Japanese Flavors Go Mainstream
Izakaya dining has become one of the hottest culinary trends in recent years. Featuring an array of delightful and flavorful Japanese finger foods, Japanese Izakaya has all the sophistication of Spanish tapas combined with a laid-back pub feel. Indeed, the word Izakaya translates to ‘tavern’ in English, which gives you a good idea of what to expect from this style of food.
In their native context, Izakayas are drinking houses that present a menu of small snack-sized dishes to accompany the drinks served. Like pubs or bars in Europe or the Americas, they are social settings featuring a relatively relaxed atmosphere with a variety of appetizers. With the recent explosion of Izakayas popping up worldwide, many people are eager to discover new flavors with friends and a few rounds of sake.
To prepare authentically delicious Izakaya, you first need to gather the basic ingredients. Seaweed seasonings, such as furikake, make up much of the signature flavors associated with many Japanese appetizers. Another essential to stock up on are the tangy sauces and glazes that accompany most Izakaya dishes. These include ponzu and soy sauces, as well as some more unique offerings like dashi, or fish broth.
Some of the essential Izakaya dishes include edamame (soybean), which may be boiled and plainly salted or spiced up using a variety of seasonings. Yakitori is also considered a staple, featuring bamboo-skewered pieces of chicken, beef or shrimp traditionally accompanied by a tare sauce made of thickened soy sauce, vinegar, and dashi. No Izakaya would be complete without a selection of tofu as well. There is a myriad of ways in which bite-sized pieces of tofu are prepared for the Izakaya setting, ranging from the bold, deep-fried agedashi dofu in broth, to the delicate hiyayakko, a type of silken tofu draped with a variety of appealing toppings. More familiar Japanese appetizers, including gyozas, tempura and poke bowls, may also make an appearance at the Izakaya table.
Presentation is also key to capturing the spirit of Izakaya. While remaining casual, there is a certain sophistication to Izakaya that sets it apart from typical Western pub food. Izakaya appetizers are generally served on small ceramic plates. Each dish is presented separately, rather than piling it all together in a massive appetizer platter as you may see at a typical American bar. Additionally, sauces and garnishes are delicately and thoughtfully applied, with an eye for aesthetic balance as well as taste.
With the right ingredients, a little persistence along with a sense of fun, it is possible to recreate the bold flavors and appeal of Japanese Izakaya no matter where you may be. Once you master the basics, the possibilities for unique combinations and settings are nearly endless. Before long, you’ll be able to offer a hearty ‘kanpai!’ along with a toast of chilled biiru (beer) to go along with your very own array of mouth-watering Izakaya offerings.