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Sugidama Sake & Curry Discovery Night

Will sake go well with curry? It was the topic, which intrigued me after hearing several people talking about their experience. A Japanese friend of mine told me quite categorically that it’s not a good idea. “We, Japanese, don’t really drink sake with curry as it will spoil the sake! Our cuisine is very subtle, so sake and Japanese food will complement each other,” was her response. However, a few other people were more positive. “Sake works spectacularly with Indian food. Robust junmai daiginjo goes really well with tandoori, while with spicier curries I prefer bright fruity styles or junmai with dhal. I’ve yet to come across a bad match,” commented Oliver from Tengu Sake in a Twitter discussion of the matter. 

Setting up the night

So I decided to put the matter to the test. I also wanted to organise some kind of event to try my hand at it in view of my future plans. Why I picked the more challenging type of pairing? Beats me. Probably I’ve just jumped the opportunity without thinking it through. The quote from my school days, “We praise the daring of valiant dreamers!” actually springs to mind. In any case, I went for it.

First of all, I booked a restaurant, Cinnamon in Brick Lane. Why did I choose Brick Lane? Well, if you want good authentic curry, Brick Lane is your best destination. It is a convenient location for those who work in Westminster, City of London, Shoreditch and other Central London areas. The area is very hip and has a good demographics for such events. And the restaurant itself had very good reviews.

Sugidama Sake & Curry Night Flyer
Sugidama Sake & Curry Night Flyer

So I created an event page here on my blog and started to promote it through my social media channels, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve got some response and there were a few people who showed interest and signed up for the event but still, it was not enough. In my attempt to push it further, I turned to LinkedIn. I always kept LinkedIn as my day job professional media avoiding publishing anything outside my work area. But what the heck? I’ve got a lot of friends from my business school days connected there. So I decided that they might be interested.

LinkedIn actually gave me some more people who got curious about this crazy sake and curry idea. Toshi from WASO even put the info on his daily newsletter. Another thing my wife (who was bravely helping me with this idea) and I did was making a flyer which we wanted to put on notice boards at Japanese shops. So basically we explored almost all non-paying avenues to promote the event and at the end of the day people signed up for the Sugidama Sake & Curry Discovery Night.

Black Friday: Christmas knocking on your door!

It just happened to be Black Friday on the day. The crowds of Londoners and tourists were swarming Central London searching for bargains. I needed to buy sake for those who did not bring their own so I headed for the Japan Centre on Piccadilly. My wife also came to help me. She made a few quite cool photos, which I can’t help publishing here. London is probably one of the best cities for Christmas. While the shops start decorating and selling Christmas stuff earlier and earlier every year, it still looks fabulous and sets the mood.

Two Faces of Brick Lane

When we got to Brick Lane, it also felt very Christmassy.  The whole area around Shoreditch and Brick Lane is trending up at the moment. It’s definitely being gentrified and a lot of residents don’t like it. I remember walking through a demonstration against gentrification this summer, which looked more like a street party to me but it’s Shoreditch for you. 

Sugidama Events
Black Friday on Brick Lane

Some parts of Brick Lane looked very festive, while others – a bit eerie, but not intimidating in any way. I guess it could be a bit rough later in the night but was absolutely fine when we came there.

It was very relaxing to walk through still not very busy Brick Lane leisurely avoiding restaurant barkers who were trying to attract you with their amazing offers and “best curry in town” promises. Finally, we had reached our destination and were seated downstairs in the psychedelically lit restaurant room.

Sake and Curry Discoveries

Keigetsu and samosa
Keigetsu and samosa: the perfect match

That evening, we tried to pair curry with two sake and one umeshu. The first sake was Keigetsu Tokubetsu Junmai Aikawa Homare, beautiful product of Kochi Prefecture. It’s a clean dry, crisp and savoury sake, with balanced acidity and a lot of umami in the taste and delicate aroma of pear and melon. The tokubetsu part in the name referred to the 60% polishing ratio unusual for junmai sake.

We started with samosas and onion bhaji and Keigetsu went very well with them. The savouriness of the sake played nicely with a slight spiciness and deep taste of the samosas and the oiliness of the bhaji. When we opened Keigetsu Junmai, it was slightly chilled which accentuated its crispiness. However, later in the evening, as it warmed up to the room temperature its taste profile had changed. The dryness mellowed down and delicate sweetness appeared while its flavour developed more depth and umami. I would say it was the perfect match for me.

Keigetsu Junmai
Another sip of Keigetsu?

The second sake we tried to pair with Indian food was Gozenshu Bodaimoto Junmai (Rocky Mountain) from Tengu Sake. It was a slightly sweeter sake but still rich and deep in flavour thanks to the ancient bodaimoto technique used by the brewery to make it. Brown sugar, malt and raisins were dominating both aroma and taste of the sake. We ordered a few different curries from the restaurant’s speciality menu ranging from mild and sweet to strong and spicy and tried them with the both sake.

Keigetsu Junmai was great with the sweeter and mild curries like korma. The savoury and dry taste of the sake complemented very well the sweetness and mildness of the curry providing some edge and bitterness. However, it didn’t work that well with the spicier food. The robust taste of the curry overpowered the delicate taste of the sake. However, the second, bodaimoto, sake was great with spicy food. The sweetness of Rocky Mountain toned down the hot curry and complemented its richness and deep and meaty taste. I really liked the combination. It’s more like having a mango lassie with curry, but less sweet and more umami-rich.

Sake & Curry
Gozenshu Bodaimoto, friends and curry: what combination could be more perfect?

We finished the evening with Choya Umeshu. It was a nigori umeshu with pulp, which gave it a very nice texture but slightly monotonous taste. It was also a little too sweet for me. Nice to have a small glass but no more. I think had we had a dessert, it would’ve been a perfect drink to accompany it. Still, it was great to finish the evening with something sweet and fruity.

Keigetsu Junmai, Choya Umeshu

I think everyone enjoyed the Sake and Curry Night. One of my friends told me the following: “I did enjoy trying the sake, and seeing how they fared against different flavours and strengths of spice. But I don’t think I will be switching permanently from the traditional Cobra with a curry just yet!” It was a good start. I agree that sake is not the drink of choice for curry even for me. But I’ll definitely try it with curry again, probably sweeter nigori or ginjo this time. Also, the experience gave me a better understanding of how the pairing works and what to look for in the future sake and food pairing.

There are plans for new events in the new year to boldly go and explore the horizons of sake and food pairing. But until then, buy or cook your favourite (non-Japanese) food, try it with sake and leave the comment here! I will definitely do it during Christmas and New Year festivities.



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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