DENOTING the Japanese loanword umami with English-based logic is agonising.
The dictionary offers “savoury” as an explanation but that is just like saying an ocean is deep. Scientifically, umami is the taste of glutamate and nucleotide molecules which describes even less.
Umami is the taste of life and the indicator of nourishment.
It is the experience supplied by your tongue when you imbibesubstances that will guarantee your well-being.
It is also a flavour in many foods — from tomatoes to meat — but being subtle and sublime, your tongue registers sweet, salty, sour or bitter before it.
There is something, however, that enables you to joyously relish unadulterated umami: sake.
This rice wine is Japan’s national beverage. There are severalthousand brews that range from complex to everyday fare, and you can trust Hotel Equatorial Penang to bring in the artisanal ones.
Three sake masters recently spent an evening at the hotel’s Kampachi restaurant.
They manned tables arrayed with bottles of their delicate brews for about 40 exclusive guests to sample.
The masters, Tomohiko Ohata, Toshio Taketsuru and Noriaki Harada, came with sake sommelier Shigeyuki Masaki, who specialises in sake from boutique breweries and works closely with farmers and brewers to preserve his nation’s sake heritage.
The hotel had set up the dinner so that guests who have never tried sake may systematically learn to appreciate the drink.
Nine brews flowed freely, and a glossy card on the dinner tables prepped the diners for the flavourful journey by labelling them as creamy, mellow, clean, dry, “creamy with sharp acidity”, mild, and so on.
It was a blessing that the sake masters and Masaki were present.
Delighted by guests who had never tried the drink, they diligently took them through a tasting adventure.
Sake, depending on how hot they are served, changes.
While still good at room temperature, they can make you “roar” with pleasure when taken at between 50 and 60 degree Celcius.
This is not an alcoholic beverage for you to drown your sorrows in, for sake is most memorable when matched with good food.
Kampachi’s astounding buffet spread had the perfect matches for all the nine brews.
One of the masterfully brewed sake is the Taketsuru Junmai by Taketsuru who is the 14th generation master in his family.
Masaki pointed out that this was a six-year-old sake and unlike the others, which were clear or cloudy and pale, Taketsuru Junmai has a yellow-brown hue.
Its age is reflected in its deeper, more sombre and earthy taste when the others are floral, fruity or astringent.
Paired with snow crab claws, served cold in Kampachi’s buffet, this sake yields a flavour that will make you close your eyes.
Your other senses also retreat from the world while all yourconsciousness focuses on what your tongue is reading.
The married flavour of snow crabs and Taketsuru Junmai issurreal and beyond denotation.
This event, “Kanpai! With Sake Masters”, is a yearly tradition of the hotel, and only a privileged few will get to attend.
Among those present this year were Japan’s consul-general to Penang, Kiyoshi Itoi and hotel general manager Rayner Simon.
“The sophistication of sake inspired us to keep the event exclusive.
“We don’t want a ballroom-scale revelry because we wantour guests to get up-close with the sake masters,” said the hotel sales and marketing director Rina Mariani.
To stand by for next year’sinstalment to meet sake masters, keep an eye on the dining and entertainment promotions in penang.equatorial.com.
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