Jenn Dreams of Sushi (and Sake)

Class: Sushi and Sake Pairing

To conclude what turned out to be alcohol awareness appreciation week at Brainfueling, I bring you last Friday’s class, Sake and Sushi. Or as I unintentionally kept calling it the week before the class started, “Sashe and Suki.” I’m aware that my brain occasionally twists words around, but people must have thought I was taking some sort of dance class. That would be fun too, but no, this was an evening about flavor and pairing two of Japan’s contributions to the culinary world.

When I traveled to Tokyo for the first time last October with my boyfriend, we did not have sushi, and we did not have sake. I am a bit embarrassed by this, so here is my post-trip rationalization:

  1. We were initially confused by Tokyo and how everything worked. For me, this unfamiliarity is part of the joy of travel; however, it can also mean that I get lost or go without dinner on occasion. (Check out the Go Learn Japan trip as an intriguing alternative.)
  2. We were only in Japan for three carefully budgeted nights. Next time I will do more pre-planning and return for a longer stay. In this case, maybe I should learn basic Japanese, too.

Fortunately we also have access to some great sushi in and around Salt Lake City. I was eager to redeem myself — in other words, eat sushi and taste sake — with this Lifelong Learning class/dining experience at Ahh! Sushi in Park City. The intimate and informative dinner briefly convinced me that all classes in the whole world should be like this: while Marlene kept our class rolling with maki and nigiri sushi, Sharel shared the wonders of cold premium sake.

We sampled five different sakes during the course of the evening, and it was remarkable how some of the sakes extended the flavor of the sushi. I think this is what is referred to as “umami.” It’s the subtle but rich, savory quality that one classmate described as “more-ish,” as in, “more please.”

My previous experience with sake is limited, since my friends and I usually drink a beer when we go out for sushi. However, even my novice taste buds detected that the rice connection really amps up this pairing.



Sake brews are distinguished by the combination of the type and quality of rice, how much the rice is polished, the water quality, the yeast, the koji, the weather, the brewers, and their equipment. Of all of these, the koji is the most fascinating to me. See, there is no rice malting process in sake brewing, so the yeast needs a little help getting the starch molecules from the rice to break down into sugar molecules that the yeast can use as food.

Enter the fuzzy magical mold…koji! It’s enzymes break down the starches and use chemistry/magic to complete the sake brew. No koji, no sake.

Maybe I’m a sucker for a good story, but of the five sakes, I preferred the one named for the Wandering Poet. Li Po (Rihaku in Japanese) was a Chinese poet from the eighth century, the one who “drinks a big bottle of sake and writes a hundred poems.” If suddenly you see me cranking out a hundred posts to this site, you’ll know why.

[See more photos of Tokyo here!]