In Japan, izakaya is the same category as bars and pubs, but in izakaya, you can eat various menu, too including sushi and even fried chicken. Izakaya is very popular and you can find it near train or subway stations all over Japan. With the Japanese culture that most people socialize a lot after work, izakaya by far is the most perfect place to relax with co-workers and friends in the evening. They would hang out over a couple of drinks and some tasty yet affordable food.
The place is usually crowded and very noisy. Everyone, half drunk or being tipsy, chats and laughs loudly since they are with their friends. If you peep inside, there will be plenty of Japanese enjoying a couple glasses of beer or cocktails with some snack inside.
Most izakaya cater locals, so they may or may not have English menu. Smaller dining bar would have loyal patrons and mostly the visitors know each other. If you don’t read Kanji, you can always ask people who sit beside you and they will help you eagerly. Izakaya is a friendly and social places where you can strike up a conversation with total strangers. Some of them will try to show off their ‘English ability’ genuinely to help you to converse with them.
The dishes are generally in small portions, very affordable, and fit with the alcoholic beverages. Ordering few different things and have it together with some friends won’t cost a lot and you can order more at any time. Some izakaya has use an iPad to order the food and beverages directly to the table, and of course with English menu.
It would be great to try various food and alcoholic mix in Japanese fashIon because nowadays, izakaya has all sort of things that go well with beer and nihonshu (Japanese rice wine). As I have gone couple of rounds with my Japanese friends, they taught me how to normally start drinking in izakaya. The Japanese themselves normally start off with a round of draft been and may then move on to nihonshu, which can be drunk hot or cold and there are hundreds of brands to choose from. Soft drinks and fruit juices are available, but based on my experience, when I ordered fruit juice, it won’t be regular fruit juice since they will add some alcohol in it. Voila.. yes, it became a cocktail instead.
There are many different izakaya chains with different features. So, here are several chains that are famous in Japan and can be found easily.
Kin-no-Kura Jr (金の蔵Jr.)
This is the first place where I set my foot on an izakaya. I even thought that this is a chain fast food restaurant as they sell various types of food like Korean, Italian, and American besides Japanese dishes. You can find this izakaya around Tokyo and the greater Kanto area, especially in many tourist spots in the region. Besides Tokyo, they also have branches in Hokkaido, Chubu and Kansai area. The price is very appealing for visitors as they charge around 270Yen for some items in the menu (yet some are limited).
If Kin-no-kura sells some of their menu for 270Yen, then Torikizoku is known for charging all of the dish in the menu at 280 Yen (before tax). This izakaya specializes in making yakitori grilled chicken from domestic chicken with various sauces and side dishes. The not common one is for people to buy chicken skin, but to skewer and to grill it with the special sauce, I think this menus is one of the most popular menu.
Founded in 1973 in Sapporo, Tsubohachi can be found throughout Japan and also outside Japan such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In Japan, tsubohachi was famous for being a symbol of consistent quality for more than 40 years. Although the price is a little bit pricey, but the ingredients and other details provided are representative.
The Kanji meaning of this izakaya is ‘house of white wood’ and this name has been successfully make this izakaya to be different than other izakaya which is loud and crowded. Shirokiya provide quiet and relaxing environment for the guest, thus their customers are mostly females for joshikai (girls’ nights). This izakaya provide customers with menu like sashimi and yakitori.
People may spend around 2000-3000 Yen when coming here. Popular menu are sushi rolls (500yen), assorted sashimi (7 kinds, 1500 yen), assorted grilled skewers (610yen), omelet (400 yen) or seared ray fins (398 Yen).
Taken from the owner name Watanabe Miki, the name of the restaurant from the kanji means “Harmonious Populace”. Similar to Shirokiya, Watami offers quiet bar, more refined side, compared to the common izakaya.