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Sake in Paris 3: Ancient Bento and Workshop Isse

This post concludes the chronicles of our sake adventures in Paris. If you haven’t yet read about our adventures, you can find it here and here.

From weaving mill to antique shop

My wife loves antiques. Every time we go somewhere she finds a few antique shops or a flea market. She doesn’t buy many antiques but enjoys walking around and look at old things. Obviously, when we were staying in Le Marais, famous for its historic buildings and medieval streets, we could not miss the chance to go to Le Village Saint-Paul, full of small antique shops.

Kishiume antique shop, 5, rue Saint Paul, 75004 Paris, FranceWhile we were wandering in the maze of cobbled courtyards off the rue Saint-Paul, we came across a small Japanese antique shop, called Kishiume. Its owner, Riyo, told us an interesting story about the shop. Her family comes from Nagoya, Aichi prefecture.

After the Meiji restoration, Japan opened up for the rest of the world. Western clothes and fashion became very popular. Japanese women were particularly interested in Western-design fabrics. Noticing that, Riyo’s second great-grandfather, Uemen Kishida started a weaving mill to produce just that.

The business was very successful and grew considerably within the next decades. Uemen’s son, Umejiro, continued expanding the weaving business keeping the traditional Japanese weaving techniques while modernising the production process. After he retired, his son, Yukio Kishida took the charge of the company.

Kishida family photo
Kishida family photo

He named the company “Kishiume” taking the “Kishi” from Kishida and the “ume” from Umejiro, his father’s name, which meant “plum”. Yuiko also developed a great interest in collecting Japanese art and antiques. He filled the large family house with paintings, ceramics, statues and other interesting objects.

Ancient discovery

Acient bento from the Edo periodHowever, at the end of 20th century, the business started to lose the competition to cheap Chinese export and eventually closed down in 2000. The family house became quite old around that time and the authorities ordered to demolish it.

So Riyo was left to deal with the massive collection of antiques, which remained after the house demolition. She already lived in Paris at that time and decided to open an antique shop. It still has many things from her family house. One of the things on display which caught my eye was an ancient bento box.

It looked very intriguing and I asked Riyo about it. She started explaining what people used to put in various compartments until she said: “…and here they poured sake”. “Sake? How interesting!”, I brightened up and I told her about my blog.  “Oh, you like sake? How nice”, Riyo replied and told me about a sake shop near Rue Sainte-Anne, which is famous for its Japanese restaurants and shops. Obviously, I couldn’t miss an opportunity to visit it.

Workshop Isse

Workshop Isse has a very interesting history. Its founder, late Toshiro Kuroda, was born in Japan but moved to France at the beginning of the 70s when he was a young man. He studies in Paris and worked for many years in media. In 2004, hated to see his favourite restaurant, Isse, going into bankruptcy, he bought it on the whim and plunged into the world of gastronomy.

Toshiro Kuroda
A photo of Toshiro Kuroda (1950 – 2017), the founder of Workshop Isse

He renamed the restaurant, he kept the Isse name for a grocery store of high-end Japanese products. Later he opened a restaurant and a sake cellar just opposite the grocery store.

The business philosophy of Mr Kuroda and his wife, Sumiko, was to visit the prospective suppliers in order to understand better their manufacturing process and the environment. They wanted to be proud to sell products in their store.

The same philosophy applied to how they were choosing sake for the sake shop. Mr Kuroda and his wife knew personally all the brewers and travelled to Japan to select sake they wanted to sell in Paris. Unfortunately, Mr Kurod passed away in 2017 so I couldn’t meet him.

Sake tasting, Workshop IsseWhen I came to Workshop Isse, I was a bit taken aback by not seeing any sake apart from cooking varieties as well as a good choice of umeshu and other liqueurs. So I decided to introduce myself. Hearing that I am writing a blog about sake, the store manager invited me to taste the sake they were selling in their sake cellar on the other side of the street.

The choice of sake was very good and most of the brands I hadn’t seen before. After tasting a number of different sake and decided on Mizubasho Junmai Ginjo from the Nagaï brewery in the Gunma prefecture in Central Japan. The sake attracted me with its delicate taste and dry finish.

Not by sake alone

However, sake wasn’t our only purchase. My wife decided to try umeshu and yuzu liqueurs, proudly sitting on the store’s shelves. And they were amazing. We especially liked umeshu (Japanese plum wine) with yuzu and ginger flavours from Wakayama prefecture. It tasted amazingly fresh and revitalising as if the fruits were just harvested and put in the drink right before serving it.

Sake, umeshu and yuzu liqueur from Paris

Another great purchase was yuzu liqueur, Yuzu Komachi. Produced in Fukuoka prefecture, located on Kyushu, the most southern of the four main Japanese islands. The liqueur is based on shochu, Japanese distilled spirit, but it is not strong at all, only 7%. It could be served as a delicious appetiser on a warm and lazy summer evening or a cool refreshing drink on a hot day.

Overall, the trip was great. We were lucky with the weather, ate a lot of amazingly tasty food, and completely submerged in the vibrant Parisian atmosphere for a few days. My wife and my daughter went on a mini shopping spree and were very happy about it. As for me, it was learning about sake and Japanese places in Paris, which made the trip absolutely worthwhile. So there is always a place for sake, even in Paris.

By the way, if you know a good place in Europe to drink or buy sake, feel free to mention it in the comments. I’m sure that other readers will appreciate an opportunity to try new places and enjoy a sip of good sake.



Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.

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