fresh home made one". This statement still holds true as I've converted many of my friends into tofu lovers after taking them to the best tofu spots in NYC. Believe me, it's worth it, fresh home made tofu melts in your mouth and almost tastes like soy milk. 

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