Day 30: Sake
What better way to finish a food series about Japanese food than with something all good feasts here are finished with – some sake! I know this isn’t technically a food but I hope you’ll forgive me this indulgence.
Sake is a traditional form of Japanese alcohol, often called ‘rice wine’ although the process to make it is actually much more similar to beer production. Although it’s not exactly clear when it was first drunk in Japan (it’s hard to keep records after a few glasses), it’s thought to have originated in the eighth century.
To learn a little bit more about sake, I went to the museum of the Hakutsuru Brewery near the city of Kobe. Its excellent exhibits show the history of the drink and how that’s evolved into the modern processes.
It’s actually a much more complicated procedure than I realised. Briefly, the rice is washed first, then it’s steamed, it’s then cooled, then mixed with a mould that’s been specially prepared, then the mixture is soaked in water, then this fermented mash is added to new steamed rice in three stages, then it’s all filtered to extract the sake, then it’s left to settle before being skimmed, it’s then pasteurised, put into large tanks to rest, and eventually poured out ready to drink. Phew!
Undiluted sake has an alcohol content of about 20 per cent, although this is often diluted slightly in the commercial varieties you would buy at a bottle shop in Japan. Still, it’s a highly potent drink and it’s no great surprise that you often see Japanese salarymen stumbling around the streets or train stations in the evenings.
You may have heard of sake being served warm and that’s a popular way to drink it in the winter. But the Japanese feel that heating good sake gets rid of the special tastes and smells so quite often it’s just the cheap stuff that will be served warm (which has the effect of getting rid of the bad tastes and smells).
The price varies greatly depending on the quality you are buying and where you are buying it from but a 300mL bottle from a shop would cost about 300 or 400 yen. (US$3.10 – US$4.10). It means it’s not an expensive way to warm up your insides after or during a nice meal.