Friday, October 1, 2010

Cheers for Sake Day

The first day of October is Sake Day. In Japan, this day is called Nihonshu No Hi. The kanji symbol for sake is very similar to the tenth month of the asian lunar calendar, the rooster. This is also the traditional beginning of the sake brewing season, when the brewmaster goes to the shinto shrine to pray for a good brewing season. When the sake brewing culture emerged in the Edo period (1604-1868), the shogunate decreed that sake could only be brewed between the fall and spring equinox.
The traditional labor force was composed of farmers and fishermen, many of whom would be finishing their own trades for the season. After the rice was harvested, effectively a measure of currency, economic stability was determined, and the sake brewery could commence with their season of brewing.
Sake is extremely complimentary with many foods, and the entertainment of sake culture is perfectly expressed in the robust and rustic flavors of izakaya fare. In the vast metropolis of Tokyo, when you pass through the noren curtain of these small, often impossibly cramped, loud and bustling pubs, with every wall covered by hand-painted menu selections of food and drink, the spirit of celebration is captivating. There may be charcoal grilled skewers of chicken or beef, marinated seafood, tofu, pickles, sashimi, or even a few selections of naizo, old-fashioned dishes of innards or organ meats. This may include braised boar intestines, shark heart or fermented sea cucumber guts. The right sake can bring any one of these diverse offerings into an acute focus.
The best way to celebrate Sake Day is a night out at the local izakaya, and Portland is fortunate to have several great pubs to celebrate. Raise a glass at Zilla, Biwa, Tanuki or Yuzu, and offer a toast to the brewer's. Kanpai!

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