Londoners don’t need to travel to Japan for an authentic izakaya experience, as this month’s HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market will be featuring its very own Izakaya Area. As well as being able to refuel and relax, you’ll also be experiencing one of the hottest foodie trends of the year. As one commentator put it, 2016 is the breakout year for izakaya. That’s in the UK of course. In Japan, they’ve been around since the fifteenth century.
But first things first – what exactly are they? They’re often described as gastropubs, but that doesn’t quite capture their essence. Unlike in Britain, where pubs traditionally did not serve much food besides packets of pork scratchings, the Japanese have never consumed alcohol without something savoury to eat alongside. The term izakaya literally means “sitting in a sake shop,” and they first appeared when purveyors of alcohol began to serve snacks to soak up the sauce.
In modern Japan, izakaya are not fine dining establishments like many gastropubs. They are informal drinking dens where people go to relax after work. Many are small and intimate, with a relaxed and carefree atmosphere. Rather like tapas, people order a selection of small dishes to share as they knock back beer, sake, shochu and other drinks.
The quintessential izakaya dishes are those cooked on a charcoal grill, such as kushiyaki (meat and vegetables on skewers) yakitori (grilled chicken) and tebasaki (chicken wings). Many other dishes can be enjoyed, however, including sashimi, noodle dishes and even salads. The evening is often rounded off with rice dishes such as ochazuke (rice in tea) or onigiri (grilled rice balls), as rice is traditionally not served alongside alcohol.
It’s all well and good describing the essential elements of an izakaya, but there’s no substitute to experiencing them for yourself. For a truly authentic flavour of this highly enjoyable Japanese cultural phenomenon, head to the HYPER JAPAN Christmas Market Izakaya Area