I was born and grew up in Sapporo, Japan, until I moved to the United States sometime ago. I met my wife in California and, ever since, we have lived in the U.S. Now I have been in U.S. longer than I was in Japan. Living in the U.S., we like all sorts of food but, as I grow older, I gravitate toward Japanese food, if I have a choice. The tastes and smells of Japanese food take me back to fond old memories.
Although we do not consider ourselves "foodies", my wife and I like food and wine. We are especially fond of dinners consisting of a series of small dishes which go well with drinks. Tapas from Spain will be the most well known of this category of food in the U.S. More recently Meze from middle East has become popular. Another is Izakaya (居酒屋) food from Japan. Every time we go back and visit Japan, we make a bee line to some of our favorite Izakayas.
Izakaya are small drinking establishments in Japan which started out in sake stores. They provided sake on the premises for their customers along with small dishes, to go with the sake. Traditional Izakaya are small, accommodating only a hand full of customers. They are usually owner operated and the person behind the counter actually prepares the food. They are very knowledgeable about the food they are serving and we particularly like talking to them about the details of the ingredients used and how the dishes were made. But, in recent years, it is getting more and more difficult to find small ma and pa chef-owned Izakayas. These are replaced by "chain" izakayas like you see here in Ginza. The chain stores are not all bad and come in many different levels from cheap to expensive. They are aimed at different clientele. In general, the food is fairly uniform especially in the cheaper end of chain Izakayas. Probably the majority of the food is being prepared in a central kitchen or factory. As a result the person behind the counter only serves the food. They have no knowledge of the details of the ingredients being used or preparation. These Izakaya are characterized by plastic laminated menus depicting the food in color pictures--somewhat similar to American fast food restaurants. Higher end chain Izakayas are more sophisticated serving excellent food and sake. Although much of the food is prepared on the premisis by skilled chefs, these chain izakaya usually lack the true authentic atmosphere. Thus, we try to visit individually owned small authentic Izakayas if we can.
Recently, I came across a wonderful book called "Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook" by Mark Robinson. In this book, Mark, who lives in Tokyo, really understood, cherished and captured the essence of Izakaya and introduced many recipes of Izakaya food to English-speaking populace. I just wish to extend this idea and share our love of Izakaya and other Japanese-inspired dishes that we make or try to make at home.
After I re-started this blog, I learned many food bloggers also love Izakaya. It was a revelation to me that, indeed, Izakaya experiences are more universally appealing and enjoyed by many Westerners. Come to think of it, my wife loves Izakaya as much as I do. I found blogs by expats living in Tokyo, who visit and post their Izakaya experiences with their own insights on Japanese culture, people and food, very intriguing and insightful. We feel they are our kindred spirits and they encourage us to share our love of Izakaya. Some of these excellent blogs are listed in the "Favorite Links" section of this blog. Hope you find this blog and others interesting.