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Nagoya staples at popular national chain Yamachan

by Adam Miller

If you are visiting friends in Nagoya and they are treating you to dinner, it would be a safe bet to assume they are taking you to one of the many branches of Yamachan that are scattered around the city. Although there are now 72 stores nationwide, a staggering 38 of those are in Aichi Prefecture, the home of this fun and lively izakaya.

The main dishes that draw in the crowds are the quintessentially “Nagoya” foods, such as miso-katsu or miso-kushi-katsu, deep-fried pork cutlets dipped in a thick, sweet miso sauce. The sweetness of these delicacies may take you unawares the first time you try them, but the taste quickly becomes familiar and moreish in equal measure.

On the subject of miso, Yamachan also serves Red Miso Ale, which is a little expensive at ¥690 a bottle but well worth a try. The miso is seen more in the nut-brown coloring and sweet aroma than in the ale’s taste, which is only slightly sweeter than you might otherwise find in Japanese ales. Other beverages include cheap cocktails and fruit sours that serve their purpose of being easy to drink and quick to get you drunk, along with Yamazaki whisky and a selection of sake. There is also a variety of nonalcoholic cocktails, most of which comprise Calpis mixed with fruit juice, but they stop the non-drinkers being relegated to glugging tea.

Although Miso is commonly seen as Nagoya’s signature eccentricity, tebasaki really is the main draw as well as the staple dish at Yamachan; it’s a snack not unlike Buffalo Wings, but far crispier and seasoned with a peppery edge. In recent years, Yamachan has also added a Worcester Sauce variety, which is a little stickier, and although interesting, pales in comparison to the original recipe. A serving of tebasaki comes with five wings at ¥400 — ostensibly for sharing, but one person could easily polish them off and still want more. Eating the chicken wings is a little messy, and a metal bucket is supplied for the bones, no doubt overflowing by the end of the meal.

Other specialties such as the Yamachan Salad may not be dripping with originality, but it is big enough to share and healthy enough to at least begin convincing yourself you are eating a balanced meal while stuffing your face with chicken and beer. For fish lovers there is grilled hokke (mackerel), while a selection of sashimi comes with an optional side of natto (fermented beans) or sticky tororo potatoes. A wide selection of fried rice or noodle dishes make the meal more substantial, while yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) add a bit of variety.

The real hidden treasure at Yamachan is its deserts menu, which isn’t usually taken advantage of as diners are often too stuffed and/or drunk to indulge. Although there are only a handful of dishes to choose from, the ice cream that accompanies many of them (and can be ordered separately) is surprisingly rich and creamy, and is a great finishing touch to the savory meal you have just ravished.

Various branches across Japan; www.yamachan.co.jp; opening times vary; separate smoking areas; dinner around ¥2,000 plus drinks; English menus available. Adam Miller has been living and writing in Japan since 2008. He lives in Nagoya with his wife, his baby daughter and his dwindling whisky collection.