What is so unique about Sake?
There is a saying in Japanese 'Sake is not picky about food' (Sake wa ryori wo erabanai) which means Sake get on well with all sorts of cuisine.
Beer, with its bubble and hoppy bitterness, quench thirst and freshen inside of the mouth, but it doesn't play as much role as Sake does when it comes to enhancing the flavor of food.
There are so many miraculous pairings of wine and food, such as Sauternes and foie gras or champagne and caviar. But also there are a few combinations of total clash.
When it comes to Sake, it can be served from chilled to warm. It warms you up for longer period than any other alcohol beverages when served hot, and it may cut right through the palette of oily foods. Speaking of pairing with foods, it's relatively a lot less complicated due to it's highest level of amino acid among all the alcohol beverages, which has been more and more recognized in the recent western culinary world as 'Umami'.
High level of Umami
Umami is a 5th flavor element, after saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and sourness, which is often described as ' savoriness', 'deliciousness', or 'meatiness'. discovered in Kombu Kelp by Japanese chemist Dr. Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University in 1906. There are twenty different amino acids in Sake, a greater variety found in any other alcohol. For an example, an average Sake contains seven times more amino acids than red wine. The degree of amino acid in a Sake is between about 0.7 and 1.5. In general, higher levels indicate a more full-bodied, richer, and food friendlier type, Lower levels indicate a lighter, cleaner type. Most of the times, the brewery don't show it's level on the bottle, however, Junmai tend to have higher level of Amino acid, as opposed to Daiginjo and Ginjo has lower level of amino acids.
Umami, it's synergistic effect
Traditionally, Japanese soup stock (Dashi : 出汁) is made from Kombu Kelp (昆布) and bonito flakes(Katsuobushi :鰹節), dried and cured bonito fish. Kombu kelp is full of glutamic acid, and Bonito flakes has high level of Isocinate acid. It is scientifically proven that when both different types of amino acids combined, the Umami element is multiplied, producing a result greater than the sum of the ingredients. Umami also serves to enhance other taste. Sake bring out this synergistic effect when drunk together with foods due to it's high level of amino acids.
Sake and non-Japanese cuisine
It is a mirth that sake can only pair with Sushi and Sashimi. In fact, Sake, especially Umami-rich type pair well with equally Umami-rich foods such as cheese, or cured meets, generating synergistic effect of boosting flavor. No wonder why Heston Bluementhal has a sake on his wine list at Fat Duck !
Examples of food pairing by type of sake
Kunshu （薫酒） Aromatic Sake
Japanese - Works as an aperitif. Or vegetable tempura (eggplant, green pepper/vegetable with a bit of bitterness)
Western - Melon with cured ham, Roquefort salad with pears
Chinese - Vermicelli salad
Soshu (爽酒) Light and less aromatic Sake
Japanese- Salted Edamame, Kaiseki cuisine, Sashimi (White fish)
Western - Fresh Oyster with red wine vinegars, Smoked salmon with dill
Chinese - Steamed shrimp, Crab dumpling
Jukushu (熟酒) Aged Sake
Japanese - Sukiyaki, eel sushi
Western - Rockfall cheese, Foie gras
Chinese - Peking Duck, Sichuan cuisine (Ma-poh Tofu)
Others - Thai cuisine with lots of spices
Junshu (醇酒) Rich and full-bodied Sake
Japanese - Red and fatty tuna sushi and Sashimi (Should be served at luke warm temperature)
Western - Beef steak with Bearnaise sauce, Bouillabaisse
Chinese - Fu Ken Style Fried Rice