When one thinks of sake, one pictures a group of Japanese men sitting around a low table raising little clay cups toasting each other with the mandatory ‘kanpai’ before taking their first sip and then elegantly swigging the whole cup of delicious warm rice wine down their throats. Just so as you know, it is rude to start drinking before everyone has been served and toasts are given all around.
Things have changed a bit in the modern era. Last week, some of the diehard sake drinkers were in for a bit of a pleasant surprise when they attended the Sake Tasting Dinner at the Mantra Restaurant & Bar where certified sake sommelier Ross Mark explained to us that sake should be served slightly chilled.
Ross took us on a Journey of Sake by first narrating to the audience the process of producing sake. How the rice is grown, harvested, polished, brewed, aged and bottled. Even though there are many modern machines to help the process, most of the production is by human hands and skills. This tradition has been kept alive for over a thousand years.
After the presentation by Ross, we adjourned to the elegant dining area where Chef Shaun Venter prepared Japanese cuisine, pairing dishes with six varieties of sake served during dinner.
Expecting little clay cups, we were surprised to see that the lovely colourful kimono clad waitresses placed wine glasses on the table instead.
Always willing to try something different I watched in amazement as the girl ever so gently poured the clear chilled sake into our glasses. Letting it sit a while, I lifted the glass to my nose as one would with a glass of wine and was quite pleased with the aroma emanating from it. Taking a sip of the slightly chilled Japanese traditional drink also proved to be quite pleasant.
Paired with Shaun’s creation of sashimi, king crab & corn tempura, along with the BBQ eel and teriyaki amongst the many other delicacies, the 6 varieties of sake proved to be perfect matches for all of them.
At the end of a most fascinating evening, the questions still lingered in our minds as to why chilled and why in wine glasses?
Not that we didn’t realise it by then, we were told by experts that good sake must be enjoyed chilled, whilst the cheap-not so good ones should be drank warm.
Other modern-day experts also say that although sake has thousands of years of tradition, it only became a sophisticated drink in the last 50 years. “Premium sake as we know it today is really very fragrant, elegant and light. You can really focus on the aroma and the texture drinking from a wine glass.”
As for me I’d much rather be sitting on the floor at a low table with my friends holding my exquisite little cup filled with warm sake toasting each other with loud choruses of ‘kanpai’ as we drink the crystal clear liquid all night long.