Seafood & Sake Pairing at Kingyo Izakaya on Monday, July 29th

glass o-chokko by tangerinee
glass o-chokko, a photo by tangerinee on Flickr.

I wanted to pass along a quick email to inform you of a great event coming up early next week.

Unfortunately, I can’t make it, but I’m hoping some of you can.
Kingyo is featuring some new cool sakes with some seafood pairing fun!
Join, Mariko Tajiri, Sake Specialist for That’s Life Gourmet, purveyors of fine wine and sake, at Kingyo for an educational and tasty evening.

Here’s a list of what’s in store:
Hakkaisan Sake (Niigata Prefecture) / 3 kinds of Carpaccio
Kuheji Sake (Aichi Prefecture) / Deep fried squid
Snow crab sushi
Beisuika Sake (Gunma Prefecture)/ Negitoro sushi

Price is $50 (not including tax and gratuities)
There will be lots of sake to taste!

Kingyo Izakaya
871 Denman Street, Vancouver
Call to reserve a spot: 604.608.1677
There’s a maximum of 8 for this event, so call ASAP for a seat.


sushi & sake class at sait

I’m looking forward to 2013, there’s lots of great events planned in the new year and I’m ready to see them to their fruition!

Upcoming in February, I will be joining forces with Hayato Okamitsu, award-winning chef and culinary instructor at SAIT, to conduct a sushi & sake class. Okamitsu-san will be creating various Japanese dishes which will include sushi and I will provide the 101 on sake! It should be a fun evening!

Here’s a link to class schedule and details:

Also please check out this Sunday’s Province newspaper in the Travel section.
I have a piece on my travels to Akita’s sake breweries. It’s also up on the web now along with photos. Please take a look:

Thank you for checking out VancouverSake! I wish you a wonderful time during the holiday festivities! Best wishes to you in the coming year!


Fukumitsuya Sake

Another great evening with sake was had recently at Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro, featuring Fukumitsuya Brewery from Ishikawa.

Junichi Yageta of Fukumitsuya was in attendance, providing us with important sake insights and some never-been-had sake delights direct from Japan–always a treat. Fukumitsuya is a “junmai-gura” – meaning they only make junmai sake. Many breweries will have sake that are aruten, short for arukoru tenka.

This means a tiny bit of brewers alcohol or distilled alcohol has been added to the sake. Brewers will do this to attain a certain desired flavor profile. Aruten sake is generally lighter, smoother tasting. Junmai, or pure rice sake, will have a fuller flavor and oftentimes, you can taste the rice or riceyness (nouveau sake vocabulary) in the sake. It’s all about preference, and either is fine in my books, but there are some who are very particular and will only drink junmai sake. There are groups (importers) who promote junmai-only breweries, and one of them even has an office in Vancouver. Obviously there are breweries who heed the philosophy that enhancing a sake with alcohol no matter how little, is not pure sake–Fukumitsuya being one of them.

Junmai-ness aside, I’ve always loved this brewery’s design sense. They produce quite a few different lines–Kagatobi, Kuroobi, Fukumasamune, Kazeyo Mizuyo Hitoyo to name but a few. Each has their own distinct design aura about them and there is obviously great thought into not only the taste of the individual lines, but in their appearance also.

Yageta-san explained to me they have three designers who work on the sake marketing materials, along with bottle and label aesthetics. He claims no other brewery has three dedicated art directors, and judging from the care of the labels, the website and promo materials I’ve seen, I wholeheartedly believe him.

Classy inside and out, I’m a big fan of this brewery. Check out the great pairings of sake with food created by Shuraku’s awesome chefs, here.

The highlight of the night was the house made tofu with x.o. sauce. The tofu was pillowy delicate, like chawan mushi. The x.o. sauce gave it that needed umph–a nice contrast of texture and flavour. Paired with the Kagatobi Ai Junmai Daiginjo, the softness of the tofu went in tandem with the elegance of the sake. This junmai daiginjo has a mild sweetness, lending a subtle counterpoint to the tofu’s x.o. sauce.

