Otsumami

We finally got the leisure to try that instant noodles cup, labeled “ビールに良く合う焼きそば” (literally “fried noodles that pair nicely with beer”) that had been sitting on top of our fridge forever.

Strong curry aromas, paprika, ginger, garlic, with the most average instant noodles one can ask for. Did it live up to its claim? Let’s put it this way: Many things go well with beer too. It’s just marketing! The trick that never grows old!

Speaking of which, we have jovially entered the beer-anytime season again. Ah, how I miss my Biergarten days. There was Biergarten after work before sunset, then there was Biergarten after supper when the night had fallen. Gulping away from that heavy Maß, under the big shade tree with causally hung lightings… The party might be different each time, big or small, but Biergarten is a no-brainer for whoever had the time to spare.

It’s funny that I don’t recall on the table having any snack or food but the massive Maßkrüge and their steady refilling. Guess I was still young enough to tolerate drinking without stuffing my stomach eh. Ugh, those were the days.

And in Japan, you might commonly hear in an izakaya or a restaurant the phrase “とりあえずビール,” meaning literally “beer for now,” when customers order their first drink. Recently I heard that next to this common expression, there are “とりあえず枝豆” (edamame) and “とりあえず唐揚げ” (karaage/ fried chicken), drawing the conclusion that (in the speaker’s opinion) edamame and karaage are the ultimate routine otsumami to beer across the country.

True, these two are the standard items in most izakaya here, but do they make the best otsumami?

You might get varied answers depending on which region you ask that question. For example, Osaka residents will tell you that donpeiyaki (とん平焼き; the Kansai version, omelet-looking okonomiyaki that usually contains pork ribs, egg and cabbage) is the second-to-none choice. In Hokkaido, you will get tempura asparagus and zanki (ざんき; the northern equivalent of karaage). In Kyoto you will hear it is manganji-tougarashi (万願寺とうがらし; a Kyoyasai/ heirloom vegetable used in traditional Kyoto cuisine); in Okinawa, tempura fish, sweet potato and mozuku (モズク; a type of seaweed found in Okinawa)… And the list goes on and around the 47 prefectures.

Such difference in opinions in tastes reminds me of a talk of recent about applying science to settle common food-related controversies. By using a taste sensor machine that imitates human’s sensory processing, the levels of the five basic tastes in food, namely sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and umami, are analyzed and represented in numbers. Apparently the higher the total score the machine gives, the “better” the taste that food ought to have, scientifically.

Some of the food in question included tempura dipped in salt or tentsuyu (天つゆ; a soya sauce-based dipping), pasta in carbonara or meat sauce, and shabushabu with sesame dressing or ponzu (vinegar-based dressing). These are admittedly fun topics for friendly arguments over drinks. In my opinion, however, whichever choice one prefers is just a matter of personal preferences – giving everything a score and throwing answers in your face in the name of science can sort of kill all the fun, don’t you think?

*For those who are interested, the results were 1.) tempura with salt; 2.) pasta in carbonara sauce and 3.) shabushabu with sesame dressing.

And my laisse faire attitude extends beyond choices of dressings and applies shamelessly to any drink pairing. Wine, beer, whiskey or anything in a glass, don’t be shy to pair it with whatever you feel like, think it might be right, or want to experiment with. While there can be guidelines, lots of times, as I always say, outcome of the food pairing really depends on the mood, atmosphere, or even craving of certain things at that moment.

That said, there are still basics to wine pairing that many of you might know better than I do, so I don’t plan on embarrassing myself here by explicitly naming lengthy personal opinions. But the rule of thumb is, to choose food that could match the weight of the wine, for example a bodied wine with a heavier, tasteful dish, while bearing the sweetness, acidity and bitterness (tannin) of the wine in mind.

Another aspect, which I consider equally important, is that which element is desired to be the highlight: Is that the wine, the food, or the overall impression? This will determine if we should choose a wine to deliberately outshine the food (e.g. a brut Riesling Sekt with a citrusy green salad), vice versa (e.g. a dry Pinot Blanc with cream-sauced fish dish), or a wine that would balance and completes the meal (e.g. a Cabernet Sauvignon with a chunky steak).

Last thing, also essential, and is probably the easiest to do, is to match the wine with food from that region. The terror and climate nurture the grapes as well as other regional produce at the same time, and naturally their profiles should complement each other. Think about Italian wines and Italian food, where both tend to be more acidic in general but would work so pleasantly when consumed together. Makes sense right?

Still, under this 35-degree weather, ice cold beer is the only thing on my mind. Five o’clock now, maybe it’s a good time to sit outside for a drink? 

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