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Wine and Food

What To Eat With Sake


Different Types Of Sake Asks For Different Food Pairings.


If you don’t know how to read Japanese, let me make it easy for you. Above written is a Japanese proverb, which was quoted in Philip Harper’s “The Book of Sake.” It means ‘sake doesn’t get into fights with food’. 

SteamyKitchen says that pairing Sake with food is not rocket science. It works just like wine does - compare & contrast. Look for the similarities or contrasts that bring out the best in both sake and food - and if you are lucky, you get a combination that make both the food as well as the drink better than they would have been alone. 

According to TenguSake, sake, and wine - both have an option of contrasting or complementing a food, but with sake, you also have the option of intensifying the food. The high amino acid content in sake makes it pair well with food, as it heightens the umami - which enhances the taste and emphasizes the rich savory elements. 

Just like everything else, even sake has its limitations. Sake is subtle, mild and more delicate, and has a smaller presence or “footprint” than wine. Sake has lower overall acidity and tannins when compared to wine. All these factors limit sake in some ways but help its pairing potential in others. 

Drinking sake has always been accompanied by eating in Japan & there are some delicious and traditional pairings, such as sake with sashimi, which one cannot miss. “In Japan, sake is paired with food to help elevate its natural flavors,” Chris Johnson, a board member of The Joy of Sake, says. “It’s one of the few beverages that naturally contain umami — the fifth taste that is partly developed by the presence of glutamates (glutamic acid). Some examples are served warm along with a duck hot pot, room temperature with grilled vegetables, or chilled with light preparations of fish, chicken, pork, or beef.”

Ever sat down and felt like having a refreshing glass of sake, but not knowing what to eat it with? Or ever thought of what to serve alongside your signature sake? Here are some of the food pairings that blend impeccably with sake. 

Food Pairing by type of Sake 

Just like there are different types of wine, sake also has its grades.  Whenever you are pairing your food with sake - always look for sake grades. Sake grades are used to classify premium/super premium sake such as junmai and ginjo. 

Junmai Sake

The significant feature of Junmai type sake is it is made from pure rice. It has a small amount of distilled alcohol added to it. With a very strong rice flavor and aroma, the best match is going to be a similarly ricey morsel - a rice-based dish with plenty of seasoning like chahan. Chahan is a Japanese-style Chinese fried rice. 

In the case of western culture, an Italian risotto with ample amount of parmesan cheese gets along very well with Junmai sake. 

Dishes that go well with Junmai Sake - Soy sauce simmered fish dishes, simmered dishes, meat dishes, stir-fried vegetable or meat dishes. A rice bowl of any description makes for an easy to make, no-fuss option. Also, adding a blob of butter to a bowl of rice, sauteed and flambeed dishes will give you a melt-in-the-mouth taste experience.

Ginjo / Daiginjo Type Sake

Ginjo or Daiginjo sake has an immediate notable aroma or fruity nose. Daiginjo is simply a more superior version - an even refined, rich, sophisticated fragrance & flavor. Although typically this sake is taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite, it can be paired with light and simple dishes. 

Dishes that go well with Ginjo / Daiginjo Sake - White fish sashimi, carpaccio, Ohitashi - boiled greens in bonito flavored soy sauce, fish broiled with salt, olives, Fatsia Sprouts. Avocado and seafood salad, white fish mouse, chop suey, mountain vegetable tempura. Daiginjos go well with fresh fruits.

Keep In Mind: It is better to avoid having super oily and meat dishes with Ginjo / Daiginjo Sake


Nama (unpasteurized)

Nama type sake is unpasteurized sake as it skips the stages of heat treatment. Nama sake comes with a white-wine-like freshness - enhancing the characteristics of the food it is paired with.

Dishes that go well with Nama Sake - Cheese, oysters, turbot, sweet shrimp, fish roe, sauteed scallops, goyachanpuru - a dish from Okinawa. Most chicken dishes, and tomato-based pasta dishes also go well with the Nama sake and enhance the flavor.

Keep In Mind: Pair this sake like you would pair white wine with food and you can’t go wrong.

Honjozo&Futsushu Type

Honjozo&Futsushu is a dense sake, paired with heavy food. It has a more reserved aroma and light dry palate. Honjozo&Futsushu is a type of sake that suits all tastes. On a fundamental level, food pairing options for this grade sake includes all kinds of cuisine. Basically, depending on the individual preference, it works with all kinds of pairings. 

Dishes that go well with Honjozo&Futsushu Sake - Hiyayako - a cold dish of tofu with onion and soy sauce, salted fish entrails, seafood with a sake marinade, fish cake, pickles, Ohitashi, vinegar seasoned dishes. 

Keep In Mind: For sakes that are on the richer side, pair with equally rich dishes.

Aged / Vintage Sake

Characterized by its refined and mature aromas, combining of rich, deep and sweet flavors, the flavor of aged sake resembles of Shaoxing wine or Sherry. Hence, the food pairing with aged and vintage sake should be paired like you would pair it with Shaoxing wine or Sherry. So in other words, we are talking about all the options that you wouldn’t normally pair with sake. All the unconventional & creative food pairings can be done with this sake. 

Dishes that go well with Aged / Vintage Sake:  Eel braised in soy sauce, Mabo Tofu, ButaKakuni - a super dish of pork braised in its juices and soy sauce, beef stew, spaghetti with a bolognese or ragu sauce, foisgras, Peking Duck, Chinese Dumplings, lamb or steak. Also, Korean Kimuchi and even Indian curry go well with vintage sake.

Keep In Mind: Aged sake also makes a great after dinner dessert drink.

In an interview with Abdelilah Ait El Caid, Sommelier at Sushi Samba, he said, “Generally sake pairs wonderfully with all imaginable foods, not only with Japanese foods. Sake could be paired with any type of food because it has some components that clash perfectly with food so it really makes a perfect pairing with all types of food”

Abdelilah was also one of the judges at the 2019 London Wine Competition.

So now next time, you wouldn’t have to think so much before grabbing a bite with sake.



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