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May 8 2010

Japanese sake and table salt

Many people know table salt is used in margharitas and tequila based cocktails but perhaps not many people know that salt is sometimes used when drinking Japanese sake (nihonshu).

Sake is sometimes served in a wooden box, called a “masu”.

Sake Masu and Salt

Sake in a Masu with Salt

Sometimes this box is filled with sake and sometimes a glass or cup is placed in the box and the glass is filled to overflowing with nihonshu. The overflowed sake fills up the box and the idea is you drink from the glass and then you can top up the glass with the “spilled”, “bonus” sake in the box.

Occasionally you might get served the masu and sake with a small pile of salt near the corner (kind of as in the picture, although technically the salt should be a little further away from the corner for reasons I will explain in a second…ok…now).

The sake is drunk from the box at the corner (to avoid it spilling all over you) and the salt is placed so it just touches the corner of your lips so you get more sake than salt (if the salt was on the corner you’d get all of it in one go).

Salt is a “purifier” in Japan, to keep away bad spirits, and also for good luck, so you often see it on the floor in small saucers just outside the doors of restuarant (to attract customers), or when you come back from a funeral you throw salt over your shoulders.

This is a possible reason for the use of salt on the masu although according to esake.com in their excellent newsletter about “Masu and Salt”, old sake (i.e. the stuff drunk years ago, not the stuff you find at the back of your drinks cabinet) was stronger and sweeter than it is now, and the salt helps to make it easier to drink.

Salt is sometimes mixed with nihonshu (and mirin) in Japanese recipes, (for example this :Sake Salmon Fillet recipe uses sake and kosher salt).

Some of my favourite sakes are:
Kimoto Hanahato Junmaishu
Kara Tanba


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