By far the most popular sake (alcohol) in Japan is beer. And when drinking beer, you'll often accompany it with otsumami (おつまみ), which is a snack that goes along with sake, particularly beer.
There are many different kinds of otsumami. One of the more popular choices is kara-age (から揚げ), which resembles fried chicken—a must when drinking beer! But by far the most popular (and healthiest) otsumami, and one that can be found in any izakaya, is edamame (枝豆).
Edamame resemble green peas, and are often boiled in water before eating. Depending on your preference, shio (塩, salt) is often sprinkled on top for added flavor.
Edamame are a type of soybean, though much softer than other types of soybeans and much easier to eat. There are usually about three beans in a pod, and they're full of vitamins and other nutrients. While adults will often eat edamame when drinking sake, kids can enjoy them as a nutritious snack as well.
People in Japan particularly enjoy eating food (and especially fruit and vegetables) when in season, or shun (旬). A common phrase in Japan is hatsumotsu wo taberu (初物を食べる), or "eating the first produce of the season." By doing so, it’s said that one's life span will increase by 75 days.
The shun for edamame is different depending on the region. Down in the south of Japan in Kyushu, the shun is in June. In the north of Japan in Hokaido it's in September. Japanese people absolutely love edamame, and each region is always looking for ways to make its locally grown edamame more appealing.
Edamame can be easily found at a number of restaurants in Japan. If there’s alcohol on the menu, there’s a good chance edamame will also be available. In some izakaya you won’t even need to order edamame, as they'll automatically be given as a sort of starter to your meal.
How to Make Your Own Edamame
There are a variety of different ways you can prepare edamame, but the simplest method is often the most delicious. So how do you go about cooking edamame?
1. First, separate the edamame pods from their stems.
2. Next, cut the ends of each of the pods, being careful not to cut the beans inside.
3. Now cover the pods with some big grains of unrefined salt.
4. Once coated with salt, place the pods into boiling water for about three to four minutes.
And there you have it: a simple and delicious way to cook edamame!
Cutting end ends of the edamame pods allows the salt to be soaked up in the beans themselves. However, when you visit an izakaya in Japan, you won’t likely find this style of cooking, as it takes time. Instead, you'll usually find salt sprinkled on top of the pods afterwards.
Click below for two more quick and easy dishes anyone can make using these delicious beans!