Translated by Collin Radford
Four Common Otsumami to Try in Japan
Otsumami is a simple dish eaten alongside alcoholic beverages, and is often the first food that most Japanese people order in a meal.
Written by Ai Yoneda
Otsumami is the Japanese term given to snacks and simple dishes eaten alongside alcohol.
In Japanese, tsumamu means to grab something with your fingers or chopsticks. Foods which can be eaten easily in this way came to be known as tsumami.
The flavor is of course the best part, but eating while you drink also helps to slow the absorption rate of alcohol into your blood, and prevents you from getting sick. While there's a wide variety of otsumami served up in izakayas (the Japanese equivalent of a pub), there are some stores that serve original otsumami.
If you're going to drink during your stay in Japan, you should take the opportunity to try otsumami! In this article we will introduce four standard otsumami that can be found in any izakaya.
"Beer and edamame" is known as an extremely compatible combination in Japan, and is frequently ordered at izakaya. One of the draws is the low price and short time required for preparation.
Edamame, is essentially soybeans harvested before they ripen. Cooking them is a simple affair; either boiled and then salted, or boiled in salt water. They are served in the pod, and you eat it by taking the beans out and consuming them.
As seen in this picture, take the edamame in both hands and lightly apply pressure to both sides to squeeze out the bean. When edamame is served, it comes with another empty dish for customers to place the empty pods in.
Tsukemono is mainly made from vegetables pickled in salt, vinegar, or sakekasu (酒粕: a product left over from the process of making sake). The foods become soft and easy to eat when pickled, and the flavor of the ingredients really come out. It is very similar to the pickles eaten in the West.
Tsukemono also often comes with breakfast and is included in bento, and are mostly eaten with rice. In places where alcohol is served, they are mostly consumed by themselves. Several different vegetables are used, but cucumber, white radish, and eggplant are the most commonly used in izakaya. It has an addictive, satisfying feel in your mouth when you bite into one, and pairs great with a drink.
Eihire is the fin of a stingray that has been dried and then roasted. It is eaten with a little bit of soy sauce, shichimi (*1), or mayonnaise. Non-Japanese might find it strange to eat stingrays, but it is considered a rare dish unique to Japan, and is a must-try.
*1...Shichimi (七味唐辛子) is a Japanese spice. It is a blend of 7 spices, including hot peppers and sesame seeds.
4. Deep-Fried Chicken Nankotsu
Nankotsu is the word used to refer to the cartilage of a chicken, usually from the wing or leg, and is soft and easily edible. It is seasoned, floured then deep-fried. The crunchy feeling you get when you bite down on it, together with its perfect saltiness will have you ordering seconds. It is also often served with lemon juice to accent the taste, much as you would find in the United Kingdom with fish and chips.
There are countless delicious tsumami to be found in Japan's izakaya, so much so that you may find yourself at a loss for what to choose. You might find yourself ordering so much that you don't have room for the main dish.