The History of Sake

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Sake and Sushi. They go together like red wine and dark chocolate. Like Romeo and Juliet. Like socks and sandals. Ok maybe not that last one, but you get the gist. But where did this iconic duo originate? While sake and sushi are traditional Japanese cuisine, sake surprisingly originated in China. Also known as nihonshu, sake, is a traditional Japanese rice wine. The drink is often used to celebrate, and is served at special events and consumed during national holidays.

The popular drink is as old as time, since sake’s origins predate written history. The earliest mention of sake production is around 500 BC in Chinese villages. Back then, the sake-creation process wasn’t quite up to the hygiene standards we (thankfully) have today. You see, back then, villagers would munch on some rice and nuts, and then instead of swallowing the combo, they’d spit it into a shared bucket and leave the mixture in there. Eventually, it’d ferment, thanks to an enzyme naturally found in saliva. Fortunately for all modern-day sake drinkers, this method was soon replaced with a much more sanitary one when the mold enzyme koji was discovered. Koji helps the rice wine ferment, so the saliva is no longer needed. We didn’t know we’d ever be so grateful to a mold enzyme, but here we are. The new fermentation method soon spread to Japan where it picked up popularity and became the sake we know and love today. Now sake is great, but quality sake is even better. We’re the first to admit that we’ve done a sake bomb or two in our day. We got to wondering, though, do sake bombs count as quality? The idea of a sake bomb is ironic in itself because it wasn’t even created by the Japanese. You can credit your fellow American sake-drinkers for that invention.

The typical American sake bomb is comprised of cheap sake and even cheaper beer. If you’ve ever seen (or experienced) a sake bomb, then you’re already familiar with the unusual way this shot is consumed. It starts by balancing the shot glass of sake atop two chopsticks that lie across the rim of the glass of beer.

Then, chanting “Ichi…ni…san…sake bomb!” (which translates to "one…two…three….drink!") you and your unlucky peers bang your fists on the table until the shot glass falls into the beer and proceed to drink the concoction in its entirety. While its origins are unknown, some suggest that we have American soldiers to thank for the sake bomb. Following World War II, it’s rumored that the soldiers who occupied Japan concocted the sake bomb. In Japan, they rarely, if ever, practice this sake bomb ritual. A sake bomb for Japanese would be like a Reisling bomb for us Americans. It’s just strange and you would never understand why someone would ruin a perfectly good drink.

 So the next time you’re out for sashimi and tuna rolls, try opting for a quality sake rather than a low-budget sake bomb. It’ll change the way you enjoy your sushi, trust us. Sources: The Culture Trip, VinePair

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