Even you haven’t heard of the concept of izakaya, you probably have been to one before without knowing!
Izakaya is a Japanese style pub+restaurant that is in a casual and cheerful setting, usually for parties and group gatherings. There are quite a handful of izakayas in KL itself, but i noticed that most Malaysians (including myself before i got familiar with the whole izakaya concept) visit izakaya not knowing the authentic Japanese way to truly maximize their drinking and dining experience.
So today i wanna talk a little bit about how one can enjoy izakaya, the Japanese way!
1. How to find an authentic izakaya
The most signature appearance of an izakaya is its red lanterns (akachochin) decorated at the entrance. Which is why izakaya is also sometimes called “akachochin” in Japan.
I have visited the newly opened Tsubohachi in Publika, Dutamas for a food review, and i have to say that it is by far the most authentic izakaya i’ve ever been in KL.
Tsubohachi is originated in Hokkaido in 1973, and now is one of the largest and most popular izayaka chain in Japan with more than 300 outlets!!
I went there with my family (Jun Jun included!) and friends! The more the merrier when it comes to izakaya!
There were KY, Haze, Horng, Yuki, LINE Bear Papa and JunJun.
Junya’s first izakaya experience in Malaysia!
Omotenashi (hospitality) the moment we enter Tsubohachi.
Secondly, one of the biggest focus of izakaya is its variety of alcohol drinks. If a Japanese restaurant serves only a couple of variations of beer and cocktail, it is not considered an izakaya. A true izakaya has a wide range of shochu, sake, cocktails, sours (more on that later!), beers, high ball (Japanese whisky), and assorted soft drinks and tea.
Tsubohachi so far offered the best type of beverages i’ve seen in a Japanese restaurant in KL!
One of their highlight is their special draft beer: Asahi Sub-Zero, the first and only below freezing point beer in Malaysia!
Other than that, they also have a good variety of Japanese sake.
Sake served the traditional Japanese way: in a Masu (a traditional square wooden box).
Have you guys heard of “Sour”?
Sour is a very uniquely Japanese cocktail mixed with Shochu, and is not always sour lol. Although the favorite ones are usually fruity like Grapefruit Sour and Lemon Sour. It’s probably one of Japanese lady’s favorite. I know it is mine!! I absolutely cannot enjoy yakiniku/izakaya without my Sours.
Usually other izakaya will serve the Sour just the way it is to you, but Tsubohachi let you squeeze your own grapefruit/lemon!! And a generous half grapefruit!
(Anyway i requested for a non-alcoholic “Sour” because i’m pregnant, so it’s technically Grapefruit Soda, which Junya can have too!)
If you want me to summarize izakaya in one word, the word i’ll use is probably “kampai!” (cheers!)
It doesn’t matter if you order alcohol or not, one of the must-do in izakaya, is to hold up whatever drinks you have in your hand, and clink glasses/cups/mugs with everyone on your table, saying KAMPAI!!!! It’s a little like during Chinese wedding dinner we say “yammmmmmseng!!!!“, but less loud and lengthy lol.
The reason is that, usually people go to izakaya for a cause of celebration, it can be birthday parties, farewell parties, alumni gatherings, or just simple after work chillax sessions with your colleagues. The danna always have drinking sessions with his colleagues when we go back to Japan, and i enjoy it very very much because it is time for everyone to unwind, joke, laugh, be silly, and most importantly, get together.
The whole atmosphere is very light, cheery and humorous. The funniest things usually happen in izakayas lol.
I love how Tsubohachi has extremely spacious tatami rooms that can fit over 10-16 people. It’s very comfortable, Junya can run around (although i still have to watch him and make sure he is not breaking glasses lol), and i don’t have to worry so much about noise and table manners with a toddler around. Cuz everyone else is enjoying it equally loud lol.
It’s also easier to feed him cuz he doesn’t fancy the baby high chair.
Junya’s luxurious dinner of the day (from our adult plates): Seafood soup with Hokkaido King Crab!!!!
3. How to order your izakaya food
Izakaya is said to be the Japanese version of a western pub. But the biggest difference between the two of them is that, most izakaya will have a shockingly comprehensive food menu. No boring burgers and fries. You will have like at least a hundred choices to go with your awesome beer.
Well how do you know what to order from such a lengthy menu???
(Tsubohachi’s menu is so extensive that it is called the “Grand Menu” lol.)
One of the biggest mistake that non-Japanese customers make is to dip head down first for noodles and rice, and everything else at one go. Izakaya is a place where you can spend hours chit chatting while enjoying your food, so if everything comes on your table at once it will be cold half way through your latest celebrity gossip. You will also be so full you can’t enjoy many of the other light and yummy finger food.
Please start with just a couple of finger food, and then go along as your mood changes. The Japanese can order up to 8-10 times during a dining session.
The rule of thumb is to order chronologically according to the menu. The first few pages usually feature Otsumami (finger food), so you start with them to whet your appetite. They go extremely well with your favorite drinks!
