Joy of Sake: What to eat, what to sip

It’s the world’s biggest sake-tasting celebration outside Japan, people, and it happens right here in Honolulu. Joy of Sake is this Friday, a record 360 premium sake set out for as much self-serve tasting as anyone can manage in 2.5 hours.

Having been to the Joy for two years running, and having been tasting much more sake than usual (for educational purposes), I have some tips for anyone going for the first time:

Tip 1. Forget about trying 360 sake. Forget about even coming close. Just focus on finding sake you like.

Tip 2. Every sake comes with a 10-ml pipette for sampling: Don’t fill it. Just squirt enough into your cup for a taste. This way you’ll get to sample more, without getting stuck with a mouthful of something you might not like. If a sake makes you fall in love, go back for more.

Tip 3. Hundreds of sake can be overwhelming. Pick a category that intrigues you and start tasting there. After a few minutes, pick another table, repeat. You’ll see. The main ones:

Daiginjo: Elegant, complex, often fruity, very aromatic. Always the most expensive because it uses the best ingredients and takes the most care. A good intro.

Ginjo: A relatively new category that’s popular in Japan. Smooth, with aromas of fruit and flowers, great balance. Easy drinking.

Junmai: What Joy organizer Chris Pearce calls “the sake of the farmer and the fisherman.” My favorite. Full-flavored, clean, good body, less aroma. Goes well with rich, hearty foods.

Tip 4. Write down the names of sake you love. Your best bets for finding them later: Sake Shop (sells about 150 labels) and Genius Lounge (serves about 50 different sake, at last count). Marukai, Fujioka’s Wine Times, Wine Stop, Don Quijote and Tamura’s also sell sake.

Tip 5. Eat. There are 16 restaurants this year, another record, because Joy of Sake was created as a big celebration. Some people like sake by itself, some like it with food. You get to have it both ways.

For a sneak peek at most dishes coming up this Friday, see the gallery below. The other dishes are right underneath it. And since every dish is sake-friendly, I asked Pearce for his best pairing suggestions.

One more thing: After covering the Joy of Sake for Nonstop the last two years, with enough giddiness to compose my own bad haikutwice — the Joy this year asked me to work for them (hence my sake education efforts), and you might have noticed they also bought ad space on Nonstop.

That’s it, then. And no more haiku. Here’s your 411:

When: Friday, July 20, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: Pier 2 Cruise Terminal, 521 Ala Moana Blvd. (foot of Channel Street across Ala Moana Boulevard from Restaurant Row)
Parking: On-site valet, metered stalls on Channel and in Foreign Trade Zone, lot on Channel
Cost: $80

Joy of Sake

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Tako carpaccio with wasabi-style vinaigrette

Suggested pairing: Ginjo

More dishes from:

Kampachi tartare with orange-shallot jam, edamame guacamole, sake lees tahini
Suggested pairing: Ginjo

Deep-fried smelt in chilled tangy sauce with pickled vegetable garnish
Suggested pairing: Junmai or ginjo

Banzai Sushi Bar
Ribeye steak, enoki mushroom and asparagus wrapped in yuba and served in wafu-dashi fondue
Suggested pairing: Daiginjo B

Umami Cafe
Temaki hand-rolls: lobster, spicy ahi and California
Suggested pairing: Ginjo

Marian’s Island Wide Catering
Glazed tender pork riblets served on sesame moyashi with horseradish aioli
Suggested pairing: Junmai, especially one with a high umami or high acidity and umami content