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Tasty Snacks to Accompany Delicious Tokyo Sake

Japanese sake can be divided into four types based on flavor and aroma, and the dishes introduced below are designed to match the characteristics of each of these four types. Enjoy these pairings of fine sake and delectable dishes as the mood strikes you.

Japanese Sake: Four Types Based on Flavor and Aroma

With such a wide variety of sake available on the market, many find themselves unsure of where to start first. It doesn’t help that common descriptors such as amakuchi (sweet) and karakuchi (dry) are rather vague in nature.

The following aroma and flavor chart serves as a handy tool for sake selection, as it divides sake into four types based on two different scales: whether the aromatic properties are strong or light, and whether the flavor is more refreshing or rich in character. This makes it easier to grasp the general properties of each type and helps when searching for a sake that suits your tastes.

The following are snack dishes that go well with each of the four Tokyo sake categories.

Aromatic Type Sake

This type is characterized by a flamboyant, pure-and-clear flavor, featuring fruity tastes and flowery aromatic properties. It offers a great balance of just the right amount of sweetness coupled with refreshing tartness, and is popular among consumers in other countries due to its fruity, wine-like characteristics. Most aromatic-type sake are daiginjo and ginjo grade brews. They go well with mousses, avocado and shrimp salad, salt-grilled Japanese sea bass, and other light-and-simple dishes. We recommend chilling this sake type slightly before drinking.

■Tokyo Sake Recommendations

Toshimaya Shuzou: Okunokami Junmai Nakadori Muchosei Nama (junmai grade, nakadori mid-pressing yield, unfiltered, unpasteurized)
This unfiltered, unpasteurized sake (nama-zake) was created with the aim of achieving a pleasingly aromatic, gentle-tasting beverage. It features a fresh, fruity fragrance and a good balance between tart and savory flavors.
Tokyo Port Brewery: Edo Kaijo Junmai-ginjo Omachi (junmai-ginjo grade, made with Omachi rice)
Inspired by Tokyo itself, a city that changes from day to day, this sake differs by production tank in terms of yeast used, production method, alcohol content and other factors. Enjoy a rich array of flavors and aromas.
Ishikawa Brewery: Tamajiman Daiginjo (daiginjo grade)
This product uses domestically brewed alcohol made with Yamada Nishiki rice to achieve an elegant flavor, and is defined by its refreshing fragrance and easy, light taste. It is the result of innovation and tireless effort.
From left: Okunokami Junmai Nakadori Muchosei Nama (Toshimaya Shuzou, ¥1,460); Edo Kaijo Junmai-ginjo Omachi (Tokyo Port Brewery, ¥2,000); Tamajiman Daiginjo (Ishikawa Brewery, ¥3,000); prices shown exclude consumption tax

■Recommended Food Pairing

Aromatic-type sake goes well with the following sautéed Japanese scallops with salsa topping. The sweet flavor of the scallops matches well with the flowery fragrances of the sake, and the salsa topping, featuring fresh flavors such as tomato and lime, doesn’t interfere with the sake’s aromatic properties. Cooking the scallops just the right amount is key: They should be cooked over heat rather than left raw, as this brings out their sweet taste. Sauté them briefly over a strong flame until color begins to show, while leaving the inside mostly raw.

■Sautéed Japanese Scallops with Salsa Topping

■Ingredients (Serves 2)
4 Japanese scallops (hotate)
1 tomato
1 cucumber
1 tbsp. minced red onion
1 bunch coriander
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 green chili
Salt (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil (as needed)

■Preparation Instructions
1 Cut the cucumber into 5 mm (0.2 in.) cubes, transfer them to a bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix.
2 Cut the tomato into 5 mm (0.2 in.) cubes, mince the coriander, add these together with the minced red onion to the bowl from step 1, blend in the lime juice, and add salt to taste.
3 Sprinkle salt on the scallops, then add olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the scallops on both sides over high heat.
4 Add the salsa sauce from the bowl in step 2 over the scallops cooked in step 3, and finish the dish off with some olive oil on top.

