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A few breweries now have their sake certified as kosher… but what Israeli foods would you drink it with? Cookbiz has a long article on just that topic, full of mouth-watering food photos.

The article showcases two Israeli chefs, one of Arab origin and one Jewish, who brought their original cuisine, rooted in multiple cultures, to Japan.

Nof Atamna-Ismaeel and Hilla Alpert held a week of events in October 2018 to present their traditional dishes, paired with sake. Recent kosher certification has made it possible to pair sake with these Middle Eastern dishes.

They visited farmers from Minamisōma, one of the areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and also exposed to radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They donated Israeli hydroponics equipment, and used agricultural produce grown using that technique to create dishes for a Japan Agriculture festival.

The two chefs also visited the Hakkaisan brewery, based in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, which has kosher certification. They learned about sake and took part in a workshop using fermented products produced by the brewery. They then put their new knowledge to good use pairing sake with Middle Eastern food at a press lunch held at the Israeli Embassy.

Eight of Hakkaisan’s sake have been certified kosher:

  • Junmai ginjō Hakkaisan
  • Junmai ginjō Hakkaisan shiboritate genshu Echigodesoro
  • Tokubetsu junmai genshu Hakkaisan
  • Junmai ginjō Hakkaisan Yukimuro Chozo Sannen (aged three years in a snow chamber)
  • Binnai Niji Hakkoushu Awa Hakkaisan (sparkling, in-bottle second fermentation)
  • Tokubetsu junmai Hakkaisan (export only)
  • Junmai daiginjō Hakkaisan Kowa Kura Shikomi
  • Junmai daiginjō Hakkaisan Kongoshin

There is increased demand for kosher certification from hotels, airlines and restaurants ahead of the 2020 Olympics and the expected flood of overseas tourists. Japanese food has also recently become popular in Israel, which could lead to demand from Jewish people living outside the country. Exports of sake to Israel are growing every year.

Japanese chef Fumio Yonesawa commented that where Japanese food often had delicate flavours, Israeli dishes used plenty of herbs and spices for a stronger and richer flavour. First out was tabbouleh and a Middle Eastern style ceviche – completely different from the South American version, it was spiced and served with Arabian cheese and plenty of vegetables and spices which gave it a complex yet refreshing flavour.

Tomato and aubergine fish kebabs were served with Hakkaisan tokubetsu junmai (export only). The fish balls cooked in tomato also had plenty of herbs and fragrant greens. The solid texture was uplifted by the freshness of the herbs to give a mellow flavour.

Although you might imagine Middle Eastern food to be very spicy, it’s actually more refined and leans heavily on herbs and their fresh aromas. And although you might imagine Hakkaisan sake to be tanrei karakuchi (淡麗辛口, smooth and dry) because they’re from Niigata, the tokubetsu junmai has plenty of rice-derived umami to stand up to the dish.

Next was fig salad with Hameiri cheese, a feta-like cheese made with sheep milk. Both milky and salty, it was incredibly moreish and went beautifully with the fig. It was paired with Hakkaisan junmai daiginjō Kowa Kura Shikomi, smooth with delicate, expanding flavours not unlike a white wine to pair with cheese.

This was followed by bulghur mujaddara, something the Japanese audience were completely unfamiliar with although it wasn’t completely dissimilar to hikiwari komugi takikomi gohan (rice cooked with split wheat). A fish tartare with tahini oil and zatar was paired with Hakkaisan junmai ginjō, and chicken sofrito with turnip made with Hakkaisan kōji and herbed rice was served with Junmai ginjō Hakkaisan Yukimuro Chozo Sannen.

Finally, the traditional dessert malabi made with Hakkaisan amazake was accompanied by Hakkaisan binnai niji hakkoushu Awa. The rice pudding style dessert was naturally sweet, uplifted by cinnamon and almonds. The champagne-like Awa would be perfect before the meal to increase the appetite, or at the end to clear the palate.