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The Tabi Labo site features an interview with Marie Chiba, described as a charismatic figure in the sake world.

At her bar/restaurant GEM by moto, she keeps carefully chosen sake at precisely controlled temperatures and serves it with matched dishes that have made the bar in Ebisu, Tokyo famous for its mysterious flavours.

A bite of deep-fried breaded ham followed by a mouthful of doburoku makes you think it was served with a sweet sauce. That’s one of her famous combinations. The bar lets you experience taste sensations you would never have by drinking even the best sake by itself.

Chiba is featured in the film “Kanpai! The Women Who Love Sake” (released April 2019) as one of three women shaping the future of the sake industry.

Tabi Labo asked her to tell them how to drink sake – is it possible to experience the wonder of pairing sake she provides at her bar, but more simply and at home? Marie Chiba’s answer was a resounding “Yes”! Here are her tips and tricks.

Warm some taruzake and slurp your soba

Recently, she’s been obsessed with finding creative ways to enjoy convenience store taruzake. She gets Kikusui’s taruzake, available pretty much anywhere in Japan, and heats it up to around 70°C.

You often hear that you shouldn’t heat sake too much, and some sake thermometers only go up to 50 or 60°C. Of course, sake can be great at that temperature as well, but you can just throw taruzake in the microwave and heat it right up – it really brings out the perfume of the cedar and Chiba confirms that it’s delicious.

Try drinking it when you have soba at home! If you live alone, even cup noodles will do, the trick is to drink the piping hot taruzake as you slurp the soup.

If you have soup left over, mix it half and half with the taruzake, then dilute it with dashi. Finally, add some shichimi spice and you’re done. The aroma of cedar makes you feel like you’re in an onsen, plus there’s the smell of dashi – Chiba says it makes her happy to be Japanese.

Biggest recommendation: doburoku and soda (currently trending at ramen joints)

Chiba confesses that she loves ramen. And recommended dobu-soda to three ramen restaurants. They tried it, and told it completely took off. It’s the next big thing.

Beer with ramen is great too, but you can get it anywhere so make sure to try dobu-soda if you have the chance. It couldn’t be easier to make, just half doburoku and half soda. If you like it sweet, use tonic instead. If you prefer dry, go for dry soda water. It’s loads of fun to try different things, like strongly carbonated soda water, and find your favourite.

It goes with Chinese food and anything oily. Something like the deep-fried breaded ham she serves at the bar. Yakiniku and dobu-soda is amazing too. Nigorizake goes so well with oil.

Doburoku sauce on fried food, doburoku dressing on salad

Doburoku is creamy and heavy, so it’s great with any fried dishes as a sauce. Or, Chiba suggests, use it on salads in place of Caesar dressing.

She also recommends using sake in place of ingredients or seasoning. Everyone squeezes lemon over kara-age, right? It wasn’t always the case, but nowadays there are plenty of sake with high acidity, not far off a lemon. Like Kidoizumi’s AFS, or Aramasa’s Amaneko. Sake made with white kōji that produces plenty of citric acid.

There are sake like lemon juice, or a creamy sauce, even soy sauce – isn’t that fascinating? If you’re looking for something like a demi-glaze sauce for hamburger, Kidoizumi have a sake called Afruge Ma Cherie – an aged taruzake like a sherry. She admits she’s just a bit obsessed by it.

Use sake you’d serve over ice cream with dried foods

There are sake you’d pour over ice cream for dessert, like amber koshu with soy sauce-like flavours – they go with anything dried. Beef jerky or smoked foods, seafood flavours, there’s so much to choose from. Choose a slightly sweet koshu, grind some pepper, it’s amazing.

The sweetness of a sake is shown by its nihonshudo (Sake Meter Value). 0 is the base, the higher the number, the drier the sake and the less residual sugar. Minus values are sweet.

If you look at recent sake in terms of nihonshudo values, they’re mostly around -5 to +1. Sake that goes really well with dried foods is one that’s as sweet as mirin [sweetened cooking wine]. At GEM by moto, you can try a nihonshudo -120 sake, Kaishun’s Kanbun no Shizuku.

More tips from Marie Chiba in the next article!