Sumi-Ka Restaurant, Subang Jaya: Japanese Izakaya and Yakitori Bar

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the brilliant and popular Japanese manga series, Oishinbo (The Gourmet), by none other than the Queen herself. She thought it was right up my alley being the comical food blogger that I am. Well, she thought right. I was hooked immediately. It totally made sense how the series has racked up over 100 paperback collections since making its debut in 1983. Written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, the comic follows a young journalist’s attempts to assemble the “Ultimate Menu” for his newspaper’s anniversary edition. The journalist, Yamaoka Shiro, is lazy and snide, but he’s got an extensive culinary background, earned under the tyrannical oversight of his father, who is also a prominent artist and obsessive gourmand named Kaibara Yuzan. Father and son detest each other, but their shared interest in food culture keeps them moving in the same circles. Their spiteful exchanges provide the series’s underlying drama.

But family drama isn’t what the series is known for. The creators’ primary interest seems to be food – its preparation, presentation and history. This is where Kariya and Hanasaki excel. There’s a tremendous amount to learn about Japanese cuisine through Oishinbo, and it’s delivered with detail and effective storytelling.

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Its enduring popularity and fascinating culinary bent makes this comic series an intriguing property to be repackaged and published in English. The series have recently been cherry-picked  and packed into individual volumes of the book’s “A la Carte” collections. Each volumes illustrates an individual theme through stories selected from Oishinbo’s long run. I was given a few of these books for my birthday which I continue to read with great interest. The one thing I look forward to in each book are the author’s commentaries. Based on the title of the book, Tetsu Kariya shares his insight on a part of Japanese food culture.

In the Izakaya: Pub Food chapter, Kariya shares with us the magic of eating in an izakaya. He writes:

I get excited just by standing on their doorsteps. When I look into the izakaya from outside the curtain, I can see the drunken people talking happily inside. The staff is carrying the liquor and food around. And when I open the door, I find myself engulfed in that lively atmosphere. I feel intoxicated even before I’ve had anything to drink.” 

It’s true. The golden time one enjoys in a Japanese pub cannot be replicated elsewhere. Such as when we entered Sumi-ka to celebrate my birthday. The place was wonderfully noisy and smoky. All the people around us were talking on top of their voices and they smelled like alcohol. But that was okay,  soon we too joined in on the fun and found ourselves talking on top of our voices too. We didn’t even have to drink to get high on the atmosphere.

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The real spirit of an izakaya is not its bottles of saké, but in a hospitable owner and the crew that runs it. And that’s something a place like Sumi-ka is built on and cannot live without. The quality of any eatery or watering hole is really determined by the owner’s character. A good boss will generate good vibes and this will result in good staffs and working ethics, which makes the customers happy. That is a good cycle to have.

Another important thing is of course the food. An izakaya experience should never be about fancy or elaborated dishes. That’s really unnecessary. In fact, I think those just takes the fun out of being in a pub.  Sumi-ka prides itself as a yakitori bar, which means they serve anything and mostly everything on a stick. Everyday ingredients like chicken breast, thighs, wings, minced meat balls were nice grilled with or without leek and eaten al-naturel or topped with various sauces (choose from teriyaki, wasabi or plum). Chicken spare parts were not spared too. Indulge in the fragrantly crispy skewers of chicken skin or the wonderfully fatty bishop’s nose (or chicken hips as Sumi-ka calls it). Adventurous souls will be delighted to find cow tongue (gyutan) on the menu which is grilled with either salt or miso paste. I love them both. Watch with delight as the owner cooks it all up right in front of your eyes on a long and hot grill, while his staff maneuvers around its tight walkways to deliver your orders.

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If you’re ever so inclined for a more substantial meal, there’s Oyakodon (which literally means “mother & baby rice” – chicken & egg with rice) and Onigiri (grilled or not, stuffed with salmon or ume plum) to fill up your carbs quota. There’s also the Jyagabrata, baked potato with HEAPS of butter in aluminum foil – the ultimate comfort food. The baked eggplant with bonito flakes were wonderful too. Protein freaks, like us, will find comfort in an order (or two) of the perfectly grilled mackerel. See, nothing too fancy. Just average everyday ingredients done right.

