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You're not supposed to drink sake with sushi!

There have been a couple of posts on this board about how sake isn't meant to be drank with sushi (I believe I've read that a couple of other places as well.) The theory is that because sake is made of rice it's not complimentary to the sushi because of the sushi rice. It never made much sense to me, but I figured it was just a Japanese custom. Well, tonight at Sushi Zo (delicious as always!!!) I ordered sake. While I took a break for the omakase (did Imention it was delicious?) Keizo-san asked how I liked the sake and I said it was tasty, but that I had heard sake wasn't meant to be had with sushi. He said incredulously "who told you that?" I said "I read it, isn't it true?" He shook his head no. I said "oh, is that a silly belief?" And he said he'd never heard it.I said I guess people (me) read something and believe it when they shouldn't, and he agreed. So there you have it. I'm not saying that someone else of Japanese descent wouldn't disagree, but it's certainly not universal. (For those who've never been, Keizo-san is from Japan and the sushi is top notch, he knows what he's doing.) So all of you sake and sushi minglers, have at it!!

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  1. When I'm with Japanese people I notice that they are more likely to drink beer with sushi than sake.

    I think when I was in Japan the only person I ever saw drink sake with sushi was myself. I began to think that sake drinking must be a charming American custom. All around me the Japanese were either drinking beer or the hard stuff.

    1. Maybe they meant kot sake...in fact hot sake should never be drank period!

      3 Replies
      1. re: chefthisguy

        I used to travel to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, on business (3 or 4 times a year from 1985 to '95). I distinctly remember more cold sake than hot, but I would differ in that I DO recall being served warmed sake....... and I was always with local Japnese business people. I'm interested in knowing why you are so sure about this and in what others have to say.

        1. re: chefthisguy

          Depends on which of the thousands of sake you are drinking. There are some sakes that are perfectly fine slightly warmed and some that are not.

          1. re: chefthisguy

            chefthisguy -What a silly post, a quick Google search and the fact that many if not most Japenese restaurants serve warm sake proves that, or are you joking?

          2. I can hardly imagine a better complement of flavors than a sip from a box of premium sake immediately following a buttery yellowtail sashimi. Call me simple.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              You can have sake with sashimi, just not (unless according to Keizo and he's more of an expert than I) with rice-based nigiri or rolls.

              1. re: hrhboo

                This is exactly why I posted this! I explained the whole sushi has rice and sake is made of rice theory, and Keizo looked at me like I loopy. According to Keizo, it's just not true. It may be a tradition for some, but it's not enough of a tradition for someone who's a Japanese-born sushi chef to have heard of it! I personally figured my tummy wouldn't explode if I ate sushi and drank sake, so I drank sake and ate sushi whenever I wanted. But I think people are avoiding the combo because they think it's a faux pas.

            2. Never was a sushi officionado/snob but I've had my share here in LA and Japan. Having eaten it at sushi counters but more so at peoples' homes, it is almost always served with beer and sake when the occasion calls for it. From my experience, many people might be surprised as to how infrequently sake is consumed in a typical Japanese home. Aside from cooking with it, seems most people break it out for a special occasion or when company is over. It is much more of a social or ceremonial drink. The festive social atmosphere at sushi counters is much more conducive to drinking sake. So whether or not it is a faux pas to have sake with sushi I guess is overruled by the fact that it's just a good fit!

              1. Having been to Japan 7 times in the last 4 years and eaten with many Japanese friends - my verdict is that they seem to order beer first then the sake...but both for sure!

                1 Reply
                1. re: jbyoga

                  I was told that directly the other night by my brother-in-law - they start with beer, and move on the the harder stuff later. This was at an izakaya, so plenty of sushi there.

                2. For the most part, when a statement begins with "You're not supposed to...", I tend to automatically disagree with it on principle. The exception is "You're not supposed to eat things that you don't like, or avoid foods or food combinations simply because others say you should."

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: SuzyInChains


                      I prefer beer with my sushi, but I hardly think what one drinks with sushi matters. I live in Utah...most people probably drink pop with their sushi. ;-)

                    2. Hakujins!!! Where do those ideas come from?

                      3 Replies
                        1. re: Silverjay

                          You sure that Sapporo didn't just start a story to keep the sales up? I was just thinking that Hakujin = Gringo in a really perfect way - connotations included...

