124 of 124 people found the following review helpful
Some of my favorite memories of Japan are from cooking in an izakaya. I apprenticed under the local master, learning traditional izakaya cooking and bringing some of my Northwest sensibilities to the menu. It was a fantastic experience, and I often wish I was there still, standing behind the charcoal grill, taking orders and cooking directly for the customer, reaching inside the tanks to pull out a live octopus and quickly dice it up and serve it raw and wriggling. Good times. There really is no restaurant I love more than an izakaya, and no matter how many trendy American restaurants like to put that on their website they never get it right.
There should be a hundred more cookbooks like "Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook". This is the real stuff, what Japanese cooking really is, not intricately rolled sushi or fancy designs on square plates. Delicious, cheap food served up fresh and fast, with a menu changing by the hour depending on what ingredients are available, often hand written by the master and pasted on the walls.
Mark Robinson shares my love for izakayas, and has put together a brilliant cookbook and guide based on some fabulous establishments. Along with the recipes, there are short essays on izakaya culture, their history and what they mean to the Japanese people. It is a splendid ritual, the ordering of drinks and paired food, the requesting of today's specialties, the casual atmosphere of an ongoing party where anyone can feel free to jump into conversation with anyone else.
I cooked at an izakaya in Osaka, whereas Robinson calls Tokyo his stomping grounds, so a lot of these recipes are unfamiliar to me, but they are all 100% authentic and delicious. There are some standard menu items, like the grilled whole surume squid and sweet miso-marinated fish, and some more exotic items like fried whole garlic with miso and "motsu" beef intestine stew. All the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs that will keep you reaching for this cookbook over and over again.
Because of its authenticity, these recipes are not going to be easy to someone without access to a good Japanese grocer. The "Asian" section at your local supermarket probably isn't going to cut it, especially with the seafood and produce required. It is worth the effort to track down the ingredients rather than substituting, because that is where the real flavor comes in, but I have had to cut a few corners here and there.
Anyone who is interested in authentic Japanese cooking and doesn't have a copy of "Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook" in their library isn't cooking the whole spectrum. Aside from a plane ticket to Japan, this is as real as it gets.
36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2009
The book features eight different izakayas, each with its own section that begins with an essay that reads very much like a newspaper write-up: Robinson may describe the experience walking in the pub, the reputation of the pub, a brief history of the pub and the chef, the chef's philosophy about food and drink, the flow of the kitchen, and descriptions of the food, followed by about 9 recipes from the izakaya itself, written by the chef and each accompanied by a full-color photograph.
The dust jacket front flap says that Izakaya is the first publication in English to delve into every aspect of the izakaya, a unique and vital cornerstone of Japanese food culture. However, after reading the book, a second book would have difficulty providing insight additional to Robinson's- he paints such a vivid picture that the only way to better get an idea of what the izakaya experience is like is probably to go to one. From the physical description of the pub, to the demeanor of the chefs, and even the kind of company one can expect in each izakaya, Robinson captures all the details. Robinson chose the eight izakayas featured for their quality, ambience, and variety, and the unique charms of each izakaya shines through in the text.
The recipes are for the most part no-fuss recipes (no need to train for decades) with few ingredients, but the emphasis is on quality and creativity. The range from the familiar (sweet corn kakiage tempura, soy-flavored spare ribs, simmered kamo eggplant with pork loin, sliced duck breast with ponzu sauce, fried udon, summer scallop salad) to more exotic offerings (scrambled eggs with sea urchin, "motsu" beef intestine stew, shark fin aspic). There is inspiration to be found here not only for those who wish to travel in Japan or set up a pub of their own, but also for those who are adventurous enough to try a different kind of entertaining at home. The shots of the food (taken by one of my favorites, Masashi Kuma) and the izakayas are warm and inviting, and represent the izakaya culture remarkably.
The book delivers on its promise to provide a peek into this Japanese dining experience, but anyone interested in Japanese cuisine or culture in general would enjoy reading Izakaya.
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2010
Don't get me wrong...this is a fantastic book and deserves 5 stars. It's interesting, the recipes are great, and the stories are wonderful to read.
The only problem I've noticed while testing the recipes is the U.S. measurements are somewhat off. For example, when I made the corn kakiage, the recipe stated 1 cup of flour. The kakiage was good, but kind of doughy. I read the recipe again and saw it said 1 cup (4 oz) <-- which should be half a cup. Next time I'll try the recipe at 1/2 cup of flour instead.
I also read another recipe where it referenced 1 cup of liquid at 240ml and 1 cup liquid at 180ml.
