Sake is one of the most traditional aspects of the food and drink culture in Japan. Sake has paved the way for Japanese alcoholic beverages to be enjoyed around the world with its refreshing taste and comprehensive flavor profile.
For the uninitiated, sake is often likened to Korean soju in that both their base ingredients are rice. To make sure you understand the difference, read this article Sake vs Soju vs Shochu.
Through a deep and vigorous fermentation process, sake is produced as a clear, almost crisp beverage that’s unique, addictive, and wholly versatile in ways you haven’t imagined.
Those who have had sake for the first time will always remember it. There’s something so mystifying about taking a tentative, languid sip of a piece of Japanese history that’s been around for centuries. The dry crisp taste of sake as it hits your mouth is all at once stimulating yet relaxing.
With sake, there are tiers in which the rice, during the production phase, is polished. The more polished the rice, the more clean, complex, and rich the sake. There are many reasons why people would prefer different tiers. They include the price, the taste (and aftertaste!), the flavor profile, and of course, the food pairing.
In this article, we’re aiming to show you guys just how well sake pairs with different types of food.
Unlike other alcoholic beverages such as wine, which has significantly higher levels of acidity and requires much deeper thinking to ensure a perfect pairing, sake is surprisingly versatile. Its complementary characteristics (such as its ability to cut through food with its sharp clear taste) make it compatible with many popular dishes.
We’re sure you’ll find a food pairing that’s suitable for you, so let’s get started!
1. Sushi and Sashimi
Sushi and sake go together like peanut butter and jelly, like beer and fried chicken, like tuna and mayo.
The simplicity of sushi and sashimi together with the clean crisp taste and texture of sake is the pairing of your dreams. Because of how unprocessed and basic (but definitely not bland) the flavor profile of sushi and sashimi generally are, most types of sake will pair well with this dish.
2. Fried Fish / Shrimp
Fish and shrimp as well as lightly fried dishes are part and parcel of the balanced meals that the Japanese people are known for. If you’re looking for a type of food that will pair well with light, floral, and slightly fruity fragranced sake, this is it.
The delicate texture of fish, plumpness of fresh shrimp, and light crunchy texture of tempura are perfectly offset by the subtle sweetness of floral-based sake.
3. Fatty Fish & Meats
Fish types such as toro and heavy meats such as pork belly and rib-eye steak pair fantastic with dry and slightly astringent sake. Similar to soju, dry sake will cut through the grease of the meats and ‘cleanse’ the palate for the next bite.
Ramen is a quintessential dish from Japan that is beloved by everyone around the world. As you can imagine, it is a dish in Japan that is often paired with sake for the perfect balance of flavor-laden and refreshing.
For centuries, Japanese people have lamented, conversed, and bonded over a piping hot bowl of ramen and accompanying sake. Not only does sake complement the flavorsome bowl of Japanese noodle perfection, but it almost feels like it completes the meal.
Reach for a “hanjozo” sake the next time you’re looking for a ramen meal accompaniment. “Hanjozo” sake is a technique where brewers include additional alcohol in the sake content, creating a more robust taste.
5. Vegetable Dishes and Salads
Vegetarians, we haven’t forgotten!
The wide variety of sake types out there means that there is sake suitable for all dishes, including lighter vegetarian dishes. For the perfect pairing, you’d be looking at a delicate, aromatic sake that encompasses stone fruits for a lingering floral aftertaste.
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An unexpected addition to this list, but a rising popular option nonetheless!
Similar to heavy meats and fatty fish, pizza is quite a weighty, dense food. The philosophy of sake, however, is perfectly encapsulated within this food pairing.
The high-fat content and extraordinary layers of taste from the variety of ingredients make each bite an absolute explosion. When this is paired with a clean, dry sip of sake that has subtle hints of fruit, it absolutely shines.
The grease cut-through will have you appreciating the lightness of the sake and have you gearing up for the next bite almost immediately – just make sure you stop and savor the simple complexity of the sake first.
7. Japanese BBQ (or any BBQ really!)
The charcoal taste of a BBQ is incomparable to anything in the world. Throw some morsels of meat on the grill, and let it cook until it emits a smoky aroma that completely fills the air and seeps deep into your clothes – you know you’ll have a grand time.
Similar to how Korean people almost religiously drink soju when eating Korean BBQ, sake is the perfect accompaniment to Japanese BBQ. From fatty meats such as pork belly and wagyu beef to sweet and savory marinated meats, there is a sake for every occasion.
Try a more full-bodied sake with the former, or pair the latter with a light sake with a clean, crisp taste. Obviously, these are to be served cold!
The majority of the dishes named here have been savory classics. However, did you know that sake also goes well with chocolate?
As far as desserts go, chocolate is not the first food you’d imagine when trying to match sake with sweet food. Despite this, if you choose a sake with the right amount of sweetness, acidity, and texture, it will elevate your chocolate experience even more.
Think of trying to pair creamier sake with those moreish melt-in-your-mouth chocolate pieces for the ultimate decadent food experience. For dark chocolate, with its rich composition and slightly bitter taste, lighter sake with earthy scents will create a rounded experience.
9. Thai Food
Thai food could easily be described as a fireworks explosion in the mouth. Characterized by strong flavors and an array of textures, it’s a party every time you have Thai food.
With that being said, Thai food makes for the perfect dish to match Japanese sake.
If you’re having a go at the fierier dishes, sip on some sake with a hint of sweetness to offset the spice and bring balance to the dish. Umami-laden Thai dishes that are absolutely soaking in flavour can be complemented by lighter sake with fruity and floral notes.
10. Moreish Foods (cheese, fish roe, grazing platters)
Wine is usually the go-to choice when pairing with moreish foods such as cheeses. However, more and more people are finding that sake is just as delicious and effective in bringing out the flavor profile of these types of foods.
Moreish foods often have deep flavors that have you wanting to reach for that next piquant bite before you’re done. Sake, with its relative lack of acidity, perfectly balances the scent, texture, and flavors of these foods by refreshing and cleansing the palate.
Overall, it complements the food and highlights its best features.
We hope we’ve intrigued you enough with this article to start food pairing for your sake!
This super versatile, easy-to-drink Japanese beverage can pretty much be paired with most foods; you just need to find the perfect type to pair it with. From savory to sweet, there is a type of sake to drink with all foods.
We highly recommend trying sake with its more traditional food pairing, such as sushi, sashimi, tempura, and Japanese BBQ for a guaranteed elevated dining experience, before trying more experimental pairings such as with pizza!
Let us know in the comments section if you have a type of food you adore pairing with sake, and if so, what’s the best part of the experience?
For more info about this Japanese drink, feel free to check out our post about how much Sake it takes to get drunk.