Good Eats Gourmet Trips

Izakaya – uniquely Japan

I love izakayas, a simple gathering of friends or colleagues after a long day, order an ice cold beer, and munch on a few tapas. Or go alone and quietly reflect on the day’s activity. Either way, you will be right at home.


Izakaya-style dining

Izakaya entered into the English vocabulary only in 1987 (according to Wikipedia, not substantiated, so don’t flame me). It is a Japanese compound word of 居 “I” (pronounced EE) meaning “to stay” and 酒屋 “sakaya” meaning “liquor store”.

Food served in izakaya is equivalent to the Spanish tapas. It is meant to be bite-size, for sharing, and highly salted and flavourful so that you drink more. So you would get a lot of oden, karaage, yakitori, robatayaki, tsukemono, sashimi, salad, etc. You get it – nothing substantial like sushi or kaiseki type sophistication. Just hearty, salty goodness.

I like izakaya because the atmosphere is not pretentious. But still, this is Japan and there are rules to adhere to when dining in izakayas.

  1. If you are drinking sake, you would not order rice or noodles. Sake is made from rice, so from a Japanese perspective, you are already eating something substantial.
  2. You don’t order everything at one go. A good host will order a couple of dishes to compliment the drink order. And every time the glasses are empty, another round is ordered.
  3. It is common to start with a cold beer and ended up with sake or shochu. Mixing of drinks is the norm, but you are not required to partake in such activities if you are not a strong drinker. However, the ultimate aim of a good izakaya night is to make sure the most senior in the group had their fair share of drinks and are happy (or drunk).
  4. The izakaya is the place for your managers to make assessment of your social skills. So if you are the junior of the group, you are expected to be pouring drinks and make small conversations with your seniors.
  5. Have fun, but do not disturb your next table. It is still rude to stare at what others are doing, and eavesdropping into their conversations. Even in an open hall, one can easily disappear into the crowd and have one small little sanctum after long, hard day. That’s why I love dining alone in Japan.

Highlights of the meal

“Awakening of Inca” Potato with salted squid

インカの目覚め~塩辛のせ~ “Awakening of Inca” with salted squid – What a poetic name given to a potato varietal from Hokkaido. The origin of this potato was from a varietal from the Andes. It was valued as a special potato that was used for a festival in the Andes region. The Japanese improved the breed so that it can be cultivated in Japan. And after repeated trial and error, from poor harvest to difficulty in storage, they finally came up with a dark-yellow, egg-shape, hardy potato with sweetness that can be compared to sweet potato and chestnut. Because of its small size and high sugar content, it can only be harvested by hand and has a very short shelf-life as compared to other potatoes.

This is the classic Hokkaido recipe. The potato is washed and steamed with skin until soft. It is cut into smaller pieces and then butter is spread on it. Final ingredient, shiokara nose 塩辛のせ. Shiokara is a Japanese dish made from marine animals such as squid which are fermented in their own viscera. Perfect for adding the savoury umami to the sweetness of Inkanomezame.

Eating horse sashimi with garlic and chives

とろ馬刺し Horse Sashimi – before you condemn me, please note that these animals were raised for their meat. Many breeders would kill the foals if they were not suitable for racing. Why don’t you stop betting on horses? This is called selective empathy.

The horses were treated as well as the wagyu cows. The result is a highly marbled, slightly acidic, very tasty piece of meat that has the texture of otoro. Yummy, I always looked forward to the season for horse meat. And yes, I eat whale meat too.

Different parts of chicken

やきとり (yakitori) 「国産鶏」を使用 – (top to bottom) 砂肝 (sunagimo/gizzard), 皮 (kawa/skin), ハツ (hatsu/heart), せせり (bonjiri/backside), レバー (liver). The quintessential items to order for yakitori in my humble opinions. Of course for less initiated, you may want to order the safer chicken wing (tebasaki), chicken breast with leek (negiyakitori), chicken meat balls (tsukune). I never had high expectations of yakitori from an izakaya, but this one was special because they called themselves a yakitori shop. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the yakitori in this place. And at ¥160 yen (¥180 if you add umeshiso) per stick, it’s quite reasonable too given the quality of the chicken used and the good techniques in preparing them (紀州備長炭 binchotan charcoal no less).

Selection of pork

豚3種盛り – (L-R) 豚ハラミ (buta harami, pork skirt), トントロ (tontoro, pork belly), 豚タン (tontan, pork tongue). The pork skirt, also known as the secreto (or secret cut), is a bit of mystery. Roughly speaking it sits between the stomach fat and the ribs. An easy-to-miss, thin layer of meat, it’s extremely tender because it’s not a heavily worked muscle.

Beautiful tendon

牛すじ煮込み Beef Stew – topped with liberal amount of bonito flakes, the bowl of stew danced while being delivered to me. First look, it looked like anyone else – radish, carrot, onion, bits of beef. But closer examination, you will find all the goodness that would be enhanced with stewing – tripe, tendon, intestines, and other offals. Instantly, it reminded me of 東北亂燉, where farmers will just throw every scrap of meat and offals into a big work and stew slowing over time. However, this was a much more delicate balance of dashi, quality bits of wagyu and a carefully watched timing of stewing where every minute more will disintegrate the meat. Just look at how I held up the tendon and it still quivered, yet firm to bit and then melt in your mouth. Subarashi すばらしい!

Fresh oysters

三陸産 牡蠣 Fresh oysters from Sanriku – Miyagi prefecture in the northeast Tohoku region of Japan is located on the Sanriku Coast, a fertile breeding area for oysters. Miyagi prefecture is famous for its “Maruemon” brand of oyster, cousin to Hokkaido’s Kakiemon oyster. Although oysters could not be harvested from Miyagi for some time following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, in recent years Miyagi oysters are starting to be eaten again.

Many friends asked why I would risk eating Japanese seafood from these “disputed” regions given the high radioactivity that has been spilled into its water. The local economy around that area has been devastated since the 2011 Tsunami. Only recently that produce from the region of Tohoku started to become available in the supermarket again. Most of these were fantastic because the locals put all their hearts into their production. They knew that if a contamination scandal would occur, that would mean to farming in the region. I have had mikan, momo, melons (all starting with M), now I am proceeding to O (oysters). I think they are all great.


Just proceed to the B1 of the pachinko shop next to the overhead bridge on the right hand side of Shinagawa JR station (towards the Prince hotel end, walk out and face Prince hotel). The building looked quite old and dingy on the outside, but under the dilapidated facade hides many delicious eateries with character. Be warned, most of the shops here have almost no English language skills. Get your Google translate handy.

Ichi-Chan has two shops, one at the far end of the corridor of the B1 entrance, and the other hidden behind at the other side of B1 tucked away in the corner. I guess the locations aren’t great but the price per person (around USD 30) for a meal was quite reasonable. It is always packed, but because I was dining alone, it was quite easy to get  a counter table. The place is very small, don’t expect to be able to lay your stuff all over the place.

Service was polite, the waitresses were pretty stressed out by my broken Japanese. But I managed to order what you saw in this blog post. Practice makes perfect.

Yakitori Ishi Chan Shinagawa
やきとり 石志(いし)ちゃん 品川店

〒108-0074 東京都港区高輪3-26-33 京急第10ビルB1
Tel: 03-5798 2367

4 comments on “Izakaya – uniquely Japan

  1. I was looking for the right emoji here the one with his hands on his mouth, to show you my reaction to the horse and whale meat, but I didn’t find it. and then I thought, well, I’m a horse rider, how is it better?! so… I will never eat it, but I don’t judge either so.. have fun!! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’ve always been curious to try out izakayas but I get intimidated when there is no english menu

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