Izakaya（居酒屋）are casual drinking places where people can relax and enjoy the local taste of good food and drink. They are the most commonly known restaurant type in Japan and since the prices are usually more reasonable than those at restaurants or fancy bars, they are favoured by Japanese for the place to grab a couple of drinks after work or a casual party with friends.
Izakaya literally means “stay-in” (i) and “liquor shop” (sakaya); these are much-loved local pubs for casual drinking and dining.
There are many types of Izakaya from traditional to modern and range from a handful of customers in tiny single-counter to hundreds of customers at large chain establishments.
Seating is commonly provided at western-style tables, at the counter or traditional private rooms with tatami mats.
The menu at izakaya is made up of a wide variety of Japanese cuisine and sometimes international dishes. Typical izakaya dishes include sashimi, karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), yakitori (grilled skewers) and regional delicacies.
Many Izakaya offer ‘Nomihoodai’ – All You Can Drink deal. Yes, All You Can Drink!
The average izakaya charges around ¥2,000 ($22) for 90 -120 minutes with unlimited alcoholic drinks, which is great not having to worry about your bill at the end of your drinking session, even organiser can predict their budget for the office party. It is also common for Izakaya to offer ‘set menu + nomihoodai deals (around $40) for big group parties.
In Australia people usually go to the restaurant to eat and then go to the pub or bar to drink. But at a izakaya, you can enjoy both food and drinks at a same place and stay all night if you want.
How to enjoy Izakaya
Take off your shoes: At many izakaya you are required to remove your shoes, some places even provide shoe lockers at the entrance. Place your shoes in the locker and take the locker key with you to your table.
Otooshi: You will receive a small dish when you sit down at your table, despite not ordering anything yet. This is for ‘table charge’ which is usually ¥300 – 500 per person that will be added to your bill. There is a variety of small dishes and each person gets a different dish in the group.
Ordering food: You can raise your hand and say ‘sumimasen’ (excuse me!) to staff. Or if you are in the private room, there is a small buzzer or a tablet for ordering.
Shared food: The portion of food size at izakaya are very small but are still designed to be shared allowing you to try many different foods.
‘Kanpai!’ (Cheers!): After everyone has received their drink, say ‘Kanpai’ to toast. After the first kanpai, it’s customary to pour a drink for others in your group. Never pour your own drink.
This is also a great dining choice for tourists, izakaya are easily found around train stations and entertainment districts. So the next time you are traveling to Japan, try experiencing the variety of izakaya including authentic Japanese food and drink. Exploring the small alleys, you may even find your favourite izakaya and share a table with locals and enjoy the night.
If you are not planning to visit Japan soon, not to worry. There are many izakaya style restaurants in Melbourne where you can enjoy izakaya style foods!