Monday, June 21, 2010
Going to an Izakaya is truly a cultural experience in Japan. It’s so different from any other types of restaurants. People are drunk, laughing out loud, ordering food at the top of their lungs. Without music or sports played on a big screen TV, people alone create the energetic vibe.
We happened to be in Shinbashi one night, which is filled with tall office buildings. There is nothing but Izakaya, Yakitori bars, and Ramen shops around the train station. It was my first time there and we had no idea where to go, so I called my sister for help. She too didn’t know anything about Shinbashi, but her friend told us that pretty much anywhere near the station was good. Because the streets are packed with bars and Izakaya, it’s keeping them highly competitive; you have to be good to stay in business.
Japanese businessmen religiously hang out in bars after work. I was shocked when I got (literally) ejected from a train before the door closed on Monday night after 10:30 because there were too many people on the train. The later it gets, the more buzzed/drunk people find themselves, right along with the unavoidable smell of alcohol, just about everywhere.
You can’t underestimate Japanese businessmen’s tastes. They eat out all the time. For some people, it’s every single day and it’s not uncommon at all. Naturally, they develop Izakaya food taste after trying different eateries and having the freshest and most seasonal food made right at the counter.
Izakaya food is not fancy. It’s almost better not to be so elaborative. Prices are relatively inexpensive especially when you go there with a group of people, ordering a whole bunch of items. We started with just four of us: my friend and I with two other friends of hers from L.A., but then my friend’s friends called their friend who lives in Tokyo and the friend called his friend. It was an excellent opportunitiy for us to try out an Izakaya.
I don’t remember the name of this place we went, but it had a big Japanese raccoon with sake bottle in his hand standing in front of the restaurant. I’m not even gonna try to explain what each dish was because I just can’t remember and it’s more interesting that way. Most Izakayas serve seasonal food, therefore their menu changes all the time. It all depends on what the hottest seafood on the market that day, what vegetables are in season, etc.
Another night, we visited Izakaya in Shinjuku. This place wasn’t as loud as the other place. The food seemed a bit pretentious. When I looked around, I noticed that there were more female patrons and in overall much younger crowds compared to the one in Shinbashi.
Bamboo shoot was in season, so everywhere I went pretty much had it on their menu. So here we tried the simple steamed kind cooked with mushroom and other vegetables.
Since I’m talking about fresh and seasonal ingredients, I'm going to throw in some shots of a farmers market in Tokyo. I didn’t even know about this particular farmers market, but I just happened to walk by on a Sunday morning. It was held right in front of UN University, across the street from Aoyama Gakuin University in Shibuya.
I was so tempted to try some beautiful, plump tomatoes or homemade miso but my suitcase was 150% full at this point. I just couldn’t afford to squeeze in anything delicate. Next time I go, I’ll bring my empty stomach and remember to leave extra room in my luggage.
This is the end of Tokyo series. I’ll have some great Kyoto food coming next week, so stay tuned!