Most people know that sake pairs well with Japanese food, and the reality is that sake pairs with many different kinds of cuisines for a number of reasons. In Japan, there is a proverb that says, “Nihonshu wa ryori wo erabanai,” which loosely translates as “Sake doesn’t fight with food.” Sake is an incredibly refined beverage with many subtle nuances. Everyone has different taste profiles; some people react differently to bitter taste just as some people are sensitive to spiciness. As such, there is no set science about what an individual will like best about a certain pairing of food with alcohol. Nevertheless, here are some facts about pairing sake with food.
The main reason sake is so versatile and pairs well with many different foods is that sake contains high levels of amino acids and is lower in acidity than wines, which may be 5-10 times higher in acidity than sake. Acids can cut through heavier foods that are rich and fat, but the acid in wines can also be a challenge to pair with spice and mild, delicate foods. The amino acids in sake actually enhance the flavors in foods by supporting and magnifying the essences in food, while also cleansing the palate to allow your taste buds to focus on the subtle nuances of food.
As a general guideline, follow the sake grades when deciding what to pair with your meal. Delicate flavors should be paired with lighter and more refined daiginjos or ginjos. Richer junmais or honjozos match well with stronger flavored foods. Sake with higher acidity (at least for sake), such as yamahais or kimotos, will pair well with fried foods or BBQ. Mexican and Italian cuisines actually pair extremely well with sake! So go ahead and enjoy your pizza or burrito with your favorite junmai!