Shuraku’s presentation of dishes was phenomenal. We were also treated to a too brief sake 101 with Shuraku’s owner, Iori Kataoka, who provided guests with a great overview of sake from photos of her sake trips to Japan.

Lots of great sake events of late. I am well sated, but eager for the next sake excursion.


sake education council’s canadian advanced sake specialists

What a great night at Ki Restaurant, where the Canadian contingent of the Sake Education Council (SEC) met up in the same room for the first time ever. There is actually one more person on the list who was not present, although he doesn’t live in Canada full-time, but Paul Tanguay, I did not forget you are a true red/white maple-leafed Canadian!

The sakes, paired with Ki’s amazing food, were outstanding. Great educational component too, with Patrick Ellis, president of Blue Note Wine & Spirits, importer of great sake, and Koji Kawakami, 19th generation president of Yoshi no Gawa Brewery, making a jovial, entertaining sake duo.

Check out my photos of each course with pairing here.


Fukumitsuya Sake Dinner At Shuraku – Oct. 17th

wind water man by tangerinee
wind water man, a photo by tangerinee on Flickr.

The multitude of sake events going on this October is unprecedented in my entire sake-loving life here in Vancouver! Not that I’m complaining.

To me, this means a turning point in sake awareness in the city, perhaps the country. Japanese food has come to the forefront internationally and globally, chefs are utilizing Japanese techniques, foods and incorporating them into their local cuisines.

It’s exciting times indeed and certainly sake should have its time to shine, at the zenith of Japanese cuisine worldwide.

Sake has been popular in the U.S. for some time, and we are finally ‘getting it’ here in Canada. I’m ecstatic to see the change and willingness of people to give sake a try—to find out they love it!

The upcoming dinner at Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro should be another stellar evening. Fukumitsuya Brewery, makers of Fukumitsuya and Kagatobi lines, will be in Vancouver for the first time. Shuraku will be hosting a dinner with the sake maker, pairing five of Fukumitsuya’s sake with exceptional izakaya fare.

The price is a reasonable, $75, which includes tip and taxes. So be sure to check out what is sure to be a highly enjoyable event.

I have always loved Fukumitsuya’s sake. Above is a photo of their Fukumitsuya junmai called ‘Kazeyo Mizuyo Hotoyo’ or ‘Wind Water Man’. It is a great beginner’s sake: light, refreshing, lower in alcohol and acidity, quite smooth for a junmai.

Located in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, which is NW of Tokyo, bordering the Sea of Japan. I have always been impressed by not only their lines of sake, but with their marketing savvy as well. There is a distinct emphasis on design that is evident in Fukumitsuya’s bottles and labelling. In Tokyo, the brewery has two mini-shops and a tasting bar that look like high-end fashion boutiques–homages to their dedication for producing elegant sake, inside and out.

Click here for details on the event.
Hope to see you there!

Sake 101 at SAIT in Calgary – Nov. 2 – 6pm to 9pm

sake grads by tangerinee
sake grads, a photo by tangerinee on Flickr.

For Calgary Food & Drink Lovers:

Come join me on November 2 at SAIT’s new downtown culinary campus for Sake 101.

Learn about the history of Japanese sake, how we determine a grade of a sake, how it is produced. Sample an array of grades and styles of sake, and how these can be paired with food.

My passion for sake is equaled only by my love for Japan. The first sake pilgrimage I made in 2006 began an almost yearly visit to the Land of the Rising Sun, to continuing my studies of the so-called, Drink of the Gods, and marvel at the anachronistic spectacle that is Japan.

Back then, ten students and our sake sensei, John Gauntner, began an intensive week of sake knowledge training in Kamakura, with jaunts to breweries in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto. Nowadays, John’s courses commands far larger spaces and is conducted at the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association headquarters in Tokyo, as well as holding satellite courses in the U.S. Our ‘graduation’ photo is above.

