Sake and American barbeque; a match made in heaven, or perhaps not so much? Third Wave Café in Prahran’s head chef Ryo Kitahara set out to test this, with a four-course degustation menu served to around 25 guests. Not every guest was a seasoned sake lover. For some, it was their first time trying sake. The set menu for the night boasted not only bold flavours in their foods, but also some bold sake selection as well.
As the guests arrived and were seated by the lovely Third Wave Café staff, a welcome drink was brought out. The Yuzu cocktail consisted of Yuzu juice sourced from Kochi Prefecture and “Ringo Mansaku”; a sake made from a mixture of sweet sake and apples grown and juiced in Akita Prefecture. The result was a deliciously fruity, sweet, and simple cocktail, which seemed to be a big hit amongst all the guests, but an Australian couple seemed to particularly enjoy this cocktail.
Just as the mains were brought out, representative for the importing company Tokyo Food, Akito Kurokawa and TRYBER Representative Aya Kato gave speeches to kick off the night of good food and good sake. Kato started off with her explanation of the event and the goals of hosting it. The general aim was to give Australia-based customers a chance to try sake that will be imported and sold here in the future, and to promote sake in Australia in the hopes that it will join the wines and other beverages kept in our liquor cabinets, fridges, and the like to be enjoyed with various types of cuisine.
Although sake is often seen to only pair well with Japanese food, pairing sake with various cuisines is a good initiative to change that perspective.
Kurokawa, introduced the handouts that everyone received upon arrival, providing them with an abundance of information about sake, how it’s made and the various types of sake and moved on to explain how to enjoy sake ‘mariage’, which is the French word for ‘marriage’ and ‘combination’. The way to enjoy sake marriage is to first enjoy the colour and the fragrance, then take a sip of sake, let it touch the different taste receptors on your tongue and then swallow it to enjoy the fragrance and the sweetness of the rice. The next step is to take a bite of the dish to be paired with the sake and chew it a little, but do not swallow it just yet! At that moment, take some sake in your mouth while you’re eating. After you’ve swallowed it, take another sip of the sake to wash down the flavours. This is how to enjoy sake ‘mariage’.
The first course to come out was the entrée, featuring candy bacon ‘Oink Balls’ (pork meat balls wrapped in streaky bacon, smoked and grilled in barbeque sauce) and lamb quesadillas and was matched with a Tokushima-made sake called ‘Iteza Zohsenjo’. Iteza Zohsenjo which is light and fruity.
Rather than being made with sake rice, this sake is made with regular rice for eating, which gives the sake a sweet and mild flavour and is a very smooth sake. The oink balls were a hit with our staff. You can enjoy the sweet barbeque sauce to your heart’s content. When washed down with sake, the aftertaste was refreshing. The lamb quesadilla when tasted ‘mariage’ style, the fragrance of the meat stood out and the last sip felt even more fragrant, smooth, and was very easy to drink.
One of the bigger bookings was made up of a group that don’t normally drink sake and were trying it out for the first time for the most part! Although there was some polarisation in which sake each of the guests at the table preferred, overall, they said they were really enjoying the experience.
Another table, was not overly familiar with this style of enjoying sake with food, but were very interested in it and thoroughly enjoyed the first course as well.
The second course was paired with a sake from Gifu prefecture called ‘Miyamagiku’ and really is THE sake. With a very classic style sake taste, it goes down smoothly with light notes and rounds out with the sweetness of the rice. At first it can start off with quite a strong fragrance and taste, but the aftertaste is incredibly refreshing. If let to breathe for a while, it becomes sweeter and mellows out. This sake was paired with slow smoked chicken wings, beef buttered onion rings and coleslaw. After the sake has breathed a bit, the sweetness of the sake particularly brings out the sweetness in the chicken. With the onion rings, the sweetness of the onion rings and slight acidity in the sake complement each other nicely.
This sake was also received quite well as it’s a very smooth and easy to drink sake. We also received a comment noting that sake does go well with American-style barbeque but would also go well with vegetables as well!
The third course was the biggest yet. Slow smoked pork and beef ribs, corn bread and smoked mac and cheese pair with another Tokushima-made sake from the same Brewery, Takahoko Brewery. Kamikatsu is a full-bodied sake, semi-dry and similarly to wine, has a fruity aroma and taste. It’s a sake that feels like it would go well with cheese as it went very well with the corn bread, which also had flavour and fragrance akin to cheese. It was quite a moist, dense cake and very delicious. The mac and cheese also went down well with a smoky aroma, the flavour of the cheese stood out as well. The ribs were smoky, tender and melt in your mouth.
A table of Japanese guests were more than satisfied with the courses so far despite being a little wary of the idea of sake being matched with barbeque at first, however the menu had completely blown those worries away. One Australian guest mentioned that because the sake matched with the dishes was so smooth and refreshing, you could continue to enjoy your food because there was balance. This event also change the mind of one particular guest who had previously not enjoyed sake, but trying sake cold for the first time and trying a variety of styles of sake put sake in a new light for him.
The final course of dessert was the first course to feature sake in the dish as well; the sake key lime pie with caramel ice cream and cherry puree complimented the Doro Doro Nigori sake from Gifu prefecture beautifully. Compared to most nigori sake, the Doro Doro Nigori sake was smoother, creamier in texture and the rice gave it a slight sweetness. The citrus from the lime complimented the nigori sake nicely, the aftertaste of the sake and the key lime pie together was smooth and refreshing and really reinforced the idea of enjoying sake as a ‘mariage’.
When asking guests about the final and boldest choices of sake, there were mixed opinions, however most of the guests, even the ones who had not tried nigori sake or even other varieties of sake prior to this even thoroughly enjoyed it, and a table of Australian guys even enjoyed a second glass of it! The guests who didn’t enjoy it as much as the other sake, mentioned that it seems like an acquired taste due to the texture. We often heard that it matched quite nicely with the dessert.
Overall the event was very successful, everyone seemed to learn a bit more about sake and broadened their tastes and experienced sake in a different way.