Why Sake Isn't Usually Paired With Sushi In Japan

There are a lot of classic combos when it comes to food and alcohol. Beer and pizza. Wine and cheese. Soju and Korean barbecue. Americans often like to enjoy sake with their sushi, but should you find yourself in Japan, you might want to rethink that pairing.

Before pairing sake with food, an understanding of the Japanese alcoholic beverage is needed. According to Vine Pair, sake isn't wine made of rice, contrary to popular opinion. It is, in fact, it is more similar to beer because of how it is brewed. However, like wine, sake is versatile and can complement many foods, from fried fish to vegetable dishes, according to Sugoii Japan. Fried tempura, for example, goes well with a floral sake, while the freshness of vegetables is highlighted when eaten with a bottle of aromatic and light sake. Savory ramen, with its robust flavor, is also highly enjoyable with a bottle of sake, per Sugoii Japan.

That being said, sake goes well with many kinds of food and not just Japanese fare, said Josh Dorcak, the owner of Cascadian-food, to Forbes. It's the lack of restrictive rules when it comes to pairing sake with food that Dorcak says he especially appreciates. Basically, raw fish and fried foods all work really well with sake. If drunk with a dessert, go with a nutty one.

Too much rice

Even though raw fish may partner well with sake, there is a reason that the Japanese don't traditionally enjoy sushi with sake, and it all comes down to their base ingredient. Both are made with rice, and some believe that the combination is too much, according to Vine Pair.

In fact, when thinking about how to pair sake with food, Takara Sake recommends thinking of sake like a bowl of rice. If the food would go well with a bowl of rice, then it would go well with a glass of sake. As such, in Japan, drinking sake with eating rice dishes is generally avoided, per Vine Pair. Instead, Joshua Rolnick, beverage director at Neta in New York, says the Japanese typically order beer, fruit wine, or tea to drink with their sushi dinner. Both white wines like riesling and light reds such as pinot noir make good companions to sushi. In addition to drinking and eating two rice-based items together being avoided, sake's flavor also does not suit itself to sushi very well. Typically, sake is more alcoholic in taste than beer or wine, and as a result, it can impede tasting a finer fish.

Next time you find yourself dining on some tuna maki, consider swapping the sake for a nice glass of white wine.