In 2008, John held his inaugural second level course in sake which I attended, along with several of my Level I alumni. There were about 25 of us, and 18 passed the written and blind tasting exams.

Being the first Canadian female to pass the exam was a privilege that I am proud and thrilled to have achieved. I try my best to continue sharing my love for sake with my fellow North Americans.

I have taught classes in Canada and the U.S., having also brewed sake commercially for moto-i, the first sake brewery restaurant outside of Japan.

Making sake is incredibly difficult work, but also deeply satisfying. Knowing that the brews were destined to be served to curious imbibers who were mostly new to the drink, made us want to do it right–as close to what we witnessed, felt, and drank in Japan.

Sharing our deep appreciation for sake and Japan was of the utmost importance and the impetus for starting moto-i. The brewing experience continues to inspire me and has made me a better sake educator.

Please come and discover why premium sake is so awesome! It’s sure to be a fun evening, I promise.

Here’s the link to the class details:

There will be over 7 sake to sample, lots of cool factoids and a deeper appreciation for Japan and sake will indeed be the guaranteed result of this fun and educational evening.

Feel free to contact me for more info.

Pressing Matters: Kozaemon Sake & Kasu Dinner

pressing matters by tangerinee
pressing matters, a photo by tangerinee on Flickr. Explanation of the photo is below.

Hello Sake Fans,

A note on something coming up very soon, in fact it’s this Thursday.

Minami Restaurant in Yaletown is having another sake dinner featuring Nakashima Shuzo, makers of Kozaemon brand sake. Nakashima Shuzo is based in Mizunami, (Gifu Prefecture) in the Chubu region of Japan.Established over 300 years ago, this small family-run sake brewery has a deeply reverential reputation amongst sake lovers.

Here’s your chance to try what’s available in BC, paired with Minami’s exceptional food. The twist is Nakashima Shuzo will be providing Minami with their sake kasu which will be incorporated into each dish.

What is sake kasu? It is the lees that remain after a sake has been pressed–the solids that did not break down during fermentation. Kasu contains an abundance of amino acids, proteins, minerals, and B vitamins. It is even reputed to help lower cholesterol. The fermented aspect of the rice solids is highly effective for using as a fish/meat marinade as it softens protein extremely well. In Japan, kasu is mainly used as a fish marinade, in soups (kasu jiru) and as a pickling agent for vegetables, but the permutations are endless and kasu is getting more recognition for its versatility in the culinary world. And I have to add, some women even use kasu in their beauty regimen as a masque to soften and whiten the skin.

Doesn’t this make you curious to find out what Minami’s chefs will do with Kozaemon’s kasu? I sure am! And paired with Kozaemon sake too? It’s going to be a treat.

Kozaemon Nakashima, 14th Generation President of Nakashima Shuzo, will be in attendance.

Price is $145 (tax and tip included). Reception at 6:45pm and dinner starts at 7:00pm. You must call Minami directly to reserve a spot or go to this link if you would like to register online:

Hope to see you there!


My photo above illustrates how sake mash is separated using an assakuki, a mechanical press with hydraulic bladders that expand and push the moromi (mash) into the stainless steel plates. The solids form on the sides of the plates which are then easily removed from the assakuki (or more famously referred to as the Yabuba, which is a well-known brand of mechanical sake press). You can see the kasu is being extracted from the assakuki by the kurabito (brewery worker) and some of the not-so-perfect remains in the nearby container. This was taken at one of the very first breweries I had ever visited: Tama no Hikari Sake Brewery, located in Fushimi, Kyoto. Fushimi is a historically renowned district for sake making due to its pristine, soft water. Today, it is still the second largest producer of sake in the country.

Yoshi no Gawa Sake Dinner at Ki Modern Japanese & Bar

sake galore by tangerinee
sake galore, a photo by tangerinee on Flickr.

