Otsumami are a selection of foods in Japan that are meant to accompany alcoholic beverages and to enhance one’s dining experience. They’re often served at Japanese pubs known as izakaya, or at restaurants or at home as a snack before a meal. These wide ranging foods can be enjoyed hot or cold and vary in how they’re prepared including raw, cooked, deep fried, pickled, smoked or preserved.
It may come as a surprise that otsumami were originally called “sakana” (“saka” meaning alcohol while “na” means food). Many otsumami were originally made from seafood and the word sakana was later adopted as the now more common term for fish in Japanese.
The flavors and tastes of otsumami meant to pair perfectly with different types of alcohol. Greasier, spicier foods are thought to pair best with beer, while simmered, pickled, and grilled dishes are thought to pair well with sake.
Popular otsumami found in Japan
Probably the most familiar otsumami, edamame are boiled or steamed immature soybean pods often served with a sprinkle of salt.
A catch-all term for pickles in Japanese, tsukemono are frequently served alongside almost every meal in Japan and also pair well with alcohol. Some common tsukemono include pickled cucumbers, eggplants, and daikon (Japanese radish) known as takuan.
Found in most izakayas,this dish is made from chicken cartilage that can be grilled and served on skewers as nankotsu yakitori.
Popular in Osaka, these bamboo skewers of meat or vegetables are dipped in an egg and flour batter, lightly coated in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried before being served hot. The skewers are then dipped in a tangy communal sauce right before eating and sometimes topped with a dash of shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice blend).
Dried squid with a chewy, jerky-like texture that is often served whole with the insides removed and torn lengthwise. It’s sometimes served with a dipping sauce of Japanese mayo, soy sauce and shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice blend).
The Japanese equivalent to french fries, these deep fried potatoes are served thin or chunky and sometimes include toppings such as shredded seaweed.
Thin slices of squid coated in a light tempura batter that is fried to be crispy on the outside and hot and chewy on the inside.
Similarly, nori-ten is made from thin seaweed that is fried in a tempura batter and come in a variety of flavors.
Japanese-style fried chicken that is juicy and meaty on the inside and salty and crunchy on the outside. Karaage pairs perfectly with a cold glass of beer.
Whether it’s fish jerky, edamame, pickles or rice crackers, otsumami and alcohol create perfect taste pairings while opening one’s palette to the meal to come.
About the author:
The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!