Now that Paris has slipped to the world’s second most-starred dining destination, as ranked by the Michelin Guide, it’s time to take a closer look at Japanese fare and the wine pairing possibilities.
There are 160,000 places to eat in Tokyo — that’s roughly six times more than you’ll find in metropolitan New York — and while the Michelin folks did not dine at all of them, they did find 150 restaurants worthy of a total of 191 stars (more than double Paris’ 95).
Pairing wine with Japanese food is a complicated endeavor because there are so many styles of food. Here are the seven most popular types of dining destinations, along with our wine suggestions…
1. Kaiseki — Formal Japanese dining at its best, featuring imaginative dishes and palate-awakening ingredients. Good (and expensive) wine lists are becoming more common in Tokyo, as are sommeliers to help diners with pairings.
2. Tempura — Battered and fried fish and veggies elevated to an art form. For wine, seek out a high-acid variety such as Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
3. Yakitori — Charcoal-grilled skewers of chicken and other meats. Zinfandel makes a great partner, as does a dry rose.
4. Soba Noodles — Buckwheat-flour noodles, served cold with dipping sauces or hot in broth. Match the wine to the broth or sauce. If the sauce is very spicy, you may be better off with a cold beer, which is favored by many Japanese businessmen.
5. Izakaya — Japan’s version of pub fare or “small plates.” It’s tough to find a perfect match in such a setting, so just drink what you like.
6. Street Food — You’ll find a wide array of choices, including yakitori and tempura, but ramen (a soup of noodles, pork slices and scallions in a miso broth) is king. A chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc works well.
7. Sushi — The Japanese cuisine with which Americans are most familiar… but haven’t really experienced until they’ve visited Tokyo. Sparkling wine is always the go-to choice, but with maki, seek out a fruit-forward Pinot Noir or an “unoaked” Chardonnay.