Light-and-smooth Type Sake

This type has more restrained aromatic properties but still offers cool taste sensations and smooth flavors. Often referred to as a tanrei sake—meaning it has a light taste and clean finish—this category of brews can be enjoyed by nearly anyone. Most sake of this category are futsu or honjozo grade, and many are also unpasteurized (nama-zake). They go well with all sorts of foods, exhibiting particularly affinity with light snack dishes such as potato salad, dashimaki-tamago mini omelets, and yudofu simmered tofu. Thoroughly chilling this sake type will better bring out its unique characteristics.

■Tokyo Sake Recommendations

Nakamura Shuzo: Chiyotsuru Ginjo Karakuchi (ginjo grade, dry type)
This brewery, located in Akiruno City along the bank of the clear-watered Akigawa River, uses groundwater filtered through the Chichibu Paleozoic strata to produce this dry sake with a light, well-defined taste and round, rich flavor.
Ozawa Shuzo: Kuwa no Miyako Tokusen Ginjo (tokusen ginjo grade)
Based out of Hachioji City, this brewery achieves a good balance between flavor and aromatic properties with their dry sake. The savory flavor of the rice itself shines through.
From left: Chiyotsuru Ginjo Karakuchi (Nakamura Shuzo, ¥1,150); Kuwa no Miyako Tokusen Ginjo (Ozawa Shuzo, ¥1,300); prices shown exclude consumption tax

■Recommended Food Pairing

Light-and-smooth sake go well with the following apple and chicory salad. The sweet flavor of the apple slices combines with an elegantly simple yogurt-based dressing in this fresh-tasting salad, which pairs well with cool-flavored sake without inhibiting the drink’s flavor properties. Adding lemon juice to the apple slices helps prevent browning and boosts the refreshing overall flavor. The recipe below uses feta cheese, but blue cheese or other cheeses of your choosing can be used as well.

■Apple and Chicory Salad

■Ingredients (Serves 2)
1/2 apple
1 head of chicory
Dash of lemon juice
Group A (Dressing): 30 g (1 oz.) yogurt, 2 tsp. dairy-based cream, 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar, dash of salt
Herbs (to taste)
Cheese(s) (to taste)

■Preparation Instructions
1 Mix the ingredients listed in Group A to make the dressing.
2 Cut the apple into 5 mm (0.2 in.) slices and dress them with lemon juice. Tear off leaves from the head of chicory.
3 Transfer the apple and chicory to a plate, then add the dressing from step 1 on top along with the herbs and cheese(s).

Mature Type Sake

Featuring strong and complex aromatic properties reminiscent of spices, dried fruit and similar, this type of sake offers a thick-and-heavy feel that strikes a good balance between sweetness and deep-reaching tartness. Maturation often imparts golden hues and similar coloring to the liquid. Many of these sake fall into the category of long-term matured sake or koshu aged sake. They pair well with lamb steak, foie gras Sauté, kakuni stewed pork cubes, Peking duck and other rich-flavored, fatty foods. Mature sake are best enjoyed at room temperature or slightly warm (nuru-kan), depending on personal taste.

■Tokyo Sake Recommendations

Nozakishuzo: Kisho Junmai-Ginjo (junmai-ginjo grade)
This handmade sake, produced in small batches only, has a refreshing flavor and a unique aroma that expands to fill the mouth.
Tamura Shuzoujou: Kasen Tokubetsu-honjozo Maboroshi-no-sake (tokubetsu-honjozo grade)
Established in 1822, this old brewery makes sake characterized by savoriness, strong flavor and a pleasing aftertaste.
From left: Kisho Junmai-Ginjo (Nozakishuzo, ¥1,460); Kasen Tokubetsu-honjozo Maboroshi-no-sake (Tamura Shuzoujou, ¥1,000); prices shown exclude consumption tax

■Recommended Food Pairing

We recommend having mature-type sake with fried breaded beef cutlets, which offer a solid, meaty flavor that won’t be overpowered by the strong-tasting sake. For this recipe, a fine-type panko breadcrumb coating is better than larger-grained types, as this type absorbs less cooking oil for a comparatively lighter-tasting final taste. The meat should be fried at a high temperature of around 180°C (356°F). Refrain from touching or moving the cutlets around immediately after putting them in the cooking oil, as doing so may cause the breading to fall off.

