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Showcasing the bounty of Japan's Ishikawa
ISHIKAWA - well known for its hot springs, rugged landscapes and of course, pristine seafood from the western coast of Japan - came together in a neat package at a recent dinner hosted by Kenjiro "Hatch" Hashida at his eponymous restaurant in Mandarin Gallery.
Singaporeans are a lot more familiar with Tsukiji market or Sapporo market in Hokkaido, but not as many may have found their way to Omicho Market in Kanazawa, spilling over with local bounty that will find their way to the city's top sushi restaurants, at a fraction of the price in Tokyo. Hence the efforts of the prefecture to raise awareness of the bounty to be found there, and the other attractions in the area.
Ishikawa is one of the more active prefectures in Singapore, holding regular events to promote their produce, so it was only natural for them to link up with a high-end Japanese restaurant to present its highlights on a plate. Hashida's chefs didn't disappoint, with a roll call of seasonal appetisers to sashimi platters and the highlight - Koubako crab or "box" crab which are female snow crabs indigenous to Ishikawa and prized for their fleshy meat and roe that are packed tightly into their shells.
The food was paired with Ishikawa's famed Tengumai sake from Shata Brewery, which is run by eighth-generation owner and president Kazunari Shata, who was at the restaurant to showcase both Tengumai and his Gorin label, which was created 10 years ago to appeal to a younger crowd. The latter is a new sake concept which, like wine, has good acidity that makes it a better match with food; this higher level of acidity is achieved with higher temperature during fermentation.
In turn, Tengumai - which literally translates to "heavenly dog dancing" - follows the classic Yamahai brewing style, using natural lactic acid instead of commercially produced ones. Less than 10 per cent of the nearly 2,000 sake breweries in Japan use this method, as it is more laborious and takes twice as long. Also, while sake - like beer - is brewed to be drunk fresh or within the year, handcrafted Tengumai sakes are aged between one and eight years. At dinner, guests got to sample Gorin Junmai Daiginjo with the appetisers, and its Jumai Ginjo Kimoto with the sashimi platter. The last dish of nodokuro or black sea perch with rice was paired with Tengumai "Toki" Junmai Daiginjo.
Water is the foundation of all good sake, and Ishikawa has lots of it, which makes it a premier onsen destination. Kaga Onsen district is a veritable Orchard Road of hot springs, with hordes of tourists from overseas as well as around Japan making a beeline for both the public baths as well as high-end ryokans for their regular soaks.
Meanwhile, handicraft lovers will be in their element in Ishikawa, home to some of the best ceramic craftsmen in Japan. So if you think you know everything about Japan, Ishikawa and other prefectures are there to prove that you've barely cracked the surface.