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For goodness sake

The traditional Japanese beverage, sake, is not only delicious and versatile, but is loaded with amino acids, resulting in several health benefits

Soju has had its turn in the sun, now it’s time to give sake some love. Made from fermented rice, water, koji (rice mould) and yeast, sake is often referred to as Japanese rice wine, but its production process is closer to that of beer than wine. Of course, the consumption of any alcoholic beverage should be in moderation but, unlike most wine, sake has no preservatives or sulphites, and its heavy amino acid profile has several health benefits that support immune function, muscle density, skin elasticity and more. It’s these amino acids and its low acidity (a third of that in wine) that make the beverage the ideal companion for a range of foods.

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I learnt this at a sake tasting event in Sydney, called Embracing the Unique & Diverse Pairing Potential of Sake, where, to the surprise and delight of my taste buds, I was treated to a selection of food and sake pairings created by renowned Japanese sake sommelier and sake samurai Marie Chiba.

The event was held as part of the Bringing Sake to the Table campaign, which introduces Japanese sake as a versatile complement to any meal, whether enjoyed at home, with friends, or in fine-dining establishments. Its diversity sets it apart from other alcoholic beverages, with a range of elegant to light offerings, from rich to delicate in flavour. Various sake tasting events and seminars are being held in Sydney from January to March 2024, to invite people to explore the diverse ways in which to enjoy sake beyond tradition and to discover how well Japanese sake pairs with a variety of dishes available in Australia.

Upon entering the venue, we were greeted with a generous chicken katsu sandwich with a sweet orange marmalade, alongside a glass of sparkling sake (Fukucho Seaside Sparkling Junmai), which had both fruity and citrus notes. Marie instructed us to sip the sake with each bite of food, as if you were squeezing a lemon onto the sandwich. The zesty, sweet combination of flavours was so well balanced and deliciously moreish. Fortunately for me, I found out there were more food and sake pairings to come throughout the evening, but first we were to watch a screening of Kampai! – Sake Sisters, a documentary shown for the first time in Australia.

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I came into this not knowing much about sake or even having drank much sake before. The film was both uplifting and soulful, with a strong message of female empowerment. It explores the world of sake brewing, which today is being pioneered by women in Japan. Traditionally, women weren’t allowed to step foot into a sake brewery, let alone be involved in its production. The stories of the “sake sisters” reveal the determination and grit of these women in the industry and, while it may sound cliché, are truly inspiring.

Back to the tastings. We were then brought thee mini wine glasses of sake and a tray with three slots but only two dishes – I later find out why. The first was a ham and blue cheese cutlet breaded almost like a schnitzel. It was paired with a cloudy and much thicker sake (Shirakawago Junmai Nigorizake Dekitate Nama) with a slight chestnut flavour and sweetness that beautifully balanced the saltiness of the ham and acted like a sauce for the cutlet. Next was a mackerel and orange bruschetta with a sweet vinegar, paired with a lighter, fresh, fruity sake (Senkin Modern Kameno-o) that was very subtle and not as sweet, with a slight apple flavour. This made a delightful summer pairing perfect for the 40-degree weather we were experiencing.

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Then there was dessert, and we were brought a slice of something frozen to fill that empty slot I mentioned earlier. This was my favourite pairing but at first I wasn’t convinced. Dessert was a rich chocolate and sake lees (a by-product of sake production) semifreddo. The accompanying sake (Furousen Yamahai Shikomi Junmai Ginjo Shiga Tosen Nama) was full of character and had a sweet and strong aroma with an even stronger finish – this one was bold. It had a nutty flavour with a hint of chocolate. The richness of the pairing was startling at first and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but with each bite and sip, the flavour explosion became more and more striking to the point where I felt I understood the art of sake and food and, frankly, I wanted more.

And I might just indulge myself again as the Bringing Sake to the Table campaign, which features sake tasting events, are being run throughout February and March. For event details and to learn more about the fascinating world of sake, visit sake-news.com.au/bringing-sake-to-the-table/.

Images supplied by NATIONAL TAX AGENCY JAPAN

Bringing Sake To The Table Logo 1
Japan Kampai Logo 1

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