What are Japanese izakayas and why they are so popular

Izakayas are traditional Japanese places to stop after work to drink alcohol and consume small plates of fried, grilled meats or sashimi.

After a long day of work, what’s better than a beer, even alone? Nothing, and anyone who tells you otherwise, is lying. The Japanese are well aware of this , as they have special shops to buy drinks and consume alcohol while sitting, picking something to eat. They are the izakaya and are also gaining ground in Italy. 

What are Japanese izakayas

The word izakaya is made up of the kanji i – which stands for sitting – saka, which stands for sake, and ya , which stands for shop . So, adding all the factors, you get a place where mostly alcoholic drinks are served. But the real peculiarity of izakaya is that alcoholic drinks are accompanied by food . This type of place contrasts with tachinomiya , where you go to drink alcohol that customers can consume standing up. In the izakaya, on the other hand, one is seated. Very often they are also called akachōchin , a term for lanterns (chochin ) red ( aka ) placed at the entrance.

Inside there are tables, but they are few because usually you arrange yourself around the counter, placed in the center of the room. Once seated, you are given an oshibori , a small wet towel to clean your hands. In winter it will be slightly warm, while in summer it will be pleasantly cool. If we were to find a counterpart in Europe, we could vaguely compare an izakaya to an English pub. You drink sake or beer after work, eat something and pay little. A winning recipe.

What do you drink and eat in an izakaya

Most people go to an izakaya to drink. You can choose from many local beers and then move on to wine, shochu- based cocktails , the coveted Japanese whiskeys , liqueurs and of course sake , drunk cold. To be served, just attract attention with a ” Sumimasen !”, Which means ” Excuse me “. In some types of izakaya you can also choose the formulas nomehodai , that is all you can drink , which usually lasts from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

To absorb alcohol, you can choose to eat something. The menus are very intuitive, with large printed photos, whiteboards and writings,fried saucers, grilled food, but also sashimi and vegetables  in order to be clear even for those who are now beyond having raised their elbow a little. Unlike our aperitif, the food served here is worthy of the best Japanese restaurant we are used to. There are mostly appetizers on the menu and the dishes served are smaller than what you are used to, but are designed to be tastings . Also for this reason the cost of each dish is not very high. You can choose from gyoza , yakisoba and okonomiyaki , yakitori and karaage . There is also plenty of room for fish , tofu and vegetables. The only rule to respect inside the restaurant is to relax and have fun. After a hard day’s work that’s what it takes. 

Izakaya and Italy: will we have to wait?

The answer is no. In fact, the good news is that in Milan, for some years now, there are already some izakayas that do not betray the Japanese tradition. Among those present in the city you can choose between Kanpai , Casa Ramen Super , and Sakeya . Rome keeps pace with Tanuki Izakaya and Mikachan . In Lecce, on the other hand, there is Yumi Izakaya .

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