The last component in making the perfect izakaya experience is, of course, friends. For without good company, a trip here would be a tad too boring. Drinking and eating by yourself is really no fun now is there? I couldn’t have ask for more than laughing into my thirties with a set of good friends and McCutie around the table…yes, and presents too – no matter how small they may be.

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This post was featured on The Sunday Star, 22nd August 2010. You can read the coverage on The Star’s website. 
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Sumi-Ka Restaurant
No. 19, First Floor
Jalan SS15/4, Subang Jaya.
Tel: +603-5632 9312 or +6016-2249312
13 Responses to Sumi-Ka Restaurant, Subang Jaya: Japanese Izakaya and Yakitori Bar
  1. Life for Beginners
    August 19, 2010 | 2:00 am

    Oh all the memories of Tokyo this brings back! The yakitori, the izakaya, the Japanese men in business suits and the ladies in their super-short mini skirts, the bar stools and the patient patrons waiting behind you for you to finish so they may take your seat…

    Let's return to Japan, shall we? :)

  2. J
    August 19, 2010 | 2:16 am

    OMG. I didn't know that! (re. Literal meaning of Oyakodon)

    It's so apt but kinda funny (in a cruel way) at the same time! LOL

  3. minchow
    August 19, 2010 | 2:57 am

    Chicken hips?? Haha, that's as mild and as misleading a term for chicken butt as it can ever get!

  4. CUMI & CIKI
    August 19, 2010 | 3:17 am

    i luv ur gorgeous frens! when the coming out to play again?!! WHEN? ;)

    one looks like a princess and the other is like movie trivia king all :P

  5. Lyrical Lemongrass
    August 19, 2010 | 3:29 am

    Oishi oishi! So easy to get hooked on those books, kan! Hey, I like that dunny with the pet! Hmmmmm….now that my birthday's coming up, I wish I could have one of those!! :-P :-P

  6. thule a.k.a leo
    August 19, 2010 | 5:50 am

    I remember this place from someone else's blog… but I couldn't remember who!

  7. Sean
    August 19, 2010 | 6:17 am

    i got turned away from this outlet one night! every table was taken, and we hadn't made any reservations. but i guess that's a good sign about its quality :D

  8. Wandernut
    August 19, 2010 | 6:55 am

    If you liked the yakitori here, you would love yakitori in Shanghai. If you happen to go there again some day, remind me to give u a list (yes A LIST) of amazing yakitori places.

    Sumi-ka is nice, but the ones in SH were a class of their own.

  9. Batemans Bay Accommodation
    August 19, 2010 | 7:04 am

    I love your food. I excited to take it. Thanks

  10. qwazymonkey
    August 19, 2010 | 4:20 pm

    LFB: Lets get the devil and mcc to sponsor our trip! :)

    J: Yeah, i wore the same expression on my face when I found out its literal meaning too!

    Min: Haha. We don't wanna scare the patrons off now do we?

    C&C: All my friends are gorgeous, but these two take the cake! Love em to bits and I'm not sharing em with ya :P

    LL: How come ur fishing for presents throughout the entire day? LOL

    Thule: Could it be on masak-masak's?

    Sean: best to make reservations before you head there like we did.

    Wandernut: You mean you there were awesome ones and you didn't include em into THE list? OMG! My life is over! OVER!

  11. thenomadGourmand
    August 19, 2010 | 5:19 pm

    Nice!
    You know what, I have actually nvr been to any Izakaya before in KL!
    Mayb I'll start with tis one!
    I wonder hw many sticks it will take to fill me up tho ;p

  12. J2Kfm
    August 23, 2010 | 3:20 pm

    Great to see this article in the paper last Sunday, munkey. :)
    I like Japanese snacks as well, light bites that deliver. Esp those yakitori.

  13. Wandernut
    August 26, 2010 | 6:51 am

    Hahahaha! They're kinda out of the way. Takes a bit of travelling to get there. There will always be a next time, munkey!