Usually deep fried/grilled finger food are oh-so-beer-friendly!! We had:
- Chicken Karaage
- Nankotsu (soft bone) karaage – this one is my favoriteeee!
- Torikawa (Chicken skin skewer) – a sinful one but eternally addictive!
- Assorted yakitori (chicken skewers!) – instead of the usual grilled chicken thigh, why not go adventurous and try the Japanese favorite: Bonjiri, Sunagimo and Reba? (You try first then only ask what they are hahha)
- Kawaebi Karaage (Deep fried River Shrimp) -Omg this one also super addicitive! I can finish the whole plate myself.
- Eihire (Grilled Ray Fin) – For some reason Junya looooves chewing on this!
A must-order, for the love of Mentaiko. Potato laden with flavorful mentaiko mayo before another generous layer of melty cheese on a sizzling hot plate. Yum.
And as you are ready for more volume, you go to the following pages. Usually the typical izakaya food is grill fish, salads (potato salad is a classic!!), sashimi, etc.
- Hokke Hiraki (Grilled Horse Mackerel from Hokkaido) – It’s slightly pricy but it’s huge! You can share with 4-5 people.
- Karei Karaage (Deep fried Flounder) – I love his! It’s fried crispy to the bone so you can eat the whole fish from head to tail. Nothing wasted!
5. Steamed King Crab in Claypot – So. Much. Love. T____T. Please go for this if you are in the mood for a splurge.
And then, it’s time for some heavier affair!!
- Tempura Moriawase
- Tsubohachi Saikoro Beef Steak
- Tonpeiyaki (Omelette with sliced pork and cabbage)
- Ika Tempura Okonomiyaki Style! – no.3 and 4 is for those craving for a taste of Osaka!!
AND THEN if you are in the mood, you can have your “shime” (the ending dish). Typical shime dishes are ramen, onigiri, ochazuke, etc.
I know what you are thinking. After so much still can eat ramen and rice meh????
Trust me, once you are used to this kind of eating style, you will never leave an izakaya satisfied without your shime. And there’s also a reason why some of the portions are smaller, because they are meant to be shared so that everyone can enjoy many different kinds of food together!
On the left: A very flavorful Ishikari Nabe (Salmon and vegetable in miso based soup). It has a very yasashii (gentle) taste so it’s great for kids (Junya loves this). I can also taste the Hokkaido in this because of a buttery aftertaste fusioned with miso.
On the right: Pirikara ramen soup with lots of vegetables, for those who prefers a punch of spiciness.
For those who can’t live without rice, try their signature Kamameshi! It is served raw and will be cooked on the table in front of you for 20 minutes, so you can order it just slightly before to enjoy steaming hot fresh rice with different toppings and sauces!
We filled up the entire table for 10 with food YET till running out of space!! XD
There’s always room for dessert. ❤︎
Kakurenbo Aisu – Vanilla and Green Tea Ice Cream hidden in rice cake and red bean.
4. Enjoy the fun!!!
Basically, when you are in an izakaya, have fun.
Some izakaya in Japan has made their dining experience for their customers extra fun with super fancy menu, food performances and even games.
In Tsubohachi, you can order the Nagashi Somen!!
A green machine thing is brought into your room, with ice and water inside it and some vegetables on top. You switch on a button and it starts spinning slowly, like a gentle ice cold stream.
Erm… what do you do with it?
Well, you put the fruits and vegetables inside, plus the somen (thin Japanese noodles that resembles our Mian Xian), let it flow icy-cold, and play fishing!!!!
Our entire table was having so much fun dishing out the somen (later dipped into our individual bowls of Tsuyu) and vegetables.
JunJun particularly found it entertaining. Although he used his hand, not chopsticks XD
The somen tasted super yummy ice cold! This is actually my favorite of all, simple and delicious.
Super friendly Tencho (branch manager) entertaining Junya with Tsubohachi’s mascot bear.
He was getting really sleepy by the end of the meal (2 hours past his bed time already!), and just resting on the cushion chilling out.
Means “All You Can Drink”! It is a typical format for Izakaya dining, so within a certain time frame (usually 90 minutes to 2 hours), you pay a set price and you get to order unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks! Perfect for parties and people who love drinking cuz it’s super worth it (please make sure you can get up for work the next day lol).
Check out Tsubohachi’s Nomihodai Menu and plan your parties!!
Wow this is a lengthy post!!
I hope now you have a better idea on how you can enjoy a Japanese izakaya better. I hope you guys can also be more adventurous and try out some of the less common food (and skip the california rolls cuz none of the izakaya in Japan has it lol), and be pleasantly surprised!
Add: A2-UG1-9 Solaris Dutamas, No 1 Jalan Dutamas, 50480, Kuala Lumpur
Hours: MON – SUN 11.30AM till 3PM, 5.30PM till closing
Reservations: +603 6206 5526/ 0176690060