The End of Your Sake Pairing Woes! Go-To Sake Side Dishes as Recommended by the Brewers

Greetings Sake Lovers!

Depending on where you are on your sake journey, you may or may not have already found your go-to dish for pairing with sake. However many people are still lost when it comes to pairing sake with food.

Who better to ask for advice on this topic than the brewers themselves. We asked a selection to share their go-to sake side dish.

The Basics of Sake & Food Pairing

So what are the basics of pairing sake with food anyway?
Sake can be divided into four categories based on its body, aroma, flavor and general character. Although sake doesn’t always fit into the above map, it nevertheless provides a good reference point. The trick is to use this map to pair side dishes with sake that share a similar profile.

▶ The Four Categories of SakeHere

Kunshu: Daiginjoshu, Ginjoshu

Typically sake with a fruity aroma and light, refreshing palate. A profile that provides a great match for simple dishes where the ingredients take centre stage.

<Recommended Dishes>
White fish sashimi、steamed wild vegetables, wild vegetable tempura, seafood carpaccio, steamed scallops, seafood salad, vermicelli salad, spring rolls, chop suey, white fish mousse,etc.

Soushu: Futsushu, Honjozoshu, Namazake

Typically sake with a modest aroma and light, dry palate. This category pairs with a variety of fare from simple, light dishes to richer heavier ones.

<Recommended Dishes>
Cold fish, scallop carpaccio, raw baby sardine in ponzu sauce, salt-grilled sweetfish, gratin, crab ball, rolled cabbage, simmered tofu, chawanmushi (traditional Japanese egg custard dish)

 Jukushu: Chokijukuseishu (long-aged sake), Koshu (aged sake)

Sake in this category typically tends to be complex, mature, rich and have depth, sometimes accompanied by oxidative aromas of caramel and game. Dishes which are equally as complex and idiosyncratic are a good match. This category often boasts high levels of umami (savory, tarty, meaty flavours). Try pairing cheese for flavours that are out of this world.

<Recommended Dishes>
Grilled eel, curry, hard cheese, beef steak, butakakuni (boiled pork dish), foie gras, mabo tofu (spicy Chinese tofu dish), Beijing Duck, roast duck,etc.

Junshu: Junmaishu

Sake that falls into this category tend to have very rustic, sweet aromas that come from the rice itself that might be likened to steamed rice or rice flour, or, if the rice element is difficult to pick up, cereal notes such as barley, malt and corn. The flavor tends to be quite robust, so equally robust dishes pair best. Western dishes made with butter or white cream complement the creamier flavors.

<Recommended Dishes>
boiled fish, shuto (dish of salted/pickled Slipjack Tuna entrails), miso marinated mackerel,pork cutlet, sukiyaki, boiled radish, cream stew, fried chicken, gyoza, yakitori(sauce type),etc.

Winning Side Dish Recommendations from Sake Brewers

Sake is so flexible when it comes to pairing with food that you might not know where to start. That’s why we asked a selection of brewers to share their go-to side dishes for pairing with sake. Some dishes came up more than once. Here is a list of the top 3 most popular.

3rd Place: Tofu

At No.3, it’s tofu-based side dishes. The cold tofu dish called hiyayako in particular is not only a popular izakaya staple, it’s as simple as it gets. It’s basically just tofu topped with grated ginger and spring onion and a splash of soy sauce. The deep-fried tofu dish agedofu is equally as popular. What makes tofu so popular is its versatility. There are so many ways to eat it and it works with so many ingredients. A recent rend is to pour citrus-based soy sauced called ponzu over. Even olive oil works. Tofu is already popular outside Japan for its health benefits, namely maintaining a normal functioning liver. Full of proteins, it really is the perfect accompaniment not just to sake, but other alcoholic beverages.

2nd Place: Cheese

It’s already the go-to pairing for wine, but sake gets on just as well with cheese, more so in fact because of the fact that both are fermented products. The most popular cheese dishes among the brewers was cream cheese, because of its simplicity. Cheese on its own or paired with shuto (mentioned above) another classic, that originates in Kanagawa Prefecture but has since spread across the country and cemented its place as one of the most popular go-to sake pairing side dishes. Another great combination is cheese and wasabi.

1st Place:  Shiokara

The winning side dish among the brewers we asked was another fishy delight, shiokara, salted fish guts. It’s the way this dish enhances the unami factor that makes it such a good match with sake. There was zero hesitation from the brewers who recommended this dish, which was pretty much the majority.

Many of the brewers that recommended the above top 3 dishes explained that their simplicity makes them the perfect go-to pairing option with an evening tipple. You can’t argue with seasoned drinkers like these. Other recommendations that didn’t make the ranking include sashimi, cucumber with a miso dip, rolled omelette, chikuwa (rolled fish cake), firefly squid, burdock root, and many, many more.

Bonus Entry! A Slightly More Quirky Pairing Option

There were plenty of slightly more quirky suggestions.

Anchovies & Smoked Duck

There is no need to stick to just Japanese cuisine, there were even votes for sausages, Italian ham, carpaccio, fois gras, liver pate and beef stew. But by far the most quirky of western pairings was this one. Anchovies pair best with cleaner flavoured sake, while smoked duck was voted as the go-to dish for pairing with yamahai. Both are reserved for special occasions of course.

Sweet Dishes Like Chocolate, Raisin Butter, Cheesecake (with a berry sauce)

It’s perhaps surprising to hear breweries recommend sweet dishes, but it’s also a myth that you can’t pair sweet things with sake. As long as you match the levels of sweetness it works. Raisin butter and chocolate work well with a rich aged sake, while cheese cake goes well with sweet and sour sake. KURAND has even produced its own original chocolate pairing sake called “I Love Choco”.

Wild Card Entries: Rice & Soy Sauce

Sometimes its the obvious ones that work best. Given the similarity of the production process, it is no surprise that brewers would recommend soy sauce ,and rice is of course the base of sake. Even so, you wouldn’t necessarily think of pairing either directly with sake, but they really do work. Try junmai with some cheese garnished with soy sauce or a bowl of rice.

There is no better place to try out the above pairings than at KURAND, where as well as being able to bring in your own food, you can taste over 100 types of sake, fruit liqueurs and plum wine. Our staff look forward to welcoming you very soon!