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            yes, but what about "tsurai-yo"?

                        2. I was told this several times when I was in Japan, and have also read it in a few different books on Japanese food and culture. It doesn't mean I follow it, (or that all Japanese do) but it is always nice to know the traditions of the culture.

                          1. lived there for 5 years as a translator. lived in Yokohama and then in the hardcore countryside of Fukui. anyhow, not drinking sake while eating sushi or sashimi is absolute nonsense. i would totally agree that you are more likely to see people drinking beer with their raw fish but that is only because beer is more prevalent, period. not for the sake of some sushi-eating custom.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: ben61820

                              Ah, the delicious etymology of words! Your probably unintentional use of japanese "sake" and anglo-saxon "sake" in the same breath is entertaining!

                                1. re: ben61820

                                  I say. And don't get cocky; all heroes are temporary!

                              1. re: ben61820

                                I use to hang out at the Yokohama Country & Athletic Club (1992-1995). I'll be going back to the Yokohama area for a visit later this year.

                                1. re: bkhuna

                                  We used to belong to the YCAC back in the early '60's. As I remember, my dad drank sake downtown and scotch at the club. In those days the sushi-ya would deliver huge lacquer platters of sushi right to your house by bicycle. My (american) father would drink beer and my (japanese) grandfather would drink sake.

                                  1. re: whs

                                    I don't think they've painted it since the early '60's...No, I shouldn't say that. And I've enjoyed putting away big pitchers of beer after blowing out the YCAC teams in softball tournaments there.....Overall though, Yokohama has really changed a lot since they've re-developed the minato area. I find it kind of lost some of it's old port charm.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      I was there when the Whales became the Bay Stars. What a travesty!

                                      I don't remember there being a softball team at the club as it's not a traditional British sport. But hell, I spent all my time in the pub as a member of the Dart team. The place could have been on fire and I don't think any of use would have noticed.

                                    2. re: whs

                                      There are still plenty of sushi ya that deliver huge 'lacquer' plates to your home by bicycle.

                                      My husband is Japanese, his father's career involved importing fish from the Atlantic & Pacific and he grew up in Shiogama. Going out for sushi with him is always a highlight of any visit. When he goes out for regular sushi, or has it at home, he'll have beer. When we go out for the 'good stuff' he has sake/nihonshu.
                                      I'd also taken in the received wisdom of sake and sushi not going together. I'm delighted to testify that the advice is garbage.

                                2. Wow.. I'd never heard that interesting urban legend.

                                  Maybe a sushi chef was playing a trick on some customers who didn't hold their sake well and the myth started to spread.

                                  1. I like saki with my sushi anyday

                                    1. I enjoy s nice cold Nigri with my sashimi.

                                      1. Eat and drink what you enjoy.

                                        1. Actually, I've heard this directly from sushi chefs and friends in Japan. There may be a regional or even generational factor in the expression. I have no idea. I've heard you shouldn't order a noodle and a rice dish in the same meal, but people do it all the time... But really, it's no big deal to mix the two or to drink Western style wine as well. In the U.S. if you're going to eat avacados and mayonnaise and jalepenos, etc. with sushi, does it really matter what you drink?

                                          In Japan, nihon-shu is commonly available at most chain or inexpensive sushi places. I'm not sure about high-end places though. I've personally rarely seen people drinking it at sushi restaurants (usually old guys doing it) and I've never seen anyone I've dined with mix the two. Shochu and shochu cocktails are much more popular in my experience. (FYI: Nationally in Japan, shochu sales surpassed nihon-shu sales from 2003).

                                          I wouldn't think a Japanese person would find it odd to order nihon-shu with sushi. But a common question along these lines that I hear from Japanese, still after many years, is:

                                          "Is it true Americans drink coke with sushi?".

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                            I think the shochu craze in Japan is a fad. Last year I met some former collegues from Japan and was presented with several bottles of "high end" shochu. I'm sorry to say I would have rather had them bring in some Sapporo, Yebisu, or Kirin Lager beer, which is no longer available in Florida and increasingly harder to find elsewhere.