Other than that, the book is great and the corn kakiage, although doughy, was still DELICIOUS! :)
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2008
Having recently returned from a tour of Japan, I can say without reservation that this is a very authentic Izakaya cookbook. The recipes are well written, straight forward and uncomplicated. I have tried several and all are delicious and fun. I took off one star because the use of a bigger typeface would have been a good idea. Be sure and try the corn kakiage!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2011
Everyone who's ever been to Japan could tell you anecdotes about their best meal there in a tiny, off-the-beaten-track traditional inn. Obviously, closed-minded people who think that Indians eat curry, Americans eat burgers, and Japanese eat sushi, will have carefully avoided eating in such "not in NY times reviews" places, and that's the whole point of this book. Having lived for a year there (and been there another dozen times), I had the chance to discover these fantastic traditional eateries, with original, uncommon, and incredible house recipes: the Izakaya. Obviously, most of them have no English menu nor does anyone there speak a single word of English - which is why they are hard to access for tourists, and this book recreates the atmosphere of such places: nice locals that will start talking to you (in Japanese), the sake pouring wild, fresh beer with crunchy bits of fried never-heard-of parts of even-less-heard-of animals (or is it?) that taste incredibly good. These recipes are simple and mostly quick, none of the fancy/schmoozy elaborations of Nobu or Morimoto. Everyday items that you can cook at home (obviously Japanese stores nearby and access to fresh seafood will help).
The book itself is gorgeous, with great photos that recreate the ambiance and mood in the various "favorites" of the author, this is much more than a cookbook. It's almost an ethnographic study about these gems that make the Japanese food scene so varied, so colorful, so alive. This book was born out of the passion of his author, and you can feel his enthusiasm on every page, which makes it grasping. If you've ever been to Japan with friends yet felt that, somehow, you missed a chance to eat something really local, really unique, really Japanese that no tourist alone would have found on its own, this book is for you then.
Granted, I do have a fetish for Japanese food (and have a pretty abnormal collection of Japanese cookbooks), but this one stands out as informative, visually pleasant, original (as in I've never found another book on this topic), and especially filled with simple recipes you can try at home with little effort. Definitely worth every buck!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2013
This is one notch above the other Japanesey cookbooks I have bought because it is written not by a chef or ghost writer but by an experienced journalist. He really takes you there, to these izakayas. Don't read this book if you're hungry. He gives you maps and subway directions to the few places he reviews in depth in here. I'll definitely be checking out some of these joints! Tried making a few of the recipes. They're simple but if you substitute for American ingredients (even if he says you can) you'll not be successful.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2011
I bought this book for my boyfriend as B'day gift. He is a French and loves Izakaya style. We love this book because it has good photos, location guide and recipes.
They selected good authentic Izakaya from Tokyo in this book. I am a Japanese . I think it is not only for foreign country people who likes Japanese style. Japanese can enjoy this book too.
I can not wait to visit these Izakaya when I go to Tokyo next.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2009
I think it is most appropriate to consider this book as a guidebook to the izakaya style of Japanese food. It gives you lots of information of how to behave and what kind of dishes to order in an izakaya.
The book also has some recipes. This being pub food it is quite easy to make and naturally tasty.
I would recommend the book to anyone interested in Japanese food.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2008
I rarely buy a book without reading a review first, but this was an exeption. The need for a book like this was long overdue. Beautiful photos, competent procedure, and a savage reference to the everyday Japanese dining experience. Oh and the recipes are not too easy as to insult a practicing chef or too hard as to send the home chef across town on a wild goose chase for some never heard of ingredient. Worth your time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2010
This is unusually well-written for a cookbook. But it's more than a cookbook - it's an introduction to an everyday part of Japanese culture that is still relatively unknown in the west. Japan is often pictured as traditional and formal - a place with myriad unfathomable rules of etiquette. The izakaya, by contrast, is casual and relaxed. The form it takes seems to depend more on the personality of the proprietor than on any set of ancient rules.
Robinson seems to be able to tell this story for a western audience. As for the recipes - well, I'm not much of a cook, but a friend who lived in Japan, and has the book, swears by them. He says they relate to Japanese family style cooking - a range of dishes at any one meal, some that last for a few days, others put together quickly on the night.
If there's one rule I learnt here it is that you should first choose a good ingredient then not fuss with it - do something simple that enhances its qualities and flavour.
This book may not make you want to start cooking - it might instead incline you to get on the next plane to Tokyo. It's great. The guy really knows his stuff.