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Pair that ocean bounty with some sake

Uncover a bold chapter of epicurean enjoyment by pairing your meals with Japan’s iconic rice wine.

Pair that ocean bounty with some sake

Momokawa Junmai sake from Aomori carries fruity notes and expressive aromas that work well with savoury crabs. Photos: JFOODO

Of the five different taste profiles, umami stands as the most mysterious. It’s an elusive in-between flavour that when claimed, provides depth and enjoyment to any dish. To get scientific about it, it’s the amino acids found in foods such as soy sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms and seaweed that bring the particular satisfying finish. As it turns out, sake heightens this experience.

Sake, the rice wine so iconic to Japan, is fast transforming the idea of food and beverage pairing long dominated by wine. The natural glutamic acid from sake draws out similar umami notes from dishes, and especially so with seafood where ionic acid is sometimes found. Chefs are discovering this transformative dimension that allows the drink to not only be a refreshing palate cleanser, but also a flavour enhancer, bringing forth bold and rich gastronomic journeys for diners.

Sanzen Junmai Daiginjo Omachi 50 from Okayama does well in bringing out the umami in dishes like toro tuna and ikura.


It’s often called a rice wine but sake is actually closer to a beer, given that it goes through a similar fermentation process. The delicate yet complex profile of the drink belies the tedious and exacting process that goes into making it, as some of the purest ingredients are combined to make sake, resulting in a truly artisanal sip.

When one says sake comes from the heart of Japan’s renowned rice, they’re not kidding. One of the most distinctive stages in making sake is the milling of the rice, where as much as 70 per cent of the rice could be polished down to achieve the differing flavours only the centre of the kernel can provide. In fact, this has caused a bit of confusion, according to sake expert Adrian Goh.

“A lot of people think that sake contains a lot of alcohol, even similar to spirits, and sometimes it is because the bottle displays a percentage figure of between 35 per cent and 70 per cent,” he explained. “This figure actually refers to the rice polishing ratio of the sake, while the alcohol by volume is typically closer to 15 or 17 per cent.”

Kurabito no Jiman Sake from Yamaguchi pairs well with fatty dishes, thanks to its soft, well-rounded notes and delicate aroma.

In the process, the milled rice is ground, soaked and steamed along with another crucial component – water. The right source affects the final flavours, which is part of the reason why many sake breweries have their own mountain springs.

Once the rice is ready, a special Koji fungus is added to convert starch to sugar – another process unique to the drink. As the yeast forms and fermentation begins, more rice and water are added slowly over a month to tease the drink into fruition.

Before the final pressing, producers can decide to add alcohol to lift certain notes iconic to their brand, resulting in a non-Junmai sake. Otherwise, a pure Junmai sake will boast a savoury character, suitable for uplifting the palette or complementing dishes of all kinds.


So out of Japan, why is sake only being revealed as a suitable pairing for food recently? Mr Goh alluded that Japan’s own successful branding of the brew as its national drink and its historical and cultural significance might have limited people’s perception that it’s only good with Japanese cuisine.

The lightness and fruity notes of Yujin Tatenokawa Seiryu sake from Yamagata complement the sweetness of charcoal-grilled Hokkaido scallops.

In reality, sake plays a supportive role in delivering flavours with its low bitterness and acidity and is even better when paired with seafood. “Sake is full of umami derived from Koji and the proteins found in rice,” Mr Goh shared. “This combines well with various umami components in seafood, creating synergy and new flavours. In addition, sake contains few elements that clash with seafood. In fact, it reduces fishy flavours, creating a more wholesome pairing.”

Having seen a growing interest in sake over the last decade, Mr Goh is excited to see the inventive repertoire of pairings emerging from gourmands. “One style of sake that has been growing in popularity is Awa sake, the name for premium sparkling sake with natural carbonation from secondary fermentation,” he shared. “It follows advanced brewing techniques and strict standards and I would recommend one to enjoy it with caviar.” 


Sake’s potential comes from it being an inclusive drink that adds a layer of enjoyment for beginners and experts alike.

For those just beginning to explore the world of food and drink pairing, Mr Goh suggests the Ginjo or Junmai Ginjo-grade sake “because it represents the best of both worlds – the high aromatics of a Daiginjo sake, and the umami and body of a Junmai-style sake”.

The herbal citrus notes of Fukucho Junmai Daiginjo HATTANSO 50 from Hiroshima pair brilliantly with the briny notes of the amberjack dish.

He added that for those who prefer wine, Daiginjo-grade sakes have become the favoured drink because of their similarities to wine. “They can be very aromatic with fruity and floral notes, and they are also elegant and complex on the palate,” he shared.

There are ways to enjoy pairings, even if one’s usually not into alcohol. Mr Goh suggests sipping smaller portions of a highly-polished Junmai Daiginjo sake to fully savour the experience. “Most Japanese premium sakes are made carefully with no additives and preservatives,” he explained. “I find that some people who are sensitive to alcohol have no adverse reactions to high-quality sake.”

The Japan Food Product Overseas Promotion Center (JFOODO) is currently working with mid- to high-end restaurants on a promotional campaign, pairing sakes with many different cuisines including Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish, Indian as well as Japanese food.

One of the participating restaurants is Bar Cicheti, a pasta and wine bar situated within the vibrant Keong Saik enclave. “I am excited for people to try the pairing of umami-rich handmade pasta from Bar Cicheti together with Japanese sake,” said Mr Goh. “It is quite amazing how the flavours synergise together.”

Discover a whole new way to appreciate seafood with sake at these partnering restaurants from Feb 11 to Mar 13.

  • Bar Cicheti
  • béni
  • Diamond Kitchen
  • Fleurette Restaurant
  • FOC Restaurant
  • Fukui Singapore
  • Geylang Claypot Rice
  • Hanare by Takayama
  • Hashida Singapore
  • iggy's
  • IKO Restaurant
  • La Taperia
  • Marcy's Restaurant
  • Mezame!
  • Morsels
  • Punjab Grill
  • Rascals
  • Red House Seafood
  • Restaurant JAG
  • Standing Sushi Bar
  • Takayama
  • Tanuki Raw
  • Whitegrass
  • Wild Child Pizzette
  • Yujin Izakaya