Sake and food pairing – a simple approach to a big problem

Sake and food pairing – a simple approach to a big problem

Why you don’t order sake At a recent dinner at Toko, I looked around and saw that most people were drinking wine or cocktails. Not that there is anything wrong with drinking wine, or cocktails, but Toko has the best sake list in town. It is simply a crime not to take advantage of that! I think there is a two-part explanation of the reluctance to order sake. First of all, most people outside Japan know absolutely nothing about sake (the state of things I am trying to change). Secondly, those who do know a little, still need proper advice on choosing a particular bottle . Even if a diner has enjoyed sake in the past, they will not always know many sake brands to confidently pick a bottle to match their food selection. Who wants to end up with a (typically expensive) bottle that ruins the equally expensive dinner? So what is the answer? Unfortunately, we don’t have formally trained sake sommeliers in Sydney – yet.  The onus is, of course, on restaurants to train their staff. A few sommeliers have come to my classes, so hopefully Sydney diners are getting some good sake advice – in a handful of (expensive) places. But before a sustained, industry-wide change happens, it is up to diners to make a confident selection. Restaurants could make it easier by simply reorganising menus. Don’t list sakes by grade (junmai/junmai ginjō/ginjō etc) but divide into flavour profiles – light and clean, light and aromatic, full bodied and dry, full bodied and sweet, and so on. But that’s a whole other topic, for another day. For all of you who would like to drink sake with your dinner, but don’t know where to start, I have a few basic rules. Sake is very food friendly. The Japanese say “sake doesn’t fight food”. It is 5-10 times lower in acidity than wine, and has no iron, so a lot of sake is milder and cleaner on the palate. Sure, there are exceptions. Aged sake is quite heavy and sweet and viscous, and is usually offered as a digestive or a dessert “wine”. Unless you want to enjoy it throughout your meal. Rules are made to be broken!   Sake Matching Rules   1. Like for like One of the popular approaches to pairing sake with food is to match “like for like”. Sake whose flavour profile is similar to food will enhance the flavour of both: Light, less fragrant sake (think a dry ginjō from the northern prefectures) sake will go well with light food – vegetables, sashimi, oysters, citrus-flavoured dishes. Light and fragrant sake, exemplified by many daiginjō, matches well with equally fragrant and light food – herb salads, vietnamese rice paper rolls, scallops, crab, white fish, fruit. Full-bodied, full-flavoured but less fragrant sake...

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