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Izakaya「居酒屋」: The soul of Tokyo Friday nights

Izakaya friday nights
Friday night, at the Izakaya

My godfather visited Japan last week, with his wife and kids. The initial plan was for me to tag along and play local guide, but dates didn't work out as my work event in Malaga aligned with the only remaining week in their packed summer calendar. It did not matter though, I created a few condensed guides of our Tokyo highlights (Kamakura, Shibuya, Asakusa, Odaiba) and spoke with him almost on daily basis. Somehow his words would always transport me back in time, to various different experiences throughout the years and visitors.

We spent summer 2017 in Seoul and reserved took a long weekend to visit Tokyo. A very emotional experience as Enrique had not came back since we left in April 2014. In 3 super packed days together, we did a nostalgia journey to our favourite things - you may move out of Japan, but deep in your heart you never really move on from Japan.

Friday night, our friend Tomomi booked a table in a popular izakaya near her job. Eventually she got tangled at work - which is why you can't see her pretty face joining us at the table - but gifted us with an amazing opportunity to revive one of the best parts of our salaryman life, the Friday escape.

Japan like Korea, is a country with an amazing cultural heritage. Beyond arts and temples, one could highlight the high morals, taste for perfection, pride on a work well done and honorable behavior, which turn the tourist experience into the most amazing on Earth but the daily life into a high-pressure endeavour. A double-edged sword of all sorts.

When Friday comes, salaryman run to the izakaya - sometimes followed by the karaoke, like we did once... Get some skewers, secure cold beers or high-ball (coloured soda with whisky) and let the packed tiny space become noisier as their faces turn red. There are some famous places - like Ebisu Yokocho - but I find more interesting the real ones, that only those who work in the surroundings know well.

... and culinary advice
People planning their vacation sometimes contact me, asking about good restaurants, which I try to capture here. When it comes to Tokyo, the FAQ revolves around sushi places. The spectrum of Japanese cuisine is broad, with an unbeatable price for value and null chances of food poisoning. We always brought guests to experience sushi at Katumidori but in general,  my overall recommendation would be to would rather aim to use food joints in Japan to get a taste of the local lifestyle.

Restaurants in Japan are "themed" meaning that they often revolve around one single thing they excel on e.g. ramen, sushi, katsu-don (beef rice bowl), unagi-don (eel rice bowl), but you cannot have something else and definitely, you cannot change the menu options (swapping rice by greens is NG).

Given my culinary preferences (raw, green, wine) and my fascination for cultural nuances, izakayas aka the Japanese tapas bar are my favourite pick. Here you are almost expected to get drunk, while ordering from a picture menu illustrating a wider variety - grilled fish, chicken skewers, gyoza, salad, sashimi... If you come in a group, it is often possible to book a separate room to hang out with your friends, where you are allowed to spend as much time as you like - but hey if you have nobody, just grab a seat at the counter and chat with the other loners (pictured above).

Below two are authentic izakaya where my local friends took me during my visits to Tokyo last year. Hopefully you can squeeze them in and catch a glimpse of salaryman cooling down.

石志水産品川店 Shinshimizu Izakaya (near Shinagawa station) [MAP]
〒108-0074 Tōkyō-to, Minato-ku, Takanawa, 3 Chome−26−33 京急第10ビル

魚真 渋谷店 Uoshin Fish Restaurant (near Shibuya station) [MAP]
2 Chome-25-5 Dōgenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0043

Izakaya friday nights
Never worry, often picture menu and sometimes english version is available. Look for the「飲み放題」sign i.e. it means "all you can drink" offer is available (usually 10-15EUR for 1-2h) or ask "Nomihoodai ga arimaska?" to confirm if they have - if they don't just get a whole bottle like I did! Wine in Asia is not so good, but you get used to it - specially being a weirdo who doesn't drink beer...
Izakaya friday nights
Izakaya friday nights
The trick is to order in stages, first order a few dishes, check if you are still hungry,order a bit more...
Izakaya friday nights
Tamagoyaki - Japanese omelette - is one of my favourites, in this case topped with tiny raw fish.
Izakaya friday nights
Aburi toro - this is tuna a bit toasted on the side, very nice.
Izakaya friday nights
Kyabetsu salad, dipped in sesame oil - the closest it gets to a salad in many places, but fine for me.
Izakaya friday nights
Hard boiled quail eggs, often also available in 7/11, Enrique's favourite - look at that happy face!
Izakaya friday nights
Izakaya friday nights
Goya-champuru 「ゴーヤチャンプルー」the star of Okinawa (the group of islands closer to Taiwan than to Japan's main island, super recommended if you have some extra time in your visit) cuisine, stir-fry that includes bitter melon (pictured) which is a cucumber-like vegetable, mixed with other veggies, meat, tofu... Lovely!
Izakaya friday nights
Of course, yakitori「焼き鳥」or some chicken skewers!!! Below is quite normal, but if you order a set it is fairly likely to include various guts (stomach, liver, heart, skin, chest-bone...) - if you ain't keen on those, just keep on ordering one by one. By the way, that small cylinder they'll bring is to drop the skewers once you are done with the meat!
Izakaya friday nights
Judging by my face, I was getting some flashbacks, reflecting deeply about life.
Izakaya friday nights
Another good rule of thumb for restaurant selection (specially in Asia): packed place = good stuff
Izakaya friday nights
...Karaoke and more drinks, just around the corner!
Izakaya friday nights

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