• Deep-fried skewers with dipping sauce (kushi katsu) (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Travel to Japan without leaving your dining room with this mix-and-match selection of popular izakaya recipes.
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5 Feb 2018 - 12:48 PM  UPDATED 3 Feb 2018 - 12:39 PM

Somewhere between a pub with a lot of dishes, and restaurant with a lot (lot!) of drinks, is an izakaya. It's a type of casual Japanese dining establishment where groups of friends and coworkers go to eat, drink and be merry. The dining style is a mixture of small shared plates, and came about originally as food sold as quick bites for customers at liquor stores back in the Edo period. 

1. Charred tuna tataki 

'Tataki' is a method of cooking meat and fish by searing it over a high heat, then refrigerating it or sealing it in a ziplock bag and plunging it into an ice bath to stop it cooking. Once chilled, it's sliced thinly and served with a dressing. The result is a light starter with a delicious contrast in flavour between the grilled and raw meat - and the slices make it an easily shareable dish.

2. Skipjack tuna sashimi with salted onions and ponzu sauce

If you like sashimi and are up for trying something a little different than the conventional wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce condiment lineup, the Gourmet Farmer brings this lively version with salted onions and a tangy and zesty ponzu dipping sauce.

3. Quick pickled mushrooms, pickled spring onions and miso cured cucumbers (tsukemono) 

Pickles (tsukemono) are an essential part of a Japanese meal, aiding as a digestive for heavier foods. This is a quick-pickle version, meaning you only need to plunge the vege for few hours in their vinegar and miso-based cures, but they deliver the same refreshing crunch. 

4. Crayfish miso soup

The key to making miso like a local is not to - ever! - boil it. Boiling it will kill off the probiotics that are key to its health-giving properties (which are abundant). If you can’t get crayfish for this version, try lobster, yabbies or bugs, which work with the subtle sweetness of white miso, and will absorb the broth to make the meat extra juicy. 

5. Spinach in sesame dressing 

Other blanched leafy greens, as well as beans, asparagus and okra also work well with this creamy and nutty (and highly addictive!) dressing. 

6. Sweet ginger meatballs 

Meatballs may not sound Japanese but they are popular in Japanese cuisine, known as 'niku-dango', and may be made of beef, pork, chicken, even fish. Here, they're a mixture of beef and pork, which are fried - or baked, for a healthier option - then cooked in a flavourful ginger glaze. 

7. Potatoes with togarashi and wasabi butter "en papillote" 

This recipe involves pureeing wasabi with butter to add to the potatoes. Hot tip: make the double quantity of wasabi butter and save the rest for serving with steak or fish another night. If you don't have togarashi seasoning (Japanese seven spice), you could make your own version or just improvise with cayenne pepper and sesame seeds. 

8. Chicken and miso skewers (tsukune) 

Everyone loves eating food on a skewer. And when they're this easy, you'll love making them too: mix, squish, grill, baste, serve. 

9. Beef tataki with watercress, charred spring onions and miso 

A light salad boosted with pungent and umami flavours of charred onions, ponzu dressing, horseradish cream and miso. If you're lucky, there'll be some leftover for lunch the next day. 

10. Salmon belly sashimi, pickled nori, daikon and carrot salad 

Salmon belly is full of the good fats that you can feel smug about eating. It's best when paired with refreshing ingredients and sharp condiments to keep the richness in check.  

11. Cold dressed tofu (hiyayakko)

Hiyayakko is an absolute summer classic in Japan - so much so, that during summer you can find it in ready-to-eat packs at convenience stores. There's endless variations in toppings, but the most common is soy sauce, grated ginger, bonito flakes and spring onion or chives.

12. Okinawan braised pork belly (rafute) 

This pork is cooked for hours until it literally melts in your melt. This means you’ll need to start it a day before, and not plan for any leftovers.

13. Japanese prawn fritters with shiso and salted plum (prawn shinjo-age) 

These light and fluffy fritters are given a Japanese accent from the shiso (a type of Japanese basil) and umeboshi (salted pickled plum). To get these ingredients, check out your local Japanese or Asian supermarket; if you have some leftover, try using umeboshi is these recipes, and shiso in these

14. Japanese triple-fried chicken (kara-age) 

No izakaya feast is complete without a serving of kara-age, which is perfect for soaking up the sake. The secret to its success? Soaking the chicken in a soy sauce-based marinade before dusting it in potato flour and deep-frying it three times. 

15. Miso-grilled eggplant (dengaku nasu) 

This eggplant has deep, burnt caramel-like flavours, with all the satisfaction and richness of a meat dish, minus the meat.

