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Small Plates: Four Easy Japanese Izakaya Dishes

This post is part of our Small Plates series, which is brought to you by California Pizza Kitchen.

Clockwise from top left: Agedashi dofu, yaki nasu, karaaga, and tuna and avocado nuta. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

"Only in Japan have they taken the simple concept of bar snacks and transformed them into a culinary and social art form."

Despite their proclivity for wacked-out pizza toppings (cheese-stuffed shrimp, anyone?) and un-useless gadgets, if the Japanese excel at one thing, it's taking a good idea, and elevating it to its highest, purest, and often craziest form.

Take izakaya, for example, the Japanese watering hole-cum-eateries that dot Tokyo's nighttime foodscape. It's not like Japan invented beer, bars, or even small plates, for that matter. But only in Japan have they taken the simple concept of bar snacks—small, often salty treats designed to get you to drink more—and transformed them into a culinary and social art form.

It's not uncommon to find izakaya menus dozens, even hundreds of items long, with everything from sashimi and pickles to yakitori—every manner of chicken part skewered and grilled over charcoal.

Karaage is Japanese style fried chicken that's got everything you'd want in a bar snack: crispy, juicy, and salty.

If you've got friends who've yet to be converted to tofu, try serving them agedashi dofu—fried is a pretty tough thing to argue with.

The mayonnaise-obsessed Japanese will squeeze the baby-shaped Kewpie bottles onto just about anything (yes, including pizza), but as the base for a creamy, nuta-style dressing, it's acidity and slight sweetness pair remarkably well with sashimi-quality fish and avocado.

Finally, for something a little lighter, yaki nasu is broiled eggplant that is marinated post-cooking in a dashi and soy-based cold soup. The charred eggplant soaks up the broth like a sponge, resulting in an intense smoky, salty, sweet, and savory snack.

Serve any of these snacks along with good cold sake, or a light, crisp beer.

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