Both are culinary icons, why don’t sake and sushi go hand in hand in Japan?

There are many classic combinations between a drink and a dish in the culinary world. Beer and pizza, soju and Korean barbeque, wine and cheese… But of course, sake and sushi aren’t among the ideal combinations. Although somewhere in the world there will certainly be people who like this combination, but not in Japan.

Before pairing sake with food, it’s important to have a proper understanding of Japan’s iconic alcoholic beverage. According to Vine Pair, contrary to popular opinion, sake is not alcohol. In fact, it’s more like beer because of the way it’s brewed. However, like wine, sake is versatile and can accompany a variety of dishes, from fried fish to vegetable dishes, according to Sugoii Japan.

Both are culinary icons, why don't sake and sushi go hand in hand in Japan?  - Photo 1.

For example, fried tempura goes well with floral sake, while the freshness of vegetables is accentuated when served with a light, aromatic bottle of sake. Salty ramen, with a rich flavor, is also enjoyable to go with a bottle of sake.

That said, sake goes well with many foods, not just Japanese food, says Josh Docak, owner of Cascadian-food. Dorcak says he particularly appreciates the absence of restrictive rules when it comes to pairing sake with food. Basically, even raw fish goes well with sake. Even desserts are no exception.

However, the main problem of using sake with sushi is not due to the raw fish, but because of the rice. Sushi is basically a piece of raw fish eaten with rice, without rice it cannot be sushi. Since both rice and sake are made from rice, the problem of “too much rice” arises when enjoying the two together.

Both are culinary icons, why don't sake and sushi go hand in hand in Japan?  - Photo 2.
Both are culinary icons, why don't sake and sushi go hand in hand in Japan?  - Photo 3.

Firstly, the drink that accompanies the dish has an important job of cleaning the palate to recreate the taste for the next dish – something that is paramount when eating a meal as varied as sushi. Since they are both derived from rice, it is useless to use sake to remove the taste of sushi.

Second, due to the brewing method of beer, sake’s alcohol content is not inherently high, making it less acidic, in contrast to the highly acidic sushi rice served with sushi. For this reason, the taste of sake also does not enhance the taste of sushi, but also reduces the perception.

Finally, because it still has a higher alcohol content than both beer and wine, the taste is definitely heavier than the two drinks above and can affect the enjoyment of the food more.

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