Food Vancouver Select Guide: Sake a part of Japanese culture
In this edition of the Food Vancouver Select Guide we feature sake. Japanese Consul General Hideki Ito’s residence was the setting for a Sake Lecture and Tasting event. Framed by cherry blossom trees in full bloom the setting provided a most appropriate opportunity to sample and learn about the unique role of sake in Japanese culture.
Guest speaker sake expert Chieko Fujita gave the gathering a detailed insight accompanied by a visual presentation into the role played by sake starting with its early origins, preparation process; varieties and classifications to the unique role it occupies in Japanese culture.
Sake is produced by blending together just 2 ingredients - rice and water. But what defines it is the quality and use of traditional cultural methods handed down from generation to generation. The Japanese word for alcohol is Sake. Alcohol occupies an important place in most cultures and the same is true of sake. However sake is different from other alcohols because it has the highest alcohol content – ranging from 16% to a high as 22%. Today there are over a thousand breweries producing a thousand different brands of sake.
Early sake production probably began as a gift to the harvest gods. The process from taking grains of rice to the actual bottling of sake is a long one. First the rice grains are polished and washed, then soaked and drained. The draining process is timed as the amount of water determines the quality of the sake. The rice is then steamed, scooped out and laid to cool. Here temperatures play an important role. The most critical part of sake preparation is the preparation of the koji mold where koji spores are added to the steamed rice in carefully controlled temperatures. From there the process continues through numerous intricate steps before brewing, bottling and arriving at your dinner table.
Japanese law dictates that all sake labels must indicate the ingredients in the sake as well as its place of origin. There are also instructions on sake labels for proper storage.
Types of sake include:
Shin shu - sake that was brewed in the current year.
Ko shu – brewed in previous years and Chouki chozo shu – mature sake that has been stored for some time.
What differentiates Chouki chozu shu from Ko shu may be a couple of years of age but not truly aged. There doesn’t seem to be a clear demarcation between these two although the Chouki chozo shu seems to be more refined because it is “held".
Gen shu – undiluted sake. This has a stronger alcohol taste because less water was added to the rice in the preparation process. It is usually served with the addition of hot or cold water.
As with many cultures sake is served to mark important moments in Japanese life. From celebrating the New Year; to pouring it into the bridal cup at a wedding, from marking a successful win at a sports event or at an auspicious event like a ground-breaking ceremony at a construction site – sake is served as an offering to pray, purify or to celebrate. And of course, sake is an important part of the dining experience. The best way to sum it up would be: Having a good time with family and friends – enjoying good sake with good food.
This event would not have been complete without the sampling portion of various brands of sake at the following presentation booths accompanied by well-matched canapés and hors d’oeuvres.
Mr. Sam Kayo and Mr. Patrick Ellis (President) of Blue Note Wine & Spirits Inc showcased their Premium Japanese sake, which included:
Yoshi Organic - Junmai Ginjo: crisp, clean and fruity and a great match for light seafood and salad.
Goku-jo – Ginjo: bursting with an orange-magnolia fragrance and great with sashimi and yaki-tori.
Ume – Plum wine: a traditional classic great as an aperitif or with dessert.
Yoshi no Gawa – Dai-ginjo: The absolute best of the best! This incredible melon aroma has a lingering and elegant finish.
Artisan Sakemaker Masa Shiroki (on Granville Island) showcased:
Osake Artisan Kasu. Kasu is the mash left over from the sake-making process. Mild in taste, kasu is used to marinate fish and meat as well as in pickling vegetables.
Osake Artisan Kasu –an oil-free citrus vinaigrette. Healthy and fat-free this goes great with both green and fruit salads.
Osake Artisan Kasu – a hot sauce containing both Osakekasu and miso. Savory and mildly spicy in flavor it can be used as a marinade, or as a cooking or dipping sauce with any meat, fish or vegetables.
As well, the Japanese Consulate brought in a couple of special types of sake for sampling at the event. These wines are not imported into Canada. To find out whether BCLDB or the other attending importers could bring them in on a special order, sake enthusiasts should contact them directly.
The Tasting and Sampling event ended with a delightful artistic presentation by traditional Japanese musicians and dancers – bridging a cultural divide while bringing a little bit of Japan to Vancouver.
By Sheila LoGuisto
Images provided by Kevin Freeman
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