Like many kindred establishments in the East Village, the subterranean Izakaya Hagi, located in Times Square next to Hawaiian Tropic, has a menu filled with yakitori and other Japanese pub grub. The real standouts, however, are often found on the nightly specials menu. Creamy uni sashimi, smacking of the sea and served over crunchy matchsticks of mountain yam, is part of the rotation. And then there are the truly strange denizens of the deep, like hotaru ika okizuke, which the menu translates as pickled baby squid. For the price of two subway rides, you can scare small children and tourists while munching on this Lovecraftian bar snack.
The slippery purple cephalopods have a pleasantly fishy, salty flavor with an undertone of mellow sweetness from the pickling liquid, which is composed of soy sauce and sake, among other things. They’re a good foil for sake and are probably even better with shochu given their slightly funky, salty-sweet flavor. And who knows, the squeamish might need some of the Japanese firewater to choke them down.
“Pickled baby squid,” is somewhat of a misnomer. It’s pickled, sure enough, but further research reveals that hotaru ika translates to firefly squid. Also known as sparkling enope squid, the little suckers grow to about three inches in length and are so named because they are bioluminescent. Leave it to an izakaya to offer a bar snack that sparks a lesson in marine biology.