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How to Combine Sake with Food

Mieke A.

by GoWithGuide travel specialist:Mieke A.

Last updated : Feb 18, 20213 min read

Food & Drink

What dishes does sake go well with?

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As with wine, a well-paired sake can really enhance the flavor of dishes. In fact, some have argued that it might work even better than wine, since sake contains much more 'umami', or the fifth flavor, a kind of savory flavor with glutamate as its main taste agent. Also, sake is much more subtle than wine, and therefore does not overpower the tastes from the food. On the other hand, spicy or strongly flavored foods may overpower the sake instead.

Relative Freedom
First of all, the judge when it comes to whether a combination of food and sake is good or not is no one but yourself. The variations are limitless: the different sakes, drank at different temperatures produce various effects when combined with different dishes. A different cook, a replaced ingredient, or serving temperature will produce a new flavor, and thus a new flavor combination. Then there is one's personal preference. In the end, it all depends on that.
However, there are some basic rules of thumb to guide you in choosing a sake with a dish (or the other way around).

Basic Rules of Thumb
1) As said, strong flavored foods such as very spicy dishes will overpower the sake, and make the subtle flavors of it indiscernible.
2) The second rule is actually more a non-rule: don't limit your choice of food to Japanese cuisine, of even Asian cuisine. Chefs all over the world have presented combinations of sake with Western dishes such as cheese and chocolate.
3) Either pair the sake with a food that is complementary in flavor (i.e. shares the same flavor palette) or contrasts with it.
4) when choosing a sake, take into account also its fragrance and mouth feel, alongside its flavor.  

Some Tested Combinations
- A sake that has a strong acidity to it, such as many junmai sakes, go well with oilier foods such as tempura.
- A slightly sweet sake (often found in Hiroshima) complements the rich flavors of creamy dishes well.
- Premium ginjo or daiginjo sakes have very complex and layered flavors that become bland when paired with a protein-rich dish.
- Some sakes have a kind of grainy mouth feel. This texture is sometimes stronger that the flavour of the sake, and is therefore combined based on texture rather than flavor. These would go well with vegetable dishes, but not so much with light, creamy dishes.

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