                                            1. re: bkhuna

                                              Makes me laugh to hear shochu called a fad. Well, it's certainly not for everyone. And it's difficult to make a cultural translation of the appeal of it overseas (i.e. clean, subtle flavors, lower alcohol than most spirits, etc.). But it's not a fad, like say, a mixed drink might be. Shochu has already been the main non-beer alcohol of choice in all the regions/islands south and west of Honshu for many years now- like imo shochu in Kyushu and awamori in Okinawa. One reason it's popular all over now is that it mixes easily and therefore broadens the appeal to women. It's also less hangover inducing and gets a lot of press for low calories. The fact that its made from different ingredients is also appealing. And businesses like it because once you open a bottle, it's still good for a long time. Sadly, depending on your emotional attachment, sake will probably take a backseat to shochu from now on in Japan.....The real question about fad is "happoshu" or low-malt beer, which seems to be giving real beer a run for the money.

                                              1. re: Silverjay

                                                Maybe I should have said trendy instead. I never thought about mixing the good stuff. Shochu was always something you drank to get a good buzz on, not to savor for it's complexities.

                                                I remember shochu mostly from my face-down-in-the-sand days after one too many lemon-sours.

                                                  1. re: E Eto

                                                    It's funny you should mention "true old-timers" because that is where I developed my affinity for sake, hormone-yaki, and other old school Japanese eating.

                                                    I was stationed in Japan from 1981-1986 and again from 1991-1995. I worked with some Japanese technicians that had been in the Imperial Navy during the war. I came to know them quite well socially and spent many nights crawling the streets with these guys.

                                                    We drank sake and not shochu. We drank Kirin lager and never Asahi Dry. These guys were traditionalist, right to their two pack of Cabins a day habits.

                                                    I still view shochu as rotgut, albeit, trendy rotgut. Maybe I'll work on that next time I visit.

                                                    Thaks for the linke to the article.

                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                  The shochu fad has been going on for centuries. Shochu is a great beverage, and checking out the different varieties is alot of fun.i.e. sweet potato, barley, rice etc.
                                                  I have seen people mix shochu with fruit juice , i was in a noodle restaurant in tokyo and saw an old woman mixing shochu with the tea for all the guests at the table. Seemed like a good idea.

                                                  1. re: foodwhisperer

                                                    Oolong-hai (ウーロンハイ), shochu mixed with Chinese tea, is one of the most popular drinks in Japan period. And shochu with fruit juice are called "high balls", usually compacted in Japanese as the fruit name and then "-hai" suffix added. They sell canned versions.

                                            2. I've been out for sushi in Tokyo several times with my Japanese aunts, uncles, and cousins. We drank everything: beer, sake, and shochu. I usually have a sapporo and a daiginjo going at once and alternate between the two.

                                              The thing I don't understand is how nigori sake (aka pearl sake) became so popular in the US. I like to drink nigori sake in the dive bars that surround every train station in Tokyo. (I also like to eat chicken gizzards on a stick at the stand-up open-air yakitori bars, but that's another topic...) My cousins all turn up their noses and say only poor people drink nigori sake.

                                              1. I never heard this and I've happily drank warm sake with sushi for years. But I'm of the drink what you like school of wine pairing so YMMV.

                                                1. I say drink what you want with what you want. I really can't stand silly food 'rules'. I would also suggest not believing everything you read online. Life is too short. Eat and drink what you like.

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: pinkpoodle

                                                    right and with what you like. Red wine with fish quelle horreur!

                                                    1. re: pinkpoodle

                                                      The only real faux pas in Japan is to drink nothing at all. Order oolong cha if you really want the stink eye in a sushi bar.

                                                      1. re: Mr Rabbit

                                                        Hmmm. I get oolong tea at a bunch of places in Japan, sushi or otherwise. Maybe the stink eye was unrelated to your choice of drinks?

                                                          1. re: Mr Rabbit

                                                            Oh. The stink eye makes perfect sense then, whatever you were drinking.