16. Grilled Spanish mackerel 

Tetsuya Wakuda, one of Australia's greatest restauranters, shares his simple way for preparing mackerel - marinating it a base of soy sauce, sake, mirin and white miso, then grilling it. Subtle and succulent. 

17. Wagyu steak with wasabi and tosa joyu

Tosa joyu is a dressing of sake, mirin, soy sauce, bonito flakes and konbu, and makes a sharp accompaniment to cut through the creaminess of the wagyu beef. You'll need to start it the day before so it can steep overnight, but its long shelf-life (several months) means you dress away meat and fish dishes at your leisure. 

18. Cabbage salad with wafu dressing

Keep things balanced at your home-based izakaya with this colourful Japanese-style coleslaw. The tangy 'wafu' (Japanese-style Western food) dressing is a blend of grated onion, rice vinegar, oil, soy sauce, caster sugar and white sesame seeds, and would work well also with a leafy garden salad.

Japanese cabbage salad with wafu dressing

19. Vegetable gyoza

Want to please a crowd? Make gyoza for them, Japan’s take on Chinese dumplings. Although they’re most commonly filled with pork, these are a lighter and vegetarian-friendly version, with stir-fried cabbage. 

20. Mock abalone of tofu-stuffed shiitake (awabi modoki)

The tofu these mushrooms are filled with is seasoned deeply with Japanese flavours - sake, soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Once added to the mushroom caps, they’re grilled in sesame oil until crisp, then flipped to create little flying saucers of meaty and juicy vegetarian-friendly goodness.

21. Deep-fried skewers with dipping sauce (kushi katsu)

These crunchy skewers hail from Osaka, and can be found in both izakayas and speciality kushi katsu shops. Make them with prawns, fish or vegetables, and serve them with a Worcestershire-based dipping sauce and matcha-flavoured salt for extra flavour and fun. 

22. Butter-grilled scallops

Butter and soy sauce are a dream team for grilled seafood, particularly plump and juicy scallops, and it’s as easy as topping them with a little of each as they grill. 

23. Moreton bay bug tempura

This recipe could be used for any seafood or vegetable tempura. The trick is to not overmix the batter, to keep it light and create all those delicious crunchy bits.

24. Green tea and egg rice (ochazuke) 

Meals in Japan often finish with rice or noodles, to seal the deal and soak up any alcohol consumed with dinner. Ochazuke is a typical dish eaten at this time. Essentially hot tea poured over a bowl of cooked rice, and tailored for additions like salmon flakes, nori, sesame seeds and umeboshi (pickled plum). Send your guests home nourished. 

25. Green tea ice-cream 

Desserts aren’t always eaten at an izakaya, but a common menu item - and one easy to consume regardless of how much you’ve eaten - is refreshing green tea ice-cream. 

Izakaya ingenuity
Butashabu salad

The key to this dish is having the pork sliced very finely. It’s a standard cut in Japan but thinly sliced pork belly can be a little hard to find here. It’s available frozen from Asian grocers, or fresh from Asian butchers. If you don’t have an Asian butcher nearby, your normal butcher may slice it for you by hand if you ask them very nicely.

Yaki udon

Stir-frying at home can be challenging. This cooking technique relies on the kind of fierce heat that domestic gas or electricity supplies struggle to deliver - if you try to wok-cook too much food at a time, it often ends up stewing, not frying. For that reason, this recipe is designed to serve 2. If you want to feed 4, just double the amounts and cook a second batch. 

Japanese pancake with chicken and mushroom

Filled with shredded vegetables, minced lean chicken and protein-packed eggs, this version of a Japanese pancake makes a nutritious and filling lunch or light dinner. In Japan it’s traditionally served with mayonnaise, but I prefer to skip this in favour of a little sweet soy sauce and some salad leaves.

Koji-marinated John Dory

“This is a recipe for which you need to gather the ingredients and prepare the koji in advance (Keita says you need to work two weeks ahead but Japanese stores sell it ready-made). However, it’s worth it for the beautiful simple flavours that work so well with fresh fish. Moromi is a mildly salty, chunky miso paste that has grains of rice and barley through it. Many people love it as a condiment on rice or bread and it’s great as a dip with raw cucumber. Pick up some thin skewers for fish at your Japanese emporium. Threading them gently through the fish holds the fish in place as it cooks and enables it to be turned over easily – it looks like something out of Wolverine, with spikes through the delicate fish. The result is exceptional though – just pure fresh fish and the flame.” Maeve O’Meara, Food Safari Fire

Panko crusted tofu with bacon dashi, poached egg and pickled spring onions

A modernised version of that much-loved classic, agedashi tofu, this recipe layers new textures and bacon-infused dashi with a zingy hit from pickled spring onions.