Amazake (pronounced ah-mah-ZAH-kay) translates to “sweet sake”. It is a creamy, thick, fermented rice drink with a rich, sweet flavor, served either chilled or warm/hot.
It was sometime in June of 2008, during a family vacation to Tokyo, that we discovered the delicious beverage – amazake.
It was late afternoon, we were exploring Narita city, ambling along the Omotesando street. We’d had lunch, unagi (eel), which was in abundance in the area because every second restaurant we passed was an unagi restaurant. Later, I found out that unagi is the specialty in the restaurants of Narita city, hence its ubiquitousness. Duh. After several hours of browsing through a multitude of souvenier stores, resisting the Japanese snacks and other tchotchkes, we were ready to get off our feet and quench our thirst.
The entrance to the Miyoshiya Tea Room was unassuming, a narrow path, almost an alley, between two shophouses. The path starts off dark, but once you traversed it, you emerged into a light-filled open area, a Japanese garden, populated with wooden tables and benches. We were the only ones then, and luxuriated in the silence. The sound of a bubbling brook persisted in the background. Zen. Really.
We sat at one of the tables, the five of us, and asked for an English menu. The proprietor, with her limited English, pointed at one of the items on the menu which consisted of hand drawn food items, and we said yes, why not? Minutes later, she placed trays in front of us, each tray consisted of a cup with a white porridge-like concoction, another cup with tea, two smaller saucers – one with a little ginger, the other with pickles and another little ceramic container to hold the stirrer brush thingy.
I lifted the cup of amazake to my lips, took a small sip (it was below boiling) and let the indescribable flavour wash through me. Though it was June, the winds were cool that evening, and the warmth of the amazake was a welcomed respite. I added the ginger to it, and drank it. I tried it with the pickled umeboshi (plum), and loved it then too. In fact, my entire family was amazed that we hadn’t heard of this drink before.
I’ve had the lucky opportunity of having amazake at this tea room twice since then, the last time in 2017. I managed to find an organic store nearer to home that sells amazake and tried to make the concoction on my own, but it didn’t taste quite the same. Perhaps I needed to be in a Japanese garden to enjoy it.
Amazake, every time I think of it, I remember that last family trip we had to Tokyo, just the five of us.