Translated by Collin Radford
8 Common Japanese Finger Foods and Appetizers to Try
Written by Ai Yoneda
Otsumami is are simple dishes commonly eaten alongside alcoholic beverages. These appetizers are often the first food that most Japanese people order in a meal. Learn eight great otsumami to enjoy at an izakaya pub or at home.
Otsumami - Japanese Finger Foods to Pair with Your Favorite Beverage
Otsumami is the Japanese term given to snacks and simple dishes eaten alongside alcohol. They are common at izakaya, bars, pubs, and at house parties in Japan. If you are at home and having a drink with a snack, you are enjoying otsumami!
In Japanese, tsumamu means to grab something with your fingers or chopsticks. Foods that can be eaten easily in this way––the equivalent of finger food––came to be known as otsumami.
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 in izakaya, and grocery stores and convenience stores also sell side dishes people enjoy as otsumami.
If you're going to drink during your stay in Japan, or just looking for a way to enjoy Japanese culture from home, you should take the opportunity to try otsumami! In this article, we will introduce eight standard otsumami that can be found at any izakaya and recreated in your own kitchen.
Beer and edamame is a very popular and delicious combination in Japan and is frequently ordered at izakaya. Edamame is usually less than 300 yen and can be prepared quickly, and beer is also a reasonable choice, making the price and speed of this duo very appealing.
Edamame is soybeans harvested before they ripen. Cooking them is simple: edamame is either boiled and then salted, or boiled in salt water. They are served in their shells, and you eat it by taking the beans out and consuming them. We do not recommend eating the shell.
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 skins in.
2. Tsukemono - Japanese Pickles
Tsukemono are vegetables pickled in salt, vinegar, or sakekasu (a by-product of 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 other countries, but the variety available in Japan may be surprising, as nearly every vegetable here can become tsukemono.
Tsukemono also often comes with a traditional Japanese breakfast, and is included in bento boxes, and are mostly eaten with rice. However, in places where alcohol is served, they are mostly consumed as-is for otsumami. Several different vegetables are used, but cucumber, white radish, and eggplant are the most commonly used in izakaya. Tsukemono prepared right is crunchy with a delicious sour taste, and pairs great with a drink.
3. Tempura of All Varieties - Ikaten, Noriten, and More
Tempura, vegetables, fish, or meat deep fried in a flour and egg batter, is another popular choice for otsumami. When dining out casually, you will find that ikaten (squid tempura) is a common selection on menus. Other varieties, including noriten (seaweed tempura) is also found, too. Salted, fried food goes well with alcoholic beverages, and is a must-try for anyone trying to experience an evening Japan-style.
4. French Fries
Common across the world, French fries are a staple in Japan, too! Available in thin cuts to thicker wedges, French fries served as otsumami are crispy and salty. They often come in different flavors inspired by Japan, like seaweed and salt and spicy mentaiko (code roe), and are almost always served with a side of ketchup and mayonnaise.
French fries in Japan are refered to as "fried potato," pronounced "furaido poteto."
5. Gyoza - Japanese Potstickers
Another savory and salty otsumami are gyoza––dumplings or potstickers. Japanese gyoza is either steamed or fried, and is filled with pork, vegetables, tofu, and other ingredients. There are restaurants specializing in exclusively gyoza in Japan, and many are very popular at night. Beer is a favorite beverage of many to pair with gyoza.
6. Eihire - Roasted Fish
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.
*Shichimi is a Japanese spice. It is a blend of seven spices, including hot peppers and sesame seeds.
7. 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.
8. Japanese Salads - Tofu, Seafood, and Seaweed Flavors
For vegetables, be sure to include a Japanese-style (wafu) salad with your otsumami. Salads and raw vegetables are on the menus of most izakaya and can be easily recreated at home, too. Common salads in Japan are variations like lettuce and greens topped with tofu and sesame dressing, or green salads with shrimp or pork. Katsuobushi (bonito fish shavings), seaweed, and sesame seeds are commonly sprinkled on top of these salads.
Indulge in the World of Otsumami!
The appetizers and finger foods listed above are just a sample of the otsumami that can be enjoyed. As mentioned above, there are no rules when it comes to enjoying your snacks and beverages––there are countless delicious otsumami found in Japan's food and drink culture that you may find yourself at a loss for what to choose.