Over a year ago while vacationing in Osaka, Japan, I inquired with my hotel concierge about a nearby lounge or bar that my wife and I could go to before dinner one night. He gave me a puzzled look, which I read as a need to clarify to him what one was. He responded: “In Japan, we generally don’t drink without eating so the closest thing to that here typically serves food with alcohol.” (Not entirely true, we found a tiny (albeit hidden) lounge nearby that sold only beer and spirits.) But what he told me that day made me realize something about the Japanese and Korean drinking culture: booze and food typically go together.
Growing up, whenever I saw my Korean dad drink beer just by himself or with a bunch of his friends, they always drank alcohol with snacks. These snacks commonly consisted of a medley of raw vegetables accompanied with a salty dipping paste, or chewy dry squid (ojinga) that have been toasted, salted and cut into strips. These drinking snacks are referred to as sakana (sometimes otsumami) in Japanese and anju in Korean.
If you are drinking in Japanese and Korean restaurants sometimes you are presented with a small complimentary dish that is at little cost to the restaurant (and sometimes something that might get discarded otherwise). For instance, if you are dining at the sushi bar and are between dishes, the sushi chef might place a little bowl of salty strips of salmon skin in front of you to snack on with your beer. Or at times something like seasoned and grilled squid beaks will appear from the kitchen for you and your friends to munch on while you all are working on another round of drinks. In Korean restaurants, you may be done with your main orders but you and your friend(s) are still hanging around and drinking. A complimentary dish of raw carrots and cucumbers with fermented bean paste (doenjang or gochujang) for dipping may be inconspicuously plopped down in front of you.
On a larger scale, most all dishes served in Japanese izakayas can be considered sakana due to them being typically consumed with alcohol. In some casual Korean restaurants, dishes like seasoned pig trotter or fried chicken — both excellent with beer and/or soju (rice liquor) — are also considered anju. If you attend a noraebang (karaoke) outing with a bunch of Koreans, a large platter of fruit and ojinga (not complimentary) arrives alongside your soju and beer even if you are still digesting your most recent meal.
Elsewhere: Spanish tapas, a cheese course at the end of a meal with wine and hot wings with beer all tell me what other cultures like to eat while drinking. What am I missing?
Shoya Izakaya, 6035 Peachtree Road, Doraville. 770-457-5555
Miso Izakaya, 619 Edgewood Ave., Atlanta. 678-701-0128
Sushi Yoko, 7124 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Norcross. 770-903-9348
Try (depending on availability): Chicken or geso karaage, edamame, onigiri (grilled rice triangles) with beer. Sashimi with sake.
Sun and Moon Cafe, 3555 Gwinnett Place Dr., Duluth. 678-417-6755
Dongnae Bangnae, 3042 Oakcliff Road, Atlanta. 678-205-4321
Iron Age, 2131 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth. 678-334-5242
Try (depending on availability): Samgyeopsal (grilled pork bellies), pajeon, jokbal (pig trotter) — all good with beer, soju and makgeolli (Korean rice beer).
- by Gene Lee, Food and More blog