Rice to the occasion

Rice sommelier Yuichi Sato wants to bring the best of his homeland to Singapore. By Jaime Ee

Published Fri, Mar 21, 2014 · 10:00 PM
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UNLIKE other sommeliers, Yuichi Sato doesn't play with pretty decanters, sniff and swirl, or expound on the differing qualities of red and white. Instead, he sifts through the contents of giant paper sacks, points out the minor differences between brown and white, and tells you that empty 1.5 litre PET bottles are his storage receptacles of choice.

Mr Sato, 32, is a rice sommelier - an unusual occupation anywhere else but certainly not in a country obsessed with the quality of just about everything, particularly this shiny, chewy staple that forms the soul of Japanese cooking. Sommeliers like him are taught to differentiate between different grades of rice, as well as the growing methods and history. There are probably about 1,000 accredited rice sommeliers in Japan, but Mr Sato is the only one in Singapore. The former banker gave up his cushy career back home two years ago to pursue his passion and create a niche he knew he could fill in Japanese food-obsessed Singapore - a demand for premium quality rice.

When he started Tawaraya as an online Japanese rice delivery service, the main sources in Singapore were supermarkets such as Meidi-ya and Isetan. While it was tough going at first (especially with the high yen at the time), he now has a steady clientele of around 75 restaurants and 1,500 online customers who have switched to his personally-chosen artisanal rice that he sources from farms in Niigata and Hokkaido.

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