In a few weeks, summer will be officially over but the remaining hot days can invite you to go get that cold drink and lounge at your home or izakaya (traditional Japanese bar). Of course drinking will not be complete without pairing it with delectable finger foods. Are you still trying to figure out what foods to order with your drinks? Before we discuss it, let’s learn more about these finger foods called otsumami in Japanese.
ALL ABOUT OTSUMAMI
Otsumami (おつまみ) is a type of food served alongside alcoholic beverages. The word comes from the verb tsumamu (つまむ), meaning “to grab” something with your fingers or chopsticks. In this easy way, otsumami is known as the Japanese version of “finger foods”.
Otsumami is usually served in small portions and is not accompanied by rice. The reason for this is that the Japanese regard sake as a substitute for white rice. The standard Japanese meal includes rice so some Japanese people do not eat rice and at the same time drink alcohol. Otsumami comes in different types depending on the drink that you consume. It can be pickles, salads, light snacks from konbini (convenience stores), or deep-fried and heavily seasoned foods.
If you want an exciting house party when staying in Japan, why don’t you turn your home into an izakaya? You can create appetizing otsumami from cookbooks or customize the package ones from the convenience store. To give you more knowledge, I’ll introduce you to the 10 most popular otsumami you can order from izakaya, supermarkets, or even make at home.
Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique that involves lightly coating small pieces of meat with flour and deep-frying with oil. But most people think it’s fried chicken which is a popular obento (lunchbox) meal. Surprisingly, it’s also a common otsumami in izakayas and it goes perfectly with beer and local wines.
One of the best karaage to match with alcoholic drinks is nankotsu, or chicken cartilage usually from the wing or leg. It is seasoned and deep-fried, giving the meat a soft texture, and served with lemon juice to accent the taste.
Healthy and non-greasy, edamame is easy to prepare and goes along with beer. The soybean is harvested before it ripens, therefore giving it a green color. It is boiled with salt water or just plain water and salted afterward. They are served still with their pods on and you eat them by taking the peas out with your two hands. When ordering edamame, it comes with another empty dish for you to place the empty pods in.
Gyoza is not just ramen’s famous food pairing but it’s another popular otsumami that goes well with beer because of its salty and savory flavor. The crunchy texture of its wrapper and flavorful meat fillings inside will have you order for more. These potstickers are available in many fillings such as pork, shrimp, tofu, and vegetables.
Yakitori is also known as meat and vegetables grilled on skewers. This beloved street food is also a popular otsumami in bars. It is prepared in two ways: either dipped in a sauce before grilling (tare flavor) or you can choose shio flavor, where the meat is seasoned with salt before grilling. Going out for yakitori during a food tour or after work is an exciting activity you should definitely try.
Tempura is a typical Japanese dish consisting of vegetables and seafood that have been battered and deep-fried. It goes well with alcoholic beverages and the most common tempura in izakaya is ikaten (squid tempura). Ikaten has a tender texture and savory taste that makes drinking more enjoyable. For those who wanted a less greasy and lightweight version, packed ikaten at convenience stores is a great choice.
For healthier options, vegetable tempura is highly recommended and goes well with any alcoholic beverages.
Japanese potato salad
The classic Japanese-style potato salad has been a popular menu item for at least 125 years! Surprisingly, it can be commonly found at izakayas as a popular beer snack. It all started when a Japanese chef tried to recreate the Russian salad by adding more colors to it such as carrots, corn, cucumber, ham, and hard-boiled eggs. The creamy texture is well-loved by people of all ages, making it an all-time favorite side dish and otsumami.
Tsukemono or Japanese pickles can be found as a side dish in traditional breakfast and bento boxes.These are vegetables pickled with salt and sake kasu, a by-product of sake. In izakayas, they are consumed as otsumami paired with alcohol. Tsukemono tastes sour with a crunchy texture, and the combination of colors looked really appetizing, adding excitement to your drinking party.
Yakisoba is a Japanese stir-fried noodle flavored with a condiment similar to Worcestershire sauce. This tasty noodle dish is a street food favorite and at the same time a popular otsumami in izakayas. Yakisoba ingredients and noodles vary in every region, but the common ingredients are cabbage, onions, bite-sized pork slices garnished with aonori (seaweed powder), and beni shoga (pickled ginger). In some places, a sunny-side-up egg is added on top of yakisoba, making it a one-dish meal. A perfect dish to pair with beer and cocktails.
Arare rice crackers (Arare senbei)
Rice crackers are not just every child’s favorite snack but a great accompaniment for beer. Light and easy on the belly, these bite-sized crackers are made from glutinous rice flavored with soy sauce. Arare means “snow pellet” because the size and shapes are similar to hailstones.
Arare rice crackers are available in convenience stores and supermarkets. Some of its contents differ from one another as some packages include sesame and nori-covered rice crackers. But anyway, they are great otsumami to eat when you crave something light and crunchy.
Another dish that is somewhat weird because of its appearance is shiokara. It may be a bit intimidating for some people but it is commonly found in Japanese bars. It is a squid fermented in its own viscera (guts) and salt, served with rice. Shiokara tastes salty and spicy at the same time.
However, in izakayas and modern bars, shiokara is enjoyed by consuming the serving at one gulp and following it with a shot of straight whisky. That really sounds cool and fun to do! And one more fact, this dish is loaded with protein and Vitamins E and B12 making it a healthy otsumami to order.
These appetizers will surely add excitement to your drinking party and most of all, there are no rules when it comes to pairing your favorite drinks. From light-weight snacks to heavily seasoned dishes, the choices are endless in the Japanese food and drinking culture.
Featured photo by Xtra, Inc. on Unsplash
Want to try some delicious food in a local izakaya with an expert? Make sure to book our 3-hour food tour in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo!
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