Celery and seaweed fried in sake at Yasaitei
Non-Japanese are always surprised to see a light food dish coming automatically with the ifrst drink ordered at most izakayas in Japan.
It is called O-Tooshi/お通し or Tsuki-Dashi/突き出し in Japanese.
It is a tradition in Japan, but misunderstandings may arise as you will be billed for it.
It is not complimentary. In the latter case, the owner or staff will clearly say” Saabisu desu!/サービスです！On the house!”.
Now, why such a tradition, definitely somewhat alien to Westerners?
There are two ways to consider it, the positive way and the negative way.
Like bad and good surprises let me start with the negative way, although I’ve learnt not to be so in this country!
Vegetables, wakame and octopus o-hitashi at Yasaitei
The negative way:
The izakaya can adapt/arrange/recreate leftovers of the previous day/night and serve them for a profit.
It replaces the notorious “cover charge” in clubs and bars.
The unscrupulous izakaya (and that includes big chains in general!) can serve dead cheap food (frozen edamame and the like imported from China) and make an immediate profit especially if the establishement is large and busy.
You may refuse right away the o-tooshi or tsuki-dashi by immediately saying “o-tooshi Katto shite kudasai/お通しカットして下さい！” but you will have to be quick and you will establish a durable tight-fisted reputation among your Japanese friends or colleagues although Westerners might judge you as a sharp guy/lass…
Mind you, there are times when I do feel tp leave the thing untouched and point out later that I didn’t order or eat it, but you must be fluent in Japanese… In any case, I do not patronize such profiteering establishments!
Spicy edamame o-hitashi at Yasaitei
The positive way:
On the other hand, the real and honest, if still driven by economic reasons, purpose is:
First to enable customers to enjoy some food with their first drink while their orders are processed. After all for all the drink you might consume you still have chosen the place for its food (unless you are gravely mistaken!)!
Second, the o-tooshi will give you a very faithful idea of the level and skills of the izakaya (unless you are absolutely unlucky or made yourself a nuisance!).
Grilled kampachi/Amberjack with zucchini and tomato puree at Yasaitei
I personally make a rule to remember and record the o-tooshi served to me at my favorite (and expensive) izakaya and Japanese restaurants. They actually make for great gastronomic study and research. After all, a good establishment will rarely serve the same o-tooshi two days running!
Here are some samples collected in my favorite haunts:
Pan-fried spicy lotus roots and tuna at Hana Oto
Various o-tooshi at Takano
Tuna tartatre at Sushi Ko
Buckwheat tofu with kinako powder at Setsugekka Soba Restaurant
Sake-steamed cockles ar narusei Tempura Restaurant
Seared tuna at Waga
Next time you visit a japanese Izakaya or restaurant you will understand why the first impression is always so important!
RECOMMENDED RELATED WEBSITES
Tokyo Food File by Robbie Swinnerton, Green Tea Club by Satoshi Nihonyanagi in Shizuoka!, Mind Some by Tina in Taiwan, Le Manger by Camille Oger (French), The Indian Tourist, Masala Herb by Helene Dsouza in Goa, India, Mummy I Can Cook! by Shu Han in London, Pierre.Cuisine, Francescannotwrite, My White Kitchen, 47 Japanese Farms Through The Eyes of Its Rural Communities, Foodhoe, Chucks Eats, Things that Fizz & Stuff, Five Euro Food by Charles,Red Shallot Kitchen by Priscilla,With a Glass, Nami | Just One Cookbook, Peach Farm Studio, Clumsyfingers by Xethia, PepperBento,Adventures in Bento Making, American Bent, Beanbento, Bento No, Bento Wo Tsukurimashou, Cooking Cute, Eula, Hapabento , Happy Bento, Jacki’s Bento Blog, Kitchen Cow, Leggo My Obento, Le Petit Journal Bento & CO (French), Lunch In A Box,
Susan at Arkonlite, Vegan Lunch Box; Tokyo Tom Baker, Daily Food Porn/Osaka, Only Nature Food Porn, Happy Little Bento, The Herbed Kitchen, J-Mama’s Kitchen, Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat, Bento Lunch Blog (German), Adventures In Bento, Anna The Red’s Bento Factory, Cooking Cute, Timeless Gourmet, Bento Bug, Ideal Meal, Bentosaurus, Mr. Foodie (London/UK), Ohayo Bento,
Must-see tasting websites:
-Sake: Tokyo Through The Drinking Glass, Tokyo Foodcast, Urban Sake, Sake World
-Wine: Palate To Pen, Warren Bobrow, Cellar Tours, Ancient Fire Wines Blog
-Beer: Good Beer & Country Boys, Another Pint, Please!, Beering In Good Mind: All about Craft Beer in kanzai by Nevitt Reagan!
-Japanese Pottery to enjoy your favourite drinks: Yellin Yakimono Gallery