In Japanese culture, sake is not just a beverage, but an expression of identity: an embodiment of craftsmanship, innovation and versatility. Known as ‘the drink of the gods’, it evolved alongside Washoku (Japanese cuisine), which aims to bring out the best in the raw ingredients used to make it.
Though once confined to Japanese menus, in recent years sake has spread its wings – particularly in the ever-popular seafood world. As leading sake expert John Gauntner explains, sake and seafood have a synergistic relationship, with each complementing and enhancing the flavour of the other. ‘Sake tends to pair easily with seafood because it draws out the umami and original nature of it,’ he says.
To celebrate this culinary pairing, The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center is launching a three-day pop-up in collaboration with iconic seafood restaurant The Oystermen. Taking place in Shoreditch between 24-27 October, the pop-up will give guests an opportunity to learn the etiquette and history behind sake tasting. Japanese sake sommeliers and experts will be inviting the public to ‘Escape the Ordinary’ and experience a selection of authentic Japanese sakes alongside an artfully paired seafood tasting menu. Dishes on the menu include dressed and natural oysters, rope-grown Scottish mussels, garlic and rosemary marinated haddock tempura, Dorset brown crab, and grilled Brixham plaice – all to be enjoyed with a selection of premium sakes, of course. Finish things off on a sweet note with a dark chocolate mousse with peanut brittle, or a Tahitian vanilla panna cotta.
Organisers are keen to break the stereotype that seafood only goes well with white wine, encouraging guests to move out of their comfort zone. Visitors will not only enjoy a sake and seafood experience, but also a seafood and white wine pairing, allowing them to compare and contrast – and (hopefully) recognise sake as superior.
If the taste itself isn’t enough to convince you, here’s some science. While wine draws on the sugars contained in grapes for fermentation, sake is made with rice, and brewers use koji to convert the rice starch into sugar. Umami – translating in Japanese as ‘savoury’ – is sometimes called the fifth taste, alongside sour, sweet, salty and bitter. Amino acids are the basis of this umami, and sake contains many times more amino acids than beer or wine, influencing flavour and in turn enhancing the flavours of food with which it is shared.
Try it for yourself from 26-27 October at 46 Great Eastern Street, London EC2A 3EP. For more information, visit foodandsake.com