Let’s face it – longing for a little romance or adventure is normal, but that trip to India, Spain or Japan is just, well, out of reach. But foodies (like us) have the magical ability to travel virtually anywhere any night of the week. Every bite, every sip speaks to the history, culture and people of food’s origin.
For three long, dry years I’ve been trying to get to the Joy of Sake event here in Honolulu. Finally, last week, I was absolutely transported when I finally went. If you are in New York or San Francisco, you absolutely must add it to your foodie calendar.
Approaching the Honolulu Academy of the Arts a BOOM, BOOM, BOOM thunders through the air. Upon closer inspection, traditional Japanese dancers perform what appears to be a ritualistic and highly choreographed sequence, in step with the large drums they carry around their neck. The movements resemble a cross between sumo wrestlers and thai chi, perfectly timed and smooth. Following the drummers is the typical “I’d like to thank” speeches that are inevitable at these events, but at the Joy of Sake, the experience includes an introduction to some of the most respected sake brewers of Japan. Although modest and (mostly) elderly Japanese men (and women!) command more authority than say, a Coors family member. The brewers uniformly seem to have a firm grip on the secret sauce for sake as well as the fountain of youth.
Inside the Honolulu Academy of the Arts, the crowd is already buzzing (and this is before the sake really starts pouring). There are numerous restaurants serving samples of food – which levels the potential buzz or 300 sample sake. Before I get started, I must buy my very own sake cup, made of pottery and glowing with blues and purples.
Now, I am no sake expert (much like I am barely a cook) but we do experiment with sake at home. I’d call myself a novice fan (is there a Facebook button for that?) We always have it when we make sushi. We sometimes have it with a grilled chicken or fish. Its like wine, sometimes we like it, sometimes we don’t. But going to a tasting with over 300 sake separated by category really helps identify what you are looking for in a sake: lushness or dryness, sharpness or subtly? The most perfect sake have a balance so elegant that its hard to separate the distinct elements. Each table with sake has an attendant to “talk sake” and give advice, history and recommendations.
Half-way through the evening though, I realize my palette is shot. Tasting after tasting has left me with little ability to distinguish the characteristics of each offering. Regular water sips mitigate my handicap a little, but not enough. Next time, I would spread out the food tasting with the sake tasting a little more, experimenting with the different food flavors and sake.
Its a challenge to get through 300 sake and we didn’t come close. I bet we managed to experience 30-40 sake. But the entire experience really increased my appreciation for sake, its different types not to mention the history. I learned more about the brewing process and the unique regions, which should help me further identify other sake I might enjoy. Throughout the year, Joy of Sake holds smaller, more intimate tastings specific to a region, type or flavor profile. I think I’ll start going to these so that I can take the sake experience one sake at a time – and as its meant to be experienced: respectfully with passion.
P.S. Hope you like the photos – some were tough shots to get! It was a very competitive photo atmosphere.