The notion of pairing food with drinks is something that has been studied for some time now. Traditionally, wine and food pairings have always been of high interest to those who wish to get the most out of their meals. In recent years, beer has also joined the list, allowing people to experiment and play around with all of the flavors that hops give way to. And whether sushi fans realize it or not, this notion of pairing your drink with your meal can also apply - and it's pretty easy to do.
Sushi can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Something as simple as a hand roll can be paired easily with a wine or cocktail that's just as simple and delicate in flavor, while something with a bold flavor such as tuna or eel can hold up to a more substantial drink. Sushi and drink pairings go beyond the traditional, somewhat old-world way of thinking that fish must be paired with white wine. In today's food culture, various sushi can be paired with anything that matches its tone and flavor notes. Here's where you can start.
Rules Of Thumb
According to Shinto, the flavors of one's sushi and one's drink of choice should always complement one another. In no case should a sushi roll overpower a beverage or vice versa. When it comes to sushi, flavors can be delicate so if you're unsure, order something that's light and will still allow the flavors of your sushi roll to shine through. Additionally, the acidity levels of both should be relatively balanced but this is easier said than done. Taking into account the acidity level of soy sauce for dipping, as well as the ingredients in the sushi (is there anything spicy, are the vegetables bland or bold?), you can then determine how acidic your drink should be. This is a good way to determine a wine, as well, since acidity levels vary greatly between types.
Another way to determine a good drink and sushi pairing is to use the spice factor. For example, if you're eating a spicy tuna roll, you'll want to lean toward a sweeter drink. This balance can be maintained through the simple process of determining the opposite flavor profile to what it is you're eating. Additionally, if you're eating something sweet such as a sweet potato roll, then your drink should have a bit of tang or spice for balance. Similarly, a drink should not outweigh sushi in regard to its mouthfeel. If you're eating a heavy, rich roll, such as one that has lobster with a mayo-based sauce, the drink shouldn't be heavier than the mouthfeel of the roll. Just as a wine can be full-bodied, food can sport the same flavors and textures. If you're eating a California roll, the drink should not be overbearing - keep it simple, such as dry champagne or crisp white wine.
The Most Popular Drinks For Pairing
For starters, sake is one of the most popular beverages you'll find at a Japanese restaurant. While it's not commonly known as a pairing for sushi, there's no reason not to do it - after all, both the drink and the dish have rice in common. Sake is great for pairing with almost anything, and, according to Shinto, Ginjo or Junmai will bring out the best flavors in a fish-based sushi roll. Sake can also be paired with heftier sushi rolls, as well, and those which are less traditional, thanks to its somewhat neutral, light flavor.
Japanese beer works in very much the same as pairing any type of craft beer would. The lighter the beer, the less interference it will have with a sushi roll. Therefore, a lager is the best bet for almost any type of sushi. Its crispness will offer a refreshing reprieve in between rolls and if you're not a fan of them, a pilsner will also do just fine. In short, you'll want to stick to a beer that's light in flavor and not full-bodied.
Wine allows for far more leniency than any other type of drink on the menu. With so many avenues to go down, when pairing wine and sushi, it's best to ask your server, sushi chef, or bartender what will go well with which rolls. However, this is also where diners can have a little bit of fun with their pairings. You could start with your favorite sushi roll and determine a wine from there, or, you could start with your favorite wine, and pick out a new sushi roll that you've never tried before, that will pair well with the glass of wine. Rieslings, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and dry champagne are all great wines to start off choosing from.