“Sakana” (sake snacks) are food morsels, pairing particularly well with sake, in traditional Izakaya culture.
These two (Okizuke firefly squid and Onozakura nihonshu) would have had very little chance to meet in the past!
Okizuke firefly squids 沖漬けホタルいか are “drowned” in sake/millin and Shoyu (soy sauce) right after their capture in high seas. They don’t travel well, and present certain health hazards (decaying entrails and a parasite worm). Although freezers solved both issues, they remain quite rare on shelves (compared to the poached version). For a Youtube video about the process, you may click here.
Meanwhile, Onozakura 小野桜is a confidential sake brand from the Ura Kiso mountains, near Nakatsugawa Juku (Gifu Prefecture). The production is managed by Ohga san, a passionate energetic sake retailer located in Nakatsugawa, more precisely in the heart of this particularly well preserved historic town welcoming travelers on the Nakasendo.
An old section of Nakasendo, Yamauchi Shuzou, Ohga san’s sake shop
This 1300-year old way was one of the two critical roads connecting Kyoto and Edo. It cuts through the mountain range in Honshu’s heartland, while the other one, Tokkaido, is following the coastline. Without any prior brewing experience, Ohga san saved Yamauchi Shuzou from closing a few years ago, in absence of a successor for the brewery.
A “jizake” (literally, local sake), Onozakura would not have travelled far, and has been traditionally designed to be paired with local cuisine: gibier, fresh fish from local streams (or possibly preserved fish from distant shores), mountain vegetable (fresh with a nice spring bitterness in the season, or preserved for the long winter), and goheimochi (grilled rice cakes on sticks dipped in miso).
Nakao san grilling Goheimochi
This particular bottle was kindly aged 2 years by Miyata san from Kuetsu before it ended in my cellar. 2018 was my last visit to the brewery.
Pungent seafood is a bit of an acquired taste, across cultures. Fishiness is miraculously receding when the morsel is married with a robust sake though. The Okizuke firefly squid reveals an amazing texture with a slight bitterness, leaves you with the definite feeling of crunching a fresh shellfish morsel, and no strong aftertaste. It is hard to stop after eating the first one…