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5 Must-Order Foods to Eat at Izakaya

Ramen, sushi, katsudon…Japan is a country with plenty of delicious foods to enjoy. However, one food culture that is more intimidating for tourists to try is izakaya food. Izakaya, or Japanese pubs, have food items that are essential to these restaurants and cannot be found elsewhere.

To help you figure out what to order and enjoy izayaka cuisines, here are 5 must-try izakaya foods!

1. Karaage

Photo by nakashi on Flickr.

Karaage is essentially Japanese fried chicken, and they are absolutely amazing. These deep-fried blocks of chicken are crispy and delicious. The sizes of each piece also make this a great plate to share at the table.

To keep the meat juicy, many shops also use chicken thigh over breast. Depending on the shop, they are usually served with their blend of seasoning or sauce. When you look around the tables, it will be obvious that karaage is often the most popular item to get at an izakaya.

2. Yakitori

Photo by kanonn on Flickr.

Yakitori is slowly gaining popularity outside of Japan, and these chicken skewers are a staple item for many izakaya. Between starting from 100 yen a pop, these meaty skewers grilled over charcoal are fun to taste. Yakitori izakaya offer standard options like chicken breast and thigh to interesting choices like liver and skin. You can usually choose between salted or sweet-tare sauce.

Besides chicken, skewers of beef and pork are common too, as well as vegetable options like leek and green pepper. You will find yourself ordering skewer after skewer as you drink and chat.

3. Nikomi

Photo by Hajime NAKANO on Flickr.

Nikomi is kind of a catch-all term to categorize stew dishes served at izakaya, as nikomi simply means "stew". However, each restaurant typically would serve only one variant, and the nikomi stew at one shop could be entirely different from another.

Some common variants of nikomi include: gyu-suji (beef tendon) stew, chicken stew, beef and tofu stew, motsuni (pig intestines) stew. What is inside really depends on the shop, but the mixes of ingredients and flavours are mastered and improved upon over the history of the restaurant, and they almost never disappoint.

4. Sashimi/Otsukuri

Photo by electricnude on Flickr.

Fans of sushi would definitely recognize the word sashimi, referring to slices of raw fish. However, many izakaya serve this plate of fresh seafood under the name otsukuri (お造り) instead. Regardless of the term used, order this and you will find yourself presented with a plate of the raw fish of the day.

Unlike sushi restaurants, ordering sashimi at an izakaya is usually mysterious in what you will get. Shops would select and decide based on what is best in the season. Asking the waiter is of course an option, especially if you are allergic to anything, but not knowing and finding out is definitely part of the fun.

5. Kushiage

Photo by nakashi on Flickr.

Finally, if you are a fan of skewers but wanted something more of a guilty pleasure, then kushiage skewers are what you want to look for. They are deep-fried skewers with a huge variety of ingredients available, ranging from pork chunks to onion slices. The food is fried upon order, ensuring that all the skewers will be fresh and crispy upon reaching your table.

However, if you find a kushiage specialty shop that takes the extra creative step, you might find some amazing options such as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and cream-cheese bacon mini-tomato skewers, all deep-fried. Certain shops even have deep-fried dessert skewers using bananas and vanilla ice-cream. They are hard to describe, so you will just need to try them.

These are great comfortable and delicious items to help you step into the world of izakaya.

While not all izakaya have English menus or photos available, every shop will surely have at least one or two of the above for you to start with.

If you are ever lost on what to order beyond these, there is always the magical phrase of "Osusume wa? (What is your recommendation?)". Please drink responsibly, and enjoy your meals!

READ MORE : The Differences Between Japanese Bars & Izakayas

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