How to enjoy izakaya | Master ordering like a local!
Izakaya are traditional Japanese pubs. Nowadays, liquor can be enjoyed alongside not only Japanese cuisine, but a wide variety of inventive dishes, and even desserts. For the benefit of first-time visitors to Japan, this article will explain everything you need to know about the art of enjoying izakaya dining, from how to enter the pub to the best ways to order.
Table of Contents
Indicate your party size
When you enter an izakaya, expect to be greeted by a server, who will ask “Nanmei sama desu ka?” (“How many people in your party?”) Tell your server how many people, and they will show you to your seats.
Your table will be set up with menus, individual serving plates, and seasonings. After taking your seat, look through the menu and decide your order. If you have difficulty reading a menu in Japanese, ask a server if they have menus in other languages, or to recommend some dishes.
This time, we visited Kin no Kura, which has a smartphone ordering system accessible by scanning a QR code. Lately, such systems are becoming increasingly popular. Even if you can’t read Japanese, the pictures will be very helpful for ordering. This system allows you to order additional items at any time you like.
First, select beverages and accompanying dishes for the kampai (toast). If you haven’t yet decided what to eat, consider ordering just drinks to start. For food, we’d recommend to start with lighter dishes, the move your way towards richer items as the night progresses.
After ordering, distribute torizara (individual serving plates) and hashi (chopsticks) to everyone in your party before the food arrives.
Next, help yourself to the oshibori (hand towels) available at your table, and clean your hands. Freshening up your hands will increase your enjoyment of the meal to come.
When your food and drinks arrive, the party begins! Let’s take a closer look at some favorite izakaya fare.
Recommended Items (Lighter Dishes)
Sashimi 刺身 sashimi
Fresh fish is carefully sliced and artistically plated in this iconic Japanese dish.
To enjoy sashimi, place wasabi to your liking atop a slice, then dip it in soy sauce before eating. Appreciate the perfect balance of fat to lean meat. Just be mindful to use a light touch with the wasabi!
Cucumber Sticks もろきゅう morokyu
Thin sticks of cucumber served with miso and mayonnaise on the side.
Dip the cucumber into your preferred condiments and enjoy. Miso and mayonnaise are classic accompaniments to cucumber in Japan. Many people also enjoy blending the two into a “miso mayo” sauce.
Green Soybeans 枝豆 edamame
Edamame are young, green soybeans boiled in salted water. In Japan, they are often served with beer.
To enjoy, pinch each bean to pop it out of the pod, one at a time. Place the empty pods into a different dish.
Chilled Tofu 冷奴 hiyayakko
Chilled tofu topped with garnishes such as katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and aromatic condiments. This dish is enjoyed year-round, and particularly recommended in summer.
Before eating, add soy sauce to your liking over the toppings, which include katsuobushi and aromatic condiments such as sliced spring onions and grated ginger.
Octopus with Wasabi たこわさ takowasa
A dish of raw octopus dressed in a mixture of wasabi and seasonings such as sake and shiokoji (salted cultured rice). It is often enjoyed in small bites alongside liquor.
Boiled Whitebait 釜揚げしらす kama-age shirasu
A simple dish of shirasu (whitebait) boiled in salted water, served with aromatic condiments such as sliced spring onions and grated ginger.
This dish is commonly enjoyed with a splash of soy sauce. It may also be served atop rice, in which case it is called shirasu-don.
Recommended Items (Richer Dishes)
Potato Salad ポテトサラダ poteto sarada
Roughly mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables and dressed as a salad, the Japanese style of potato salad is a favorite household dish. At Kin no Kura, iwa nori seaweed is added, giving a dark color to this dish, which is normally the color of mashed potatoes.
Japanese Omelet 出汁巻きたまご dashimaki tamago
This Japanese rolled omelet is a favorite household dish. The flavor varies from restaurant to restaurant, and may be made sweet with sugar, or savory with dashi stock.
Japanese Fried Chicken 唐揚げ karaage
Japanese-style fried chicken. If you are unsure what to order, you really cannot go wrong with karaage! Enjoy it just as it comes, or dress with mayonnaise or a squeeze of lemon.
Fried Potatoes フライドポテト furaido poteto
French fries are beloved by children and adults alike. Perfect for sharing.
Pizza ピザ piza
Izakaya food is not limited to Japanese cuisine, with dishes from around the world gaining popularity. This is a baguette-style pizza. Use the pizza cutter to portion and share with your friends.
Roasted Fish 焼き魚 yakizakana
Yakizakana, roasted fish, is a classic izakaya dish. A wide variety of fish are offered. If you have to pick one, we’d recommend the superbly flavorful aji no hiraki, butterflied semi-dried horse mackerel.
To enjoy, first remove the head, then peel the spine all the way back to the tailfin. It’s fine to use your hands for this task.
Next, season the mound of daikon oroshi (grated daikon radish) with soy sauce to your liking, then place a bit on top of the fish, and enjoy. A perfect match with sake!
Have toribashi (serving chopsticks) ready
Most izakaya dishes are served on a single plate to be shared. For hygienic reasons, one must not use the same chopsticks for eating and serving. It’s customary to reserve additional pairs of chopsticks for serving, which are called toribashi. Be mindful of this important etiquette when dining as a group.
Recommended Items (Liquor)
Japan’s izakaya are by nature pubs, and as such, a wide variety of liquor is served. Pictured are lemon sour (white spirit highball) on the left, and nama (draft) beer on the right. Both are very commonly enjoyed at izakaya throughout Japan.
The majority of Japanese izakaya-goers opt for “Mazu wa nama biiru!” (“A draft beer to start!”) On the other hand, “sours” are available in a variety of fruit flavors, ranging from lemon to grapefruit and ume (plum).
Next are chuhai on the left, and highball on the right. Chuhai is a highball made with shochu, a spirit distilled from ingredients such as rice, barley, and sweet potato, topped with soda water. It is known for its crisp, dry flavor. On the other hand, a “highball” in Japan almost always refers to whisky and soda. Both of these drinks tend to be very reasonably priced.
After your drinks arrive, it is customary to call a toast by saying “kampai!” (literally, “dry glass”, that is to say, “bottoms up”) as you begin drinking. The true joy of izakaya dining is finding new favorite foods and drinks together with good friends.
We hope that these ordering techniques come in useful on your next visit to Japan. Please try out some of the dishes we have recommended, and enjoy your izakaya experience like a local!
* The published information is current as of October 2022. Prices and other details are subject to change.
This izakaya offers a wide variety of reasonably-priced drinks and food, ranging from deep-fried dishes to skewers, sushi, and desserts. Don’t miss trying the award-winning handmade uma-shio karaage (savory salt fried chicken)! There are locations in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Wakayama.