James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

We’ll Have the Sake He’s Having

We’ll Have the Sake He’s Having

Sake in Vancouver

It’s the end of a long, stressful week. I’m fucking exhausted and spent, on multiple levels. If it were summer, I’d be clamoring for a cold pint and a sunny patio. But it’s not. The aggressive West Coast winds are just chilly enough to remind me there are a few months of winter left. This evening, I just want some good food and a warm bottle of sake, or nihonshu, as my relatives call it.

Wiping rain off our faces, my wife, Chantal, and I walk into Suika, in the Fairview area of Vancouver. Classic but a bit experimental, this Japanese joint evokes memories of humid childhood summers spent in the mountainous province of Yamanashi, Japan, where my mother is from. We sit down, and much to my wife’s annoyance I immediately start browsing the sake and wine list. They have an impressive range of Japanese sakes, but the one that catches my eye is a local Junmai sake, a clean, slightly dry rice wine, great with the sushi and white fish we’re having tonight.

This drink has always held an elusive, almost sacred feeling for me. As a young boy, sake was the first alcoholic drink I ever tasted, given to me in the shadows by my red-faced Japanese uncle, Shigetaka, away from the attentive eyes of my mother. Over the years, I’ve drunk sake from boxes, wine glasses, and, in my misspent youth, straight from a hefty bottle, or ishobin (those memories are a beautiful blur). But tonight, I’ll be drinking my sake from the traditional small shot-glass-like cups called choko. (For the record, you never shoot sake—never.)

The sake I choose is a pioneer of sorts in Canada. Brewed only blocks away in Granville Island, Artisan SakeMaker is the first boutique sake-maker in the country that grows their own rice (18 acres in the Fraser Valley). Founder Masa Shiroki left his government job at the youthful age of 50 to pursue the craft of sake-making. His sakes have won numerous awards and catalyzed a small, but growing industry here in Canada.

Masa’s sake is warm but not too hot, a balance of sweet and dry, giving me more of a heady high than traditional wine. I breathe in the fumes and take another sip. I pop some uni in my mouth and it’s bliss. Pure fucking bliss.

Chantal smiles at me with a slightly disgusted look on her face. “Are you having an orgasm?” she asks.

I smile and nod my head and slowly. I take another steamy sip and with each tiny cup, the week’s worth of emotional weight dissolves, becoming a dusty, distant memory.


Suika

1626 W Broadway, Vancouver, BC V6J1X8, Canada
Opening hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m, 5:30-11:30 p.m.

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