Sake & Food: A Match Made in Heaven
Given Nagano’s long history of sake production, visitors to the region will encounter it everywhere. Homes are well-stocked with bottles and in the evening, a visit to any local restaurant will reveal friends and families enjoying large bottles of sake together.
Sake can be enjoyed any time year, including warming it in winter and cooling it in summer. Enjoyable on its own, sake tastes even better when consumed with food. Breweries usually produce at least some varieties specifically brewed to match the flavour profile of local food.
Most famously, sake is consumed with sushi. While Nagano is home to many fine sushi restaurants bringing their seafood from the nearby markets on the Sea of Japan – including Nagano City’s Monzen Terrace Enya. Located a short walk from Zenko-ji Temple in the historic Patio Daimon precinct, Monzen Terrace Enya serves a mixed Japanese and Western menu, with English-speaking staff. Seafood is sourced directly from the nearby coastal markets in Niigata, allowing Enya to serve outstanding sushi, sashimi and other seafood in the heart of Nagano City.
In spring and summer, take advantage of Enya’s outdoor terrace – the ideal spot to enjoy a meal, bottle of sake and let the world pass by.
When visiting the Nagano you might also like to combine with something locally-grown and produced. Translating literally to ‘pickled things’, ‘tsukemono’ is a broad category of food including pickled vegetables served as side dishes and garnish.
These seemingly simple appetizers are found throughout Japan and often accompany a bottle of sake.
The salty flavour of the tsukemono compliments sake and refreshes the palate. Nagano has a long history of producing excellent tsukemono – a world which offers a surprising variety of flavour and types.
It only makes sense to sample the local sake and tsukemono together when in Nagano as a starter or snack as you drink.
‘Kaiseki’ refers to a traditional multi-course meal service. While many international visitors to Japan have heard the term kaiseki, the exact meaning is often less well understood. That is for good reason. Kaiseki refers to a multi-course meal service which uses seasonal and often local ingredients to create a unique menu, as designed by the head chef.
For that reason, not only is there fantastic variation between kaiseki menus between regions, kaiseki dining will varying greatly at the same restaurant or hotel between seasons. Each chef strives to serve their guests with the best possible ingredients and intricate dishes that profile their region and its unique cuisine and flavors of each season.
As one of Japan’s primary agricultural regions, producing some of the best vegetables, fruit and meat, Nagano is an ideal place to enjoy kaiseki in combination with local sake. Restaurants and hotels will be able to recommend a bottle that complements the menu and enhances your dining experience.
For visitors in Nagano City, Shunka is a renowned kaiseki restaurant located nearby Zenko-ji Temple. Their seasonal menu celebrates the best available produce while the aesthetic of their menu and its constituent dishes is given equal consideration. Complemented by an excellent sake menu, Shunka is a great option for savouring kaiseki and sake together while in Nagano.
Located within walking distance of the Jigokudani Monkey Park, Hotel Senjukaku is one of the region’s best traditional guesthouses. Known for its dedication to traditional comfort and service, Senjukaku is acclaimed for its excellent hot spring and kaiseki meal service. A long-established favourite of members of the Japanese Royal Family, Hotel Senjukaku is an ideal option for guests wanting to experience traditional Japanese service, cuisine and sake.
Please note, the legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years and over.