23 Sep 2010

Japanese: Izakaya “Culture”

izakayaIzakaya culture has become the latest pop culture in America and around the world, where everybody savors variety, beauty, and freshness. The term modernized and westernized Izakaya is an understated oxymoron as Izakaya is a traditional concept of drinking establishment in Japan. However, we live in the 21st century and anything is acceptable. Besides offering rows and rows of dishes on the menu, modern Izakaya also maintains the “drinking” tradition by offering modern twists of sake cocktails, in addition to pure sealed-in-a-bottle sake.

Izakaya is a Japanese drinking establishment, famous and infamous for after-work drinking. The name “izakaya” is a compound word consisting of “i ” (to remain) and “sakaya” (sake shop), showing that izakaya originate from sake shops which allowed customers to remain on the premises to drink. In Japan, Izakayas are often called “Akachōchin” (red lantern) after the red paper lanterns which are traditionally displayed outside izakaya.

Typically Japanese  professionals will go to an Izakaya after a long work day to release some steam, hang out with co-workers, and drink sake. Izakaya dishes are typically served in tapas-size portions and meant to accompany the sake drinking activity, to ultimately enhance the flavour of sake. The proper Izakaya usually can recommend you to pair up each sake with the right dish, just like the wine pairing concept of the West. Izakaya concept has gained popularity recently with the increasing trend of small-plate dining, and of course thanks to the explosive growth of sushi and Japanese cuisine.

Generally speaking an Izakaya would carry a better sake selection than most Japanese restaurants. To accompany the drinking part, an Izakaya serves on average 100+ small plates selections – raw, steamed, boiled, grilled, fried, baked, cured – you name the method. Hence it’s known as tapas of the orient, Japanese style. Serious Izakaya followers are a cult. You don’t mess with the food and the sake. The menu is often handwritten and changed every day depending on what is available in the market that day and what the chef is inspired to do that night. Izakaya creation is crafted with love and passion. It’s the canvas of freedom for the chef’s creativity.

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