October 1st is almost upon us–well, what’s the significance of that date, you ask?! It’s International Sake Day! October 1st was designated Sake Day in Japan back in the 70’s. Officially it’s the first day of sake brewing season, as our favourite rice based tipple is traditionally brewed from Fall to late Winter/early Spring–when conditions are optimal and controlled for making sake.

We have a lot of events coming up in the city, sake-wise. This is great and I’m so glad we are finally seeing more interest in sake, as it is deserves more attention!

Join me Thursday, October 11th at Ki for a very cool sake dinner featuring Koji Kawakami, 19th Generation President of Yoshi no Gawa Sake Brewery, Niigata Prefecture. Yoshi no Gawa is Niigata’s oldest brewery–this prefecture has 97 breweries, so they are serious about their sake. This pride comes from their reputation for ‘like-water sake’, as I like to call it. Very dangerous as it is so smooth, it tastes like water. Given that, there can be lots of depth in Niigata sake as well. Yoshi no gawa has some incredible selections that I’m excited to try again, paired with Niigata-inspired food from Ki’s Chef Yoshi Tabo.

I took the attached photo in Niigata City where Sake no Jin takes places every year. It is probably the largest sake tasting I have ever been to in terms of sheer size and attendees. Over 80,000 people come through the Toki Messe convention centre over a weekend in March. Every single sake brewery–97 of them–in Niigata participates. It’s a sake spectacle and it’s a primo event for a sake lover. But I am digressing, I just wanted to illustrate that Niigata has a great reputation for sake and the event at Ki this month with Yoshi no Gawa is not to be missed!

Price is $150 which includes tax and tip. There will be a reception at 6:30pm and dinner begins at 7:00pm.

If you are interested in joining or have any queries, please contact Ki directly: Chris Irwin – 604.609.0600 or .

I hope to see you there!

Kanpai and Happy Sake Day!


The Best Egg Tarts in Vancouver

egg tarts and pate chaud at the tung hing bakery

lately i have been on an egg tart pilgrimage, searching for the best, old skool egg tarts in vancouver.

as a kid going to dim sum every saturday at the park lock or the ming’s in chinatown, i looked forward to the end of the savoury cart melee as the last of the sticky rice (gnaw mai fan) and sui mai made their final laps around the noisy circuit. the sweets would certainly be making its entrance soon, a signal our weekend ‘yum cha‘ ritual was nearing its end, and food shopping amongst the elbowing throng on pender street was next on the agenda.

a new chant could be heard from the din of the white noise – a different cadence in the hollering. alert ears somehow picked up the new tone and wandering necks craned for a glimpse of the offerings.

the dessert lady wheeled past with the usual suspects: almond jello adorned with the ubiquitous scoop of canned cocktail fruit, deep fried sesame balls filled with red bean paste (jeen duey) and chinese egg tarts (daan taat).

the egg tarts were the stars – multiple layers of delicate puff pastry shell enveloping a warm, sweet egg custard centre. the custard had a light softness, but was not mushy or watery – timing is everything in maintaining this fine balance. a transcendental combination of textures with unhealthy amounts of egg and fat at its gastronomical forefront, a daan tat was, and still is for me, comfort and love all wrapped in a tinfoil cup.

but the daan taats of yore are hard to find these days.

gone are the push carts at dim sum. you have to order items off a menu, which does make more sense – it’s more fresh. but as an obvious sign of getting old, my longing for nostalgia refuses to enjoy the immediacy of my piping hot-to-order ha gow or just-steamed cha sui bao. the ceremony is gone for the most part, the excitement of the approaching cart is no more. i suppose it is a quieter meal without the cacophony of ladies, hoarse from calling out dishes, but if i wanted quiet i wouldn’t go for chinese food.
with the new era of dim summing, changes to egg tarts have come as well. a cookie-crust style shell has infiltrated and become popularized.

