The liquor that has kept the peace in Okinawa for 450 years

Doménico Chiappe


Yasuhiro Tomari, chef at the Japanese restaurant État d'espirit, traces the legend of Awamori, and its way of maintaining good relations without weapons

"My Japan is not the one you know. Mine is further south than the one you know, closer to Taiwan. It's a little different", says Yasuhiro Tomari, chef at the État d'espirit restaurant in Okinawa, Japan. His is a region that traded with Europe, including Spain, on the old Asian routes. He says that a kingdom that lasted 450 years was built there, and, as in a fairy tale, had a different way of defending its territory. "There were no weapons", Yasuhiro says of his colourful homeland, an island surrounded by sea but without mountains.

The land was defended with awamori, an alcoholic drink drunk by locals and foreigners. "It is a spirit to share, to celebrate understanding. The spirit is matured for three years and "has a degree of maturity similar to whisky", he explains of the black malt. "Why black malt? It has a lot to do with the environment of Okinawa, which is warm and humid", he says, while preparing blue fish, "which is not found in Japanese waters, only in the archipelago of Okinawa", says the chef at Madrid Fusión Alimentos de España.

He marinates it with red malt and a rice that is also unique to Okinawa, wraps it in a leaf and steams it. "This is a good example of our culture, and it is not found in traditional Japanese cuisine". To show his difference, he also prepares a Thai rice and black rice malt. "You get a sweeter flavour that loses little with temperature. The black rice malt has a higher preservative content".

"The kingdom had no weapons, but it was a very important trading post", he continues. "With our hospitality, we offered awamori and kept the peace for a long time". Another difference from the rest of Japan: Okinawa does not produce sake. "Awamori comes from the words 'water' and 'foam', because they used to use rice foam. In Miyako, my island, there is a very specific way of drinking alcohol called otori. It consists of sharing the same bottle of alcohol with everyone when you are very poor. This is an otori toast. The toast is called campai.

Yasuhiro displays other products from Miyako Island, south of Okinawa, "where I come from". The theme of his restaurant is seawater, and he brings to Spain "Miyako water, a condiment made with seawater and rice vinegar, mixed together. It's very simple. You marinate a mollusc. I used to play on the beach and collect these molluscs and eat them. I remember it very well. I wanted to keep that memory”. Like other marine species, a sea cucumber is prepared in a similar way, by fermentation. "It is another dish with memories of my childhood”. The chef says goodbye with Spanish prawns and lifts the awamori. Campai, he says.






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