Izakaya food has been popping up on my Instagram, in magazines, and TV shows. Everybody and their mom is talking about it! It is no surprise that I have fallen in love and gone crazy about these small Japanese tapas dishes. There is something about how writers and food celebrities describe the quality of the binchotan charcoal that is used to sear and sizzle delicious meats with a sweet and savory soy glaze. I was memorized by the snapshots of skewers at the focal point of the picture from Instagram accounts of Izakaya Rintaro and Yard Bird. I had to make this even if it killed me (and it almost did).
A meal at Izakaya Rintaro. I had to see how it was done.
So if you are crazy enough to create an Izakaya menu, when does buying ingredients for your 10+ dishes and spending a whole day cooking become practical? Well you need more than one person to help you eat and enjoy all of the food, and it helps if they help you pay for your ingredients. That sounds like a restaurant doesn't it? It was decided. I would come up with a set menu, set a price, and send invitations to friends to my pop-up kitchen.
It Is All In the Name
Does a rose by any other name smell as sweet? No, if I am going to create a proper restaurant I need a proper name. It was a given that I would have "Nichijou" in my name, but I needed a second component to match. I needed a Japanese word that would represent my Izakaya popup and the nature of my cooking. After long Google searches of Japanese phrases I settled on "Juku (塾)" or "cram school". Cram schools bring up a vivid imagine of young teenagers studying 24/7 to make something of themselves and get one step closer to their dream career. The past few years I have had my nose deep in my cooking and food science books in hopes to be the best cook that I can. There is only so much I can learn studying and reading on my own. This pop up with give me real life experiences, real customers, and real pressure. Nichijou Juku is my cram school.
Started from the Bottom...
The essence of Izakaya is grilling skewers of binchotan charcoal across a long rectangular grill. All these things can be purchased online but I wasn't ready to pay 300 dollars for Charcoal Konro Grill despite how beautiful the grill is, so I went with a DYI approach. Everything I needed surprisingly was at Home Depot and PetSmart. I built the walls of my grill with 2"x4"x8" red gardening bricks, bought aquarium rocks to support my charcoal and dissipate the heat, and assembled my grill on baking sheet pans and blocks of wood. I honestly didn't know how it was going to turn out, but I started from the bottom... and now we're here.
Mapping out was my favorite part of the pop-up process. I picked all my favorite Izakaya dishes and created a shopping list and cooking schedule. The menu consisted of Izakaya staples such as various chicken skin skewers, bacon wrapped mochi, and agedashi tofu. To reduce the cooking time, I sous vide'd a batch of chicken skewers. To my surprise, the skewers that were cooked in my water bath then grilled did not actually taste as good as the freshly grilled chicken skewers. The uniform texture that low temperature cooking has on chicken made the chicken thighs feel less plump.
The cooking part was fun but lonely. The bad thing about grilling is that you have to be outside in the cold while everyone is cozy in doors. While I was outdoors manning the grill, my housemate Alexian manned the kitchen making the Okonomiyaki and Agedashi Tofu while bartending and hydrating our guests. I usually get too caught up in cooking when hosting a party to socialize with everyone, but luckily this pop-up was among friends so they could be left alone.
To Infinity and...
So what is beyond Izakaya for my next pop-up? I was thinking of doing buns similar to peking duck or pork belly puns. Ramen is definitely on my list. I am open to suggestions - leave some in the comment box below!