Izakaya pub in Japan

At first it was quite a surprise to me that British people do not eat much when they go for a beer in a pub. In Japan, where pubs are called Izakaya, they serve a whole variety of food, something rather similar to tapas. With this food people are socializing, and drinking beer, sake, wine, shouchu, cold tea etc, in fact any type of drink, as well as sharing in the food – the very Japanese style food!

The image above is of one of the menus for the food and drink in an Izakaya. The environment can be slightly old fashioned, and so the menus often are too, listing the amazing food and a whole variety of sake. Traditionally these pubs have the menus plastered all over their walls, so the customers can easily see what they want to order. So much more interesting than having menus with photos in a plastic cover, though it must be difficult for tourists to select dishes. But these are all sharing menu, so you can select quite a lot, and find out which is your favorite!

I’m also very fond of the Japanese ‘keeping the bottle’ system, where you buy a bottle in a pub to keep behind the bar. This often works out a lot cheaper than ordering wine, whisky or sake by a glass. Most Japanese pubs will do this, and keep your bottle for your next visit, in fact until you finish the bottle. It may be a little bit expensive the first time, when you have to buy a lot of drink up front, but on your next visit you only have to pay for the food.

In Japan we write our name, or maybe even put an illustration on the bottle, so the barman can remember which one is ours. This was a very normal thing to do as I grew up in Japan – though now I feel there is an element of trust involved. Customers trust the pubs to keep their bottles safely (and not to take a drink from them secretly!) It is all part of the way the pub can build up a loyal customer base, so people will return again and again, and feel comfortable.

In the UK it can also be very relaxed and sociable, drinking in a pub, perhaps returning to the same pub that’s near to work, with the same colleagues and friends. I do like that, and love to sit and chat with a drink. With English beer it might be difficult to put a whole barrel behind the bar with your name on it (or even a little drawing), and perhaps would be expensive too. But I might ask next time I go to my local.