First Major Japanese Sake Company Opening on the U.S. East Coast

Why are New York bagels so renowned?

Some say it’s the water.

Is that the reason why Asahi Shuzo, the Iwakuni-based liquor company, is opening Japan’s first ever plant on the East Coast of the United States?

Nah, but according to CEO Kazuhiro Sakurai, the goal is to not only tap into the large U.S. market, but also to present sake as a great pairing for cuisines other than Japanese.

Great, now I’m envisioning bagels and sake as the new brunch mash-up for 2023.

Asahi Shuzo Hyde Park New York
Asahi Shuzo Hyde Park New York (Source: https://www.asahishuzo.ne.jp/dassaiblue/)

The seven billion yen (~$53 million) facility will be located in Hyde Park in upstate New York, close to the Culinary Institute of America, and will offer tours and tastings to the public. Furthermore, domestic sake sales in Japan have been on the decline for years, China and the United States have been two massive growth markets for the industry. Consequently, the Hyde Park brewery will have 52 5,000 liter tanks, using a type of rice called Yamadanishiki grown in Japan and Arkansas.

Interestingly, Asahishuzo has created a sake just for the North America, called Dassai Blue. The name dassai means “otter festival,” which alludes to the fact that otters used to display their catches everyday on the water’s edge. A Japanese poet by the name of Shiki Masaoka adopted the name dassai because he would scatter his papers around his room. The “blue” part of the name comes from a Japanese proverb that talks about how blue dye comes from indigo plants, although that color is even more blue than indigo itself. Thus, the idea is that child should do better in life than the parent, regarding Asahishuzo’s desire to keep creating superlative products.

Dassai Blue is a type of junmai ginjo. What does that mean? Sake is classified by how much a grain of rice is polished before brewing; roughly, the more rice is polished, the more aromatic the sake becomes. Junmai ginjo refers to sake that has been polished no less than 60%.


What’s your favorite sake, and have you tried any produced in the United States?

A Brief Food Tour of Mexico City, Part 1

As I mentioned in the latest post, Mexico City is one of my favorite cities in the world.  And how might a city enter that hall of fame?

Having good food is a start.

I’d like to share with you a few highlights from a recent trip to the world’s largest Spanish-speaking city, in what I hope will become a series documenting Mexico’s variegated cuisines.

But before we dive in, we might want to consider…

La Vacuna Restaurant, Mexico City, Mexico

“The Vaccine.”  What an unusually timely name for a restaurant.  Though, I’d say for eating out on the town, washing up with soap with suffice.

OK, let’s start with two examples of comida callejera, or street food.

Street Food Vendor Preparing Chorizo Verde on a Comal (Flat Griddle)

Green chorizo, what?!  Yes, chorizo verde was something I only discovered at a brunch buffet two years ago in the Mexican capital.  Hailing from the city of Toluca in the state of Mexico (which surrounds Mexico City on three sides), chorizo verde consists of pork, and mix of herbs, spices, and chilies.  Standard chorizo – the reddish one given a smokiness by the cayenne pepper (pimentón)  – is quite filling, so the green version allows one to…eat even more.  That’s my experience, anyway!

Tacos de Chorizo Verde, Mexico City

Chorizo verde is not one of the more common street food options, but keep a look out for it if you want an herbal, slightly lighter take on its Iberian cousin.

Having consumed just two tacos for the day, I was still feeling peckish.  Enter, one of the best food stalls I’ve seen in Mexico City, nay anywhere, in the Colonia Juárez district.

It’s easy to get distracted by the deliciousness surrounding you in a place like Mexico, yet even in that lofty position, there exist stand-outs:

An Array of Meat and Salsa (and Guacamole), Mexico City, Mexico

On the comal – a flat griddle (historically made of clay) used for centuries in Mexico -these three chefs had chorizo, campechano (a mix of beef and pork of various cuts), suadero (fried beef), carnitas (shredded pork shoulder braised in its own fat), something akin to a burger, papas (potatoes), and nopales, or cactus.  What really sold me was the “fixins’ bar” of condiments– guajillo salsa, tomatillo salsa, beans, avocado tomatillo salsa, guacamole (!), pickled carrots, onions and cilantro, and a bevy of Veracruz limes.  Wow.

What did I order?

Two chorizo tacos with melted queso para asar (grilling cheese), potatoes, and onions, and a plate of the fun stuff.  Naturally, by the time I was finished chowing everything down, I had two more plates of salsa, and three more tacos.

Time for a drink break.

Namiola in Spanish, means wave.  It’s also the name of the first brand of sake produced on Mexican soil, in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa.  Although the brewery, called Sakecul, produces three types of sake – junmai (純米 – pure rice without added alcohol/sugar), junmai ginjou (吟醸 – highly milled rice), and junmai daiginjou (大吟醸 – very highly milled rice, usually considered the top-tier of sake) – they also produce a beer called Haiku.  Nami was founded in September 2016, and can be found throughout major Mexican cities.

I sample the junmai and the daiginjou at Hiyoko, a modern yakitori restaurant in what has become the capital’s de facto Japanese barrio (neighborhood).

To top off my first review of Mexico City eats, I bring you la Señora Torres (named after the restaurant owner):

La Señora Torres, Mi Compa Chava, Mexico City, Mexico

Basically, I was searching in Spanish for popular restaurants in Mexico City, and came across Mi Compa Chava (My Pal Chava), a relative newcomer in the chic Roma Norte section of town.  It’s a seafood restaurant focusing on fresh catches from Sinaloa, the same state where the sake originated.

It’s also the home of that unbelieavable tower (torre coincidentally means “tower” in Spanish) of seafood, as shown above and below…

The edible skyscraper had layers of octopus, raw shrimp, cooked shrimp, cucumber, yellow fin tuna, red onion, avocado, and callo de hacha (scallops). Upon serving the tower, the waiter poured a blend of lime juice, charred tomatoes, Morita chilies, and a house salsa over it, returning the seafood back “to the sea.” Actually, that’s just my take on things.

The dish was a delight to conquer, and showed how fresh each ingredient could taste, in spite of being a couple of hours flight time from the Sinaloa port of Los Mochis (Mexico City is, after all the home of the largest seafood market in the country, and the largest wholesale food market in the world).


What’s that you say?  You want to see more of Mexican gastronomy?  Perhaps a churro, some tacos al pastor, or even a tour of the retail section of the wholesale food market?

I think that can be arranged.

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