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Sake Challenge - Sake vs. Indonesian Food

Borobudur I am on a spiritual sake quest that will finally put a nail in the coffin of "sake can only be consumed at a sushi restaurant" mantra. Wake up people! Food and sake go together - always have and always will. If it has a tail, roots, feathers, leaves, or a damn beak sake will go with it - anytime and any place. And that is my quest - the place or origin of the cuisine does not matter. It can be Spanish, Italian, Brazilian or ughhhh British chow and sake will walk the walk. Japan has chickens! Japan has salad! Japan has beef! Japan has spicy and savory dishes! Japan has sweet and salty fare, so why not think about having sake with these "tones" from other countries?

The Sake Challenge is my way for you great consumers to see outside of the sushi paradigm, and to achieve this "new view on brew" I will usually select two different sake styles and price-points and bring them to a non-Japanese restaurant with a celebrity, sake-sleuth or hell even a friend in tow. Read about past challenges:
When reviewing restaurants and their specific cuisines paired with sake I use the following criteria:
  • Works World Class (WWC)
  • Works Well (WW)
  • Works (W)
  • Does Not Work (DNW)
This criterion is more true to the mission of bringing a beverage to a restaurant not knowing what you will pair with. The point is to make the general pairings "work." Rare is the day that you bring a specific wine or sake to pair with a specific dish - we look for generalities and the entire eating/drinking experience. Think of fishing with a net as opposed to a hook and line - a pairing is supposed to reach out and catch more flavors as opposed to just hitting one match.

This month's Challenge pits a very old friend and Sake Challenge veteran Kazu Yamazaki of the Japan Prestige Importing company with a first - Indonesian Food! Oh boy and rock n roll! The restaurant we chose is called Borobudur. "The best Indonesian food in the Bay Area" Asia Week Magazine. Their menu stated: Indonesia "Spice Islands" are 13,000 islands stretching across 5000 miles from Sumatra in the West to Irian Jaya in the East. The food on the whole was loaded with lots of local herbs and spices and had a little more kick than I thought that it would.

I selected two sakes to attack this Indonesian fare:
  • Shutendouji Kyo-Onna Junmai
    More information >>
  • Tsukinokatsura Nama Junmai
    Spring/Summer Special Release

And away we go!

1st Course: Otak Otak Panggang - BBQ Fish Cake Wrapped In Banana Leaf (with spicy peanut sauce)
  • Shutendouji - This very tasty dish was made even more tasty with the nama as a richness came out of the fish cake as well as a more salty flavor. A very even pairing that was highlighted by the texture of both the sake and the fish cake - smooth and soft. The sake drank a tad sweeter. Kazu said the sake worked well and produced a sweeter flavor to the dish.
    BT - WW
    KY - WW
  • Tsukinokatsura - The nama gets a bit bold and brisk with this pairing as the fruit and sweetness is pushed onto the fish cake and the acidity spins with the spicy peanut sauce. Kazu had much more success with this pairing as he said everything harmonizes and he really liked the pairing with the smoky flavor of the banana leaf. The sauce he agreed gets more spicy with the nama.
    BT - W
    KY - WWC
2nd Course: Siomay Ayam Kukus - Steamed Indonesian Chicken Dumpling Blended With Seafood Served With Hot Garlic Peanut Sauce
  • Shutendouji - The Kyo-Onna did what a good pairing partner should do - it made the dish taste better. The dumpling itself was incredibly thick but this brew gave it a feeling and flavor that was better than the original making a far more savory taste. It made the chicken taste more meaty and the sake pushed down the spice factor of the sauce and brought out a peek-a-boo shrimp flavor. Kazu said the spice made the sake drink fresher!
    BT - WW
    KY - WW
  • Tsukinokatsura - The nama also paired very well with this dish as it's natural sweetness came forward but not at the expense of keeping the dumpling tasting savory and a bit salty. Kazu stated that the sake blended into the food seamlessly and a third flavor was created by the sake, which also brought out a more chicken essence to the blended dumpling.
    BT - W
    KY- WW
3rd Course: Ikan Bakar Samudra - Grilled Trout With Tropical Spices Served With Indonesian Salsa.
  • Shutendouji - A nice ginger flavor of the fish gets smoothed out by the Kyo-Onna. A very solid pairing that plays with the spice of the salsa and tenderness of the fish. A good blanketing feeling is created by the sake. Kazu was more blunt when he said, "nothing happened." But that is not necessarily bad as the dish and brew just worked.
    BT - W
    KY - W
  • Tsukinokatsura - The sweet flavor of the sauce, which was sort of like a BBQ sauce, is balanced by the lively nature of the nama, which created a nice flavor unison. The pairing is mellowed by the sake and that was definitely needed. Kazu said the nama washed off the sauce and left just a fish flavor and it was not that agreeable.
    BT - W
    KY - DNW
4th Course: Cumi Pedras Selera - Sautéed Squid Cooked With Traditional Spicy Sauce
  • Shutendouji - The strong tomato flavor and the sake don't dance that well together in terms of flavor. The spicy sauce has too much attitude and the best the sake can do is act like a wash, which it did pretty effectively. Kazu said that the pairing was lacking harmony, but was okay.
    BT - W
    KY - W
  • Tsukinokatsura - Basically I wrote that the "sauce is too much for the sake - spice bomb with way too much acids." Kazu simply stated, "conflict."
    BT - DNW
    KY - DNW

When the next person who asks me, "Does sake go with Indonesian food?" (which happens all of the time) I will say an absolutely "Yes." This was a fun pairing as both of the brews did very well with the more gentle dishes, and then bounced off of the more spicy elements. There were some solid co-mingling of flavors and feelings, and more often than not the sakes enhanced the dishes. In a word the brews were effective and added value to the menu. Both sakes had far more strengths than negatives and you cannot ask for more than that when you bring a libation to a "foreign land."
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