Written and illustrated by Misa Ono
Okinawa is a tropical island city located in south of Japan and its average temperature is around 20 degrees. Their food is very unique such as sea grapes, peanut tofu, stir-fried bitter melon, slow-cooked pork belly and more! Especially a dish called “Tofuyo” is mouthwatering. Tofuyo is Okinawa’s firm tofu that has been dried and fermented with rice koji mold, monascus and awamori (sake in Okinawa). It is red and in the shape of a dice. When you bite it, the rice flavor explodes inside your mouth tasting like cheese or foie gras. Moreover, if you add awamori in your mouth with it, oh my… amazing♡
Well, now, let’s start to talk about the main subject, Awamori. Awamori is shochu featured in Okinawa with major alcohol content of 25, 30 and 43%. The main ingredients are long-grained Indica (crushed) rice and black koji that is capable of the warm climate and produce a lot of citric acids. The first preparation is the same as shochu; steaming rice, growing koji mold, adding water and the yeast, and fermenting it to make moromi. While in the second preparation of shochu making it is fermented again, awamori skips this step and it is distilled and adjusted with water to the right taste. The nouveau awamori is strong in alcohol smell and rough in taste. However, as it is rested and aging, the flavor and taste become smoother and richer. Aged awamori that is rested for more than 3 years is called “kusu” and it is considered to be valuable.
However, it doesn’t mean you can leave awamori untouched for over 3 years to make a good kusu. It just goes bad. So what do you do? The method is continuously blending it with awamori of younger age. Several containers that contain awamori of different ages are arranged. When you extract a fraction of awamori from the oldest one which is the most delicious, this will be filled up with awamori from the second oldest one. And this second oldest one will be filled up with awamori from the third oldest one… In this way, the liquor continues being blended and keeps its best flavor all the time. I want to try this method at home if I can.
In Okinawa, there is lemon-like fruit called shekwasha. This shekwasha eases the strong alcohol smell of awamori and makes it easy for people to drink. How to drink awamori depends on people’s preference but usually drinking it with water, ice, tea or juice. It is recommended to drink a good awamori by itself. In the hot summer time, sipping awamori on the rocks is such a special moment.