An often overlooked part of a typical Japanese meal is the half hour or hour portion of the beginning of the meal when beer or alcohol is first served. During this time, alcohol is served with small snacks, also known as "otsumami", in Japanese.
The term otsumami may be used broadly to refer to any type of snack, but it typically means a snack that is consumed with beer, alcohol, or other non-alcoholic beverage. Another Japanese term, "oyatsu", typically refers to afternoon snack time or other sweets or snacks that are not generally consumed with beer or alcohol.
Where to Find Otsumami
Otsumami, or beer snacks, are readily available pre-made and packaged for sale at Japanese supermarkets. An entire aisle in the market may be dedicated strictly to dried otsumami snacks. Most otsumami are savory and salty, to complement beer and alcohol. Spicy flavors are also quite popular.
While there is quite a variety of packaged otsumami available on the market, the following five Japanese beer snacks are popular items that you'll find in almost any Japanese market, and it is a great way to impress your friends, family, or a date with a Japanese themed cocktail hour! To find them in the United States, check at a well-stocked Asian market or the Japanese aisle of an international grocery store. Since they are all dried and packaged, some may be available online too.
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Roasted Green Peas
Roasted green peas are one of the most basic of Japanese beer snacks. The peas are coated in a very light batter, similar to that of a thin tempura coating, and are light and crunchy. They are pre-packaged in shelf-stable bags and are the perfect snack to keep in your pantry for impromptu beer and snacks when company stops by. Roasted green peas come in two flavors, salted or spicy wasabi (hot Japanese horseradish).
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Squid Tempura (Ika Ten)
Squid tempura, also known as "ika ten" or "ika tempura" in Japanese, is another favorite snack. A thin piece of squid is coated in tempura batter and fried. Its texture is both crunchy and chewy. Ika ten is seasoned with salt, but other flavors include teriyaki and spicy red chili pepper (togarashi).
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Dried Spicy Shredded Calamari (Saki Ika)
Dried spicy shredded calamari is also known as "saki ika" in Japanese. It is a very rustic otsumami of dried squid that is shredded into thin pieces and seasoned with salt and red chili pepper (togarashi). It can be likened to American jerky. Its texture is both chewy and tender in some parts. The fresher the package, the more tender the dried squid will be. In addition to the spicy flavor, it is also available in plain salt flavor.
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Seaweed Tempura (Nori Ten)
Seaweed tempura, also known as "nori ten" in Japanese, are pieces of seasoned seaweed fried in a tempura batter. This otsumami is not only popular as a beer snack, but also as a snack among kids. The seaweed is light and crisp and the batter is thicker and slightly chewy. The two most basic nori ten flavors include salt and wasabi. Other popular flavors include spicy red chili pepper, tomato salad, teriyaki, seafood, and garlic.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Seasoned Dried Calamari Rings (Ika Kun)
Seasoned dried calamari are a favorite among Japanese and have been affectionately named "ika kun", where "ika" means squid, and "kun", is the affectionate masculine term for "young child". While there is some meaning that is lost in translation, the essence of this otsumami snack is that the small rings of tender dried squid are little and cute. The calamari rings are quite flavorful and are typically sold in plain salt flavor, but they are also available in spicy red chili pepper (togarashi).