Somewhere between a pub with lots of food and a restaurant with lots (lots!) of drinks is an izakaya. It is a type of casual Japanese dining establishment where groups of friends and colleagues go to eat, drink and have fun. The dining style is a mix of small shared plates and originated as food sold as quick bites for liquor store customers in the Edo period.
1. Charred Tuna Tataki
“Tataki” is a method of cooking meat and fish by searing it over high heat, then refrigerating it or sealing it in a ziplock bag and submerging it in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once cooled, it is thinly sliced and served with a vinaigrette. The result is a light starter with a delicious contrast of flavors between grilled and raw meat – and the slices make it an easy-to-share dish.
2. Skipjack tuna sashimi with salted onions and ponzu sauce
If you like sashimi and are ready to try something a little different from the conventional range of wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce condiments, the Gourmet Farmer offers this lively version with salted onions and a tangy and tangy ponzu dip.
3. Quick Pickled Mushrooms, Pickled Spring Onions, and Miso-Dried Cucumbers (tsukemono)
Pickles (tsukemono) are an essential part of a Japanese meal, helping as a digestive for heavier foods. This is a quick-marinate version, which means you only have to soak the vegetable for a few hours in their vinegar and miso remedies, but they deliver the same refreshing crunch.
4. Crawfish miso soup
The key to making miso like a local is no – never! – boil it. Boiling it will kill the probiotics that are essential to its health-promoting properties (which are plentiful). If you can’t get crawfish for this version, try lobster, yabbies, or bugs, which work with the subtle sweetness of white miso, and will soak up the broth to make the meat juicier.
5. Spinach in sesame vinaigrette
Other blanched leafy greens, as well as beans, asparagus, and okra also work well with this creamy, nutty (and very addictive!) dressing.
6. Sweet Ginger Meatballs
Meatballs may not look Japanese, but they are popular in Japanese cuisine, known as ‘niku-dango‘, and can be beef, pork, chicken, or even fish. Here, they’re a mix of beef and pork, which are fried — or baked, for a healthier option — then cooked in a flavorful ginger glaze.
7. Potatoes with togarashi and wasabi butter “en papillote”
This recipe involves mashing wasabi into a puree with butter to add to the potatoes. Tip: Make double the amount of wasabi butter and save the rest to serve with steak or fish another night. If you don’t have togarashi (Japanese seven spice) seasoning, you can make your own version or just improvise with cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.
8. Chicken and miso skewers (tsukune)
Everyone likes to eat food on a skewer. And when they’re this easy, you’ll love making them too: mix, mash, grill, baste, serve.
9. Beef tataki with watercress, charred spring onions and miso
A light salad enhanced with zesty, umami flavors of charred onions, ponzu dressing, horseradish cream and miso. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some left over for lunch the next day.
10. Salmon belly sashimi, marinated nori, daikon and carrot salad
Salmon belly is full of good fats that you can feel satisfied eating. Best paired with refreshing ingredients and sharp condiments to keep the richness in check.
11. Cold dressed tofu (hiyayakko)
Hiyayakko is an absolute summer classic in Japan – so much so that in the summer you can find it in ready-to-eat packages at convenience stores. There are endless variations in toppings, but the most common are soy sauce, grated ginger, bonito flakes, and spring onions or chives.
12. Okinawa braised pork belly (rafute)
This pork is cooked for hours until it literally melts into your cast iron. That means you’ll need to start it a day ahead and plan for no leftovers.
13. Japanese shrimp fritters with shiso and salted plums (shrimp shinjo-age)
These light and fluffy donuts are given a Japanese accent thanks to shiso (a type of Japanese basil) and umeboshi (salted pickled plum). To get these ingredients, check your local Japanese or Asian supermarket; if you have any left, try using umeboshi in these recipes and shiso in these.
14. Japanese triple fried chicken (kara-age)
No izakaya feast is complete without a helping of kara-age, perfect for soaking up the sake. The secret of its success? Soak the chicken in a soy sauce-based marinade before sprinkling it with potato starch and frying it three times.
15. Grilled eggplant with miso (dengaku nasu)
This eggplant has deep flavors of burnt caramel, with all the satisfaction and richness of a meat dish, without the meat.
16. Grilled Spanish mackerel
Tetsuya Wakuda, one of Australia’s top restaurateurs, shares his simple way to prepare mackerel: marinate it in soy sauce, sake, mirin and white miso, then grill it. Subtle and succulent.
17. Wagyu steak with wasabi and tosa joyu
Tosa joyu is a dressing made with sake, mirin, soy sauce, bonito flakes and konbu, and makes a sharp side dish to cut through the creaminess of wagyu beef. You will have to start it the day before so that it can infuse all night, but its long shelf life (several months) allows you to dress meat and fish dishes as you wish.
18. Coleslaw with wafu dressing
Keep your izakaya at home balanced with this colorful Japanese-style coleslaw. Spicy “wafu” (Japanese-style Western cuisine) dressing is a mixture of grated onion, rice vinegar, oil, soy sauce, powdered sugar and white sesame seeds, and will also go well with with a green salad from the garden.
19. Vegetable Gyoza
Want to please a crowd? Prepare them gyoza, the Japanese version of dumplings. Although they are most often filled with pork, this is a lighter, vegetarian version, with sautéed cabbage.
20. Tofu stuffed faux shiitake abalone (awabi modoki)
The tofu that these mushrooms are stuffed with is deeply seasoned with Japanese flavors – sake, soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Once added to the mushroom caps, they are grilled in sesame oil until crisp, then flipped to create little flying saucers of meaty, juicy vegetarian goodness.
21. Fried skewers with dipping sauce (kushi katsu)
These crispy skewers originate from Osaka and can be found at izakayas and specialty kushi katsu stores. Prepare them with prawns, fish or vegetables and serve them with a Worcestershire-based dip and matcha-flavored salt for added flavor and enjoyment.
22. Grilled scallops with butter
Butter and soy sauce make a dream team for grilled seafood, especially plump and juicy scallops, and it’s as simple as topping them with a little of each as they grill.
23. Moreton Bay Insect Tempura
This recipe can be used for any seafood or vegetable tempura. The trick is to not over mix the batter, keep it light and create all those delicious crispy bits.
24. Green tea and egg rice (ochazuke)
Meals in Japan often end with rice or noodles, to seal the deal and soak up the alcohol consumed with dinner. Ochazuke is a typical dish eaten at this time. Essentially hot tea poured over a bowl of cooked rice, and suitable for additions like salmon flakes, nori, sesame seeds and umeboshi (pickled plum). Send your fed guests home.
25. Green tea ice cream
Desserts aren’t always eaten at an izakaya, but a common menu item — and easy to eat no matter how much you’ve eaten — is refreshing green tea ice cream.