this ‘short crust‘ tart is more dense and is similar to shortbread in texture. it’s obvious why restaurants would prefer this version – it is far easier to make, something that a lazy baker like myself could even do. their flaky counterparts demand time, each layer requires this, which is why it tastes so darn good. layers of toil equate depths of goodness. you can taste when something is made with love, nothing prefab can match the beauty of such a gift.

but i’m finding this gift harder to enjoy in the city. the short crust was winning the egg tart battle. my moments of lament to the family about the dearth of sweet flaky goodness at the end of dim sum would produce weak chortling of how they never really noticed the change and as they popped the last bites of cookie crust into their mouths, they said they actually liked them more.

it’s probably because there’s no more fighting for an egg tart, i mutter under my breath.

however all is not lost. a few months back, i happened upon south ocean seafood restaurant in richmond. dim sum here was good, really decent, and i can happily report that the service matched the food. but what struck me as even more memorable was their stellar egg tarts.

multitudinous strands of pastry, each delicate layer sitting evenly atop the next, crisp wavering sheets perched at attention – yet ready to collapse gently into your mouth. and its custard centre: perfect in eggy texture, its hot out-of-the-oven glow – this was better than how i remembered it as a kid!  it fell in the realm of: this is so good, i could shed a tear. there have been times when i’ve tasted something that’s been made with love, with the deepest of care, and it will prompt a little teary appreciation. i can’t help it.
the south ocean egg tart is up there as one of the best, if not the best in town. and i will arm-wrestle anyone who questions that statement, anytime.

a very close second can be found in a very nondescript bakery on kingsway in the collingwood neighbourhood.  the tung hing bakery aka tiem bahn dong kahnh is a chinese-vietnamese bakery, known more for their bahn-mi sandwiches, which are exceptional, however their sweets are deserving of equal attention.

in the long queue for a lemongrass chicken bahn mi, you could be easily distracted not to notice the delicious array of pineapple, cocktail and coconut buns – ubiquitous pastries in any chinese bakery. but if you take a moment to look at them, as you shuffle towards the busy sandwich lady, you will notice how perfectly formed they are, with generous filling, copious amounts of coconut shavings and fresh cream. what struck me was they looked like the buns i remember seeing as a kid, not the piddly modern cantonese versions with a squirt of filling, sprigs of coconut interspersed with bald patches, questionable thin white strands of cream-like substance. this was the real deal, old skool style.

tung hing’s egg tart is chock-full of layers, it is flaky crust on steroids. fluffy, buttery and wholly satisfying. i’ve been in the store when the egg tarts have just come out of the oven. the custard erupts into a well-formed peak from the oven heat, and slowly subsides while cooling. there were older egg tarts in the case, but when it came time for my order, the woman kindly grabbed a fresh tart from the cooling trays behind her.

biting into the warm dessert melted the grey vancouver sky into the brightest of vitamin d glows. such a simple thing created a little pocket of love. my perma-smile continued for the rest of the day.

the irony of this find, in a vietnamese sandwich bakery, is the displacement of where it rests and where it technically should be. but maybe its irony is its true beauty, as sometimes you have to leave your culture and the comfort of that mindset, to find it again.

i remember taking vipassana, a 10-day silent meditation retreat and discovered that this old form of buddhist thought whose origins were indian, was lost for generations in that country. it was later rediscovered in burma, where monks kept the traditions of vipassana in its purest and unsullied form. reintroduced to its home country, vipassana continues to be practiced in india to this day, with traditions intact.

having one of the city’s best egg tarts in a vietnamese bakery is not shocking, nor is it a travesty – it is a celebration.  there has been a long history of chinese settlement in vietnam so traditional cantonese baking is obviously alive and well in that part of asia. i’m happy it is and that we’re able to enjoy its preservation here in vancouver.

in the wake of modern short cut short crust egg tarts, traditions are being kept and nurtured, someone is continuing to make these pastries with passion in its original style, and i’m glad i was able to accidentally discover this unsung hero.

so all is not lost, there are places in town that do it right. the phyllo-like flaky egg tart is not extinct.

and the nostalgic kid in me is thankful for it.

