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What's On The Drink Menu At A Typical Izakaya In Japan?

What's On The Drink Menu At A Typical Izakaya In Japan?

Translated by Lester Somera

Written by Ai Yoneda

2016.04.16 Bookmark

Izakayas, the Japanese equivalent to Western pubs, offer original services and various food and drink menu items, which we introduce in this article.

When you want a drink with your meal in Japan, you should drop by an izakaya. An izakaya, like a pub in the West, offers a place for visitors to enjoy food and drinks in a social atmosphere.

A broad range of people go to izakayas, from college students to seniors, and men and women often go together. Most visitors who go to izakayas are friends, couples, or work colleagues, but there are also people who enjoy having a quiet drink by themselves.

The Abundant Food Menu At Izakayas


A Super Cheap Izakaya on Japanese Wall Street: Grab a Drink at New Kayaba!  (MATCHA article, Japanese)

Izakaya menus focus on Japanese dishes and feature all sorts of items. There are typically two ways to order food: you can choose what you like a la carte, or you can pay a set price for a course menu that offers several different items. With a course menu, the dishes will come out one at a time - the staff will use their judgment to perfectly time when to bring the next dish.

The Alcoholic Beverage Selection At A Typical Japanese Izakaya

Each izakaya will have various products available, but the following kinds of beverages will be on offer at any izakaya.

1. Beer


The first beverage is beer, a staple for foreign tourists as well as Japanese people. Most places will primarily offer domestic lagers, but some izakayas also have options such as foreign ales and locally-brewed beers. When pouring a beer in Japan, it is common to purposely create a foamy head atop the beer, with a 7:3 ratio of beer to foam. It is believed that this prevents the beer from losing flavor by exposure to air and keeps CO2 from escaping.

2. Hoppy


The Flavor of Tokyo Shitamachi: How to Drink and Make “Hoppy” (MATCHA article, Japanese)

The taste of “Hoppy,” a Japanese original, is quite similar to beer. You mix it with shōchū (a Japanese variety of distilled liquor, explained below) when drinking it.

3. Shōchū


Japanese Encyclopedia: Shōchū

Shōchū is a variety of distilled liquor, made from a principal ingredient such as rice, potatoes, or barley. Many kinds of shōchū are clear, and compared to other varieties of liquor stocked at izakayas, shōchū will have a comparatively high alcohol by volume (ABV) of 35-45%. Various brands are manufactured all over Japan. Depending on the brand, shōchū has a harsh or sweet flavor, so enjoy searching for a taste that suits you.

4. Sake (Nihonshu)


Do a Sake Tasting at -Jo- Social Sake Bar in Ponto-chō in Kyoto 

Sake is brewed using rice as the primary ingredient and also has a comparatively high ABV (15%). There are many different brands of sake, so you can enjoy drinking and comparing them.

5. Cocktails


Try Your First Sake Cocktail at the Sake Hall Hibiya Bar in Ginza (Japanese source)

Cocktails are next on the list. These drinks are familiar to people all over the world. In addition to standard cocktails, bars also offer original cocktails.

6. Ocha-wari


Ocha-wari refers to shōchū mixed with green tea, oolong tea, or jasmine tea.

7. Sours


Sours consist of a base of shōchū or some other liquor, combined with ingredients such as fruit juice, then diluted with soda water. These are also known as chūhai. Similar to cocktails, some sours may have fruit pulp or pickled plums floating in the drink.

8. Umeshu And Other Fruit Wines


[Izakayas] It’s Not Just Wine: Fruity Japanese Liquors That Go Down Smooth (Japanese source)

Fruit wine is made by fermenting fruits such as plums, peaches, apples, and mandarin oranges. These sweet-tasting drinks are popular with women. These are drunk on the rocks and sometimes diluted with water or soda water.

For non-drinkers, izakayas will also have juice, tea, soft drinks and the like.

When Should I Visit An Izakaya?

Traffic at izakayas will vary greatly, depending on whether it is a weekday or the weekend, and they are often packed on Fridays and Saturdays. If you plan to go to a popular location, you should probably make a reservation. The period from 18:00 - 21:00 is usually the busiest, so if the izakaya is crowded at this time, you can expect to wait a while before being seated.

When visiting an izakaya on the weekend during this busy period, some places will have a time restriction in place. If a staff member notifies you that you have your table for two hours when you come into an izakaya, you will be asked to leave when the time runs out, even if you are still in the middle of your meal. Please keep that in mind.

Also, some izakayas have different operating hours on weekends and weekdays. For example, an establishment could be open on Sunday through Thursday from the evening hours until late at night, while opening early in the evening and staying open until the following morning on Friday and Saturday.

Do you have now a clearer image of what an izakaya is? Izakayas are deeply rooted in the fabric of Japanese life. From foreign perspectives, Japanese people are often said to be shy, but that image would likely change if tourists saw them after having a few drinks. You could even say that watching the people around you at an izakaya is a wonderful chance to have a foreign cultural experience.

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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