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Six Tips for First-Time “Japanese Izakaya” Patrons

2016.11.16

Toast in banquet

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3. Get at least one dish per person...

Unlike a western-style bar where food is an optional extra, at an izakaya there's the expectation that each party will order at least one dish per person, and usually more. In this sense, an izakaya is more like a restaurant than a bar. Fortunately, as noted above most izakaya have very full menus, so it's usually easy to find plenty of things your party wants to try.

Many izakaya have a few signature dishes, which might be anything from fried chicken to grilled vegetables depending on the overall theme of the establishment. If your waiter points out a particular dish to you as the house's speciality, consider ordering it even if you normally wouldn't—not just out of politeness, but also because it probably really is one of their tastiest dishes!

4. ... But order strategically!

This one takes some practice. An izakaya normally has a relatively small kitchen that cooks dishes as they're ordered. This means that if you order, for example, four fried dishes, you could be waiting a while! The secret is to order a combination of dishes that take a while to prepare and dishes that can be brought out quickly (like edamame or tofu), so that you have a steady stream of flavors coming to your table over the course of the night.

How many times you order is another strategic issue. Rather than placing a single gigantic order at the start of the night, it's wiser to order two or three times as you go. Not only does this make sure that the table is never too bare or too crowded, it also lets you order things based on your mood as the evening progresses.

Next page: "Split the food..."