The Book of Bao: Porked Belly


pork belly marinated in shio koji brine

I happened to be at an Asian grocery the other day and noticed that pork belly was on sale. Since I still had some shio koji left, I thought marinating it in pork belly might be a good 2nd project for the salty substance.

I had been meaning to try emulating the ubiquitous Momofuku pork belly buns. Yes, they are everywhere, but heck, it’s because they are so sublimely perfect–an Asian slider of pork belly goodness with a crunch of veg enveloped in a pillowy white, clamshell-shaped bun.

We copied them at moto-i, and they were extremely popular. The two-bite brownie of the slider/mini-burger world, the buns (or baos) have their roots in Taiwanese food. Baohaus in NYC offers the ‘gua bao’ in a more traditional way (along with some cool fusion twists), as you would see at a night market in Taipei. The Momofuku version is definitely a fusion, an homage to what is considered old skool. I can certainly appreciate both sides of the bao coin.

Since I do like the Momofuku hoisin sauce version (What fatty meat roasted with hoisin and garnished with savory green onions isn’t mouth-wateringly good?), I thought I would attempt to make my own pork belly gua bao.

I had about a pound of the leanest pork belly I could find and marinated the meat in a shio koji brine. Basically I took all the shio koji I had left (about 1.5 cups, some sugar and 4 cups of water) and placed it in a Ziplock bag overnight. If you are using shio koji as a salt replacement, a good rule of thumb is whatever the amount of salt is required, double it for shio koji. The shio koji is salty (but less salt is actually used) and adds a mellow, sweet depth that regular salt does not possess.

I admit, I cheated and went to one the many frozen dim sum shops in town and picked up some of the clamshell baos. I purchased 20 for about $9. I thought I got ripped off since there wasn’t a price for the baos at all in the store, as prices seemed to be randomly calculated by the little Taiwanese lady at the counter. She told me 50 cent apiece, but since she charged me only $9, I suspect her math was a bit off. “It’s probably what it should be in term of price,” I muttered to myself. She did tell me the cheaper Szechuan rectangular versions were essentially the same as the clamshell style, in terms of taste.

Using my Japanese mandoline to thinly slice the cucumbers, carrots and daikon was such a pleasure! I love that contraption, but you have to give it some respect or it will easily slice off several layers of skin before you can cry out loud in knowing agony (The ‘Why did I not use the finger guard’ agony?).

I pickled all the veg with some mirin, rice vinegar, salt and a touch of water–leaving overnight also.

roasted pork belly — oh yeahhh!

Roasted pork belly is so darn good, only because it’s so damn fatty. It’s hard not to appreciate the simple beauty of pork meat commingling with glistening layers of fat. Chinese BBQ pork belly with the crunchy skin on, has got to be one of the greatest pleasures in life. You only live once right?!

I placed the pork belly on a cookie sheet with a relatively high lip. Poured some broth and some water onto the pan and tightly covered up the pork belly in tinfoil.

The divine aromatics of roasted pig filled the room. Oh yes, that is some meaty manna from heaven!

2.5 hrs later, I took the tinfoil off and left the pan in for another 20 minutes to crisp up the top fatty layer of the roasted pork.

I was so excited by how good it looked, I quickly steamed the baos, got out the hoisin sauce and prepared the veggies. They look pretty good, no?

momofuku-esque pork belly buns with pickled daikon, carrots and cucumbers

They were tasty. Yum, wow–words cannot describe how surprised I was that they turned out so well and how easy it all was. Even my mom who normally abhors eating any sort of fat, ate one. My father, who nary utters a word these days (he’s not well), uttered, ” Oh that was good.”

So yes, pork belly in the belly makes people happy it would seem!