Has India caught up with the global sake trend?

The Fatty Bao’s executive chef Prashanth believes that informal ‘Izakaya’ style of dining at the restaurant will encourage diners to experiment with their sake

The Fatty Bao’s executive chef Prashanth believes that informal ‘Izakaya’ style of dining at the restaurant will encourage diners to experiment with their sake   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Ramchandran

The Japanese rice brew, now a global phenomenon, is yet to make a splash at home. But chefs and sommeliers argue that Indian food can, in fact, pair well with sake

The sake wave, while most prominent in the US, has takers across the world (like the Nøgne Ø brewery in Norway). But what about at home, in India? Production, it appears, is yet to kick off. Imports make for at least 99% of the sake consumed in the country (in 2017, India imported around 69 lakh litres, up from 67 lakh litres in 2016). Rohit Arora, Manager at Tulleeho, an outfit providing beverage education, training and consultancy services, shares that there is a fledgling home brewing community — a number he places at approximately 50 across the country.

Meanwhile, the country’s alcohol retailers — like the soon-to-be-opened Tonique in Bengaluru, which promises the country’s largest retail collection of sake — are trying to push consumption. But experts cite high import taxation, price point (it is more expensive than wine of comparable quality) and lack of awareness as barriers. “It is a massive trend around the world, but not as much in India. Though people who travel do know their sakes from their shochus (also a rice-based Japanese beverage, it is distilled and not fermented), the trend in India has not grown as much, very likely due to pricing and other matters of red tape,” says wine expert and journalist Ruma Singh.

One more restriction, she adds, is the lack of knowledge when it comes to pairing it with options besides Japanese food, even though it has the potential to lend umami to signature local dishes. As Yangdup Lama (pictured), partner and mixologist at the Speakeasy bar, says, “Sake does well with Indian barbeque items. Baked or tandoor should be perfect.”


Sommelier Magandeep Singh would concur. He pairs a scallop ‘sixty five’ dish (with rice hollandaise and podi) with Enter, a Black Dot honjozo (where distilled alcohol is added during the fermenting proces) at the recently-opened Rooh restaurant in Delhi. The challenge, he says, is that sake, being more floral than fruity, becomes tougher to pair as it become more refined. “The more expensive the sake, the more you want to highlight it on its own own,” he says.

John Leese, beverage development and bar manager at the Olive group of restaurants, believes that India is still on the ‘tip of the sake iceberg’. “Many expressions of high-grade rice polishings and sparkling sake are still to arrive,” he says. But restaurants are trying to demystify the beverage and make it more accessible. At The Fatty Bao (an Olive restaurant), the informal Izakaya setting is meant to encourage diners to experiment with their sake, sans any rigid pairing rules, says the restaurant’s executive chef Prashanth. The robatayaki skewers and the chargrilled, confit duck wings, he says, pair particularly well with options like Gekkeikan’s own daiginjo (a premium brew, where the rice is polished to at least 50%). Meanwhile, Ajit Bangera, senior executive chef at the ITC Grand Chola, experiments with Indian food pairings and believes that the drink’s rice base blends well with our cuisine, especially in its chilled form. “A chicken Chettinad and a ginjo sake for instance, would add value to each other,” he says.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 3:55:37 PM |

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