■Fried Breaded Beef Cutlets

■Ingredients (Serves 2)
150 g (5.3 oz.) beef round
Salt (to taste)
Group B: 100 ml (2/5 cup) water, 55 g (1.9 oz.) soft flour, 1/2 egg
Fine-grained panko breadcrumbs (as needed)
Frying oil (as needed)

■Preparation Instructions
1 Cut the beef round into 5 mm (0.2 in.) slices and sprinkle with salt.
2 Mix Group B ingredients, dip the meat slices in the mixture, add fine-grained panko breadcrumbs to the outside of the meat, and fry.
3 Transfer the finished cutlets to a plate and add salad vegetables on the side.

Rich Type Sake

Featuring milky, savory flavors and woodsy aromas, this category of sake is characterized by sweetness, tartness, pleasing bitter tastes, and well-rounded overall flavor characteristics. It is often considered the best type of sake for experiencing the savory umami of the rice itself. Most rich-type sake are junmai grade brews, often made using kimoto traditional yeast mash starters. Beefsteak, cream stew, fried breaded pork cutlets, spicy mapo tofu, and other rich-tasting or creamy dishes make excellent pairings. Serving this sake slightly warm (nuru-kan) or heated to relatively high temperatures makes the savory flavors more pronounced.

■Tokyo Sake Recommendations

Ozawa Shuzo: Sawanoi Tokyo Kurabito Junmai-ginjo Kimoto-Zukuri (junmai-ginjo grade, made using kimoto traditional yeast mash starter)
This brew is made using kimoto yeast mash starter, a traditional production style that harnesses the power of nature. It features a smooth overall taste and a savory flavor balanced by just the right amount of tartness.
Noguchi Shuzoten: Kozuru Junmai Nakaya Kyubei (junmai grade)
Located in Fuchu City, this brewery is surrounded by lush natural scenery. Their sake is pervaded by the gentle fragrance of rice and has a well-balanced dry flavor and richness.
From left: Sawanoi Tokyo Kurabito Junmai-ginjo Kimoto-Zukuri (Ozawa Shuzo, ¥1,667); Kozuru Junmai Nakaya Kyubei (Noguchi Shuzoten, ¥1,160); prices shown exclude consumption tax

■Recommended Food Pairing

Chicken sauté with cheese sauce goes well with rich-tasting sake. Dishes using dairy-based cream pair well with this type, and the addition of lemon in the following recipe’s cheese sauce makes for a lighter overall flavor—add the lemon juice last, so it doesn’t separate out from the other ingredients. Using chicken thigh makes the dish a bit too rich and heavy, so we recommend chicken breast instead. Although the following recipe uses a frying pan to grill the chicken on both sides, oven baking is also possible, in which case you should lightly brown one side of the meat in a frying pan first and then cook it, browned side facing up, in the oven for about 10 minutes at around 140°C (284°F).

■Chicken Sauté with Cheese Sauce

■Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 pcs. chicken breast
Salt (to taste)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
60 g (2.1 oz.) dairy-based cream
60 ml (1/4 cup) milk
35 g (1.2 oz.) Gruyère cheese
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
Dill (to taste)
Lemon peel (to taste)
Lemon (to taste)

■Preparation Instructions
1 Add olive oil to a frying pan, then sprinkle some salt on the chicken and cook it in the frying pan. Once cooked, transfer it to a plate.
2 Add the dairy-based cream and milk to a small pot along with fine-cut Gruyère cheese, cook these over medium-low heat, and once the ingredients have melted together add lemon juice and stir.
3 Pour the sauce from step 2 over the chicken from step 1, then slice the dill into rough cuts and add it together with lemon peel and lemon slices to complete the dish.