On a bone-chilling January evening, brave Torontonians took part in the Sake Institute of Ontario’s winter classic Sake & Street Food Pop-up. Held at the Liberty Village staple Sudbury 99, attendees were quickly welcomed (and warmed-up) by an array of full-bodied sake styles from 10 SIO member importers plus Ontario’s own brewery, Izumi. Head Chef and Sake expert Michael Pataran prepared Japanese tapas-style bites to complement our featured drinks.
Sake in many ways is still the new kid on the block. If I recall, my first sake experience was in the throes of an intense celebratory karaoke session post-exams in university. True story! I was completely naïve to it then. Fast-forward six years later and sake has gained a whole new level of notoriety and excitement.
Interesting to note, sake grade is determined by how much rice grain is polished away. The higher grades are dryer, cleaner and purer in taste, while the lower grades hit notes that are light, fruity and aromatic. Then there’s a variation of sake called “nigori” which is known as a cloudy sake that’s sweeter on the palate. Also available are liqueurs, which are typically consumed after dinner (like ice wine), appropriate for people who are not used to drinking sake. I sipped on a strawberry blend which can only be described as a creamy liquid dessert.
Here’s a quick breakdown of classifications…
- Junmai Daiginjo < 50% of the grain, best served chilled
- Junmai Ginjo < 60% of the grain, best served chilled
- Junmai has < 70% of the grain, can be chilled or warmed, has a pleasant bitter punch at the end
- Futsu > 70% of the grain, has added alcohol and is not considered “pure” like the ones above. It’s typically low grade, hot sake
On to the cuisine. Chef Pataran and his team focused on heavier dish reductions; oilier foods that mixed better with sake. The japa-burgers were a nice twist on sliders: rich well-seasoned ground beef combined with a tangy miso cream cheese, smoked bacon crisps and tempura bits. These addictive little bites packed serious flavour. Grilled over charcoal, the smoky kushiyaki ground pork was an easy favourite of mine for its mouth-watering combination with a savoury pork tare sauce.
Other highlights included perfectly crisp “popcorn” prawns with momijorishi aioli, chives, sesame and lime. There was also a simple, light and airy salmon mousse roll with avocado, shiitake and yuzu aioli. The real treat was the raw east and west coast oysters from Chef Pataran’s Cool City Oyster Yard. These silky textured mouthfuls were paired perfectly with the condiment options of a nice acidic Japanese melon-cucumber mignonette and a sweet and sour shiso-pear relish – these went down like butter. Overall, it was a nice symbiotic relationship with the street style Japanese food and the assortment of sakes. It was a rare evening to win over the newbie crowd or the seasoned sake drinkers.
Make sure you don’t miss the next SIO experience with Kampai Toronto 2014 on Thursday, May 29th at The Fermenting Cellar in the Distillery District. Mark your calendars now. Kampai! (PS That’s Japanese for Cheers!)