Awamori

Awamori
Awamori

Smooth with a mild aroma and a distinctive deeply stimulating flavor - this is Awamori, Okinawa's special sake, made with long-grain Indian rice from Thailand fermented with black yeast in a single-distillation process. Good on the rocks or with water, many people like the "grass sake" variation of this island sake that comes with wild grasses in the bottle. In the past, Awamori played a role as "Kusuimun" (medicinal food). It was a household remedy that people kept on hand as a preventive medicine. It was given with garlic soaked in it to people who had caught a cold. For stomach pain, Awamori with green mustard or mugwort was thought useful, and it was recommended with fennel for women who suffered from cold feet and hands. Ishanakashigusa (a kind of grass) soaked in Awamori was applied as a plaster to ease aches and pains. A poisonous Habu snake caught and killed in a campaign to extirpate them from farmers' fields might very well wind up pickled in a bottle of Awamori. All sorts of things that were readily available and good for the body were steeped in Awamori.

Shikina Awamori
Shikina Awamori

Nowadays, it is the "secret ingredient" in household cooking. Awamori is essential for tenderizing and removing odor from pork, which appears on the dinner table in all sorts of dishes prepared in all sorts of ways (they say that all the pig except its oink and its toenails is used). Boiling pork two or three times to thoroughly get rid of fat and residue, then adding Awamori to eliminate odor results in tasty pork with no odor. Even served cold, the meat will be tender. Japanese sake can be substituted, but it is remarkable how different (and better!) the taste is if Awamori is used. Awamori is especially well known for its use in making "Rafute" from pork Sammai Niku (thick bacon).

Awamori is also good as a food preservative. Sprinkling salt and Awamori on top of Miso made at home will seal it up tight. During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, members of the royal family shared the dish called Tofuyo as a secret with others from certain social classes and at certain places. The roots of Tofuyo lie in a curdled milk food from China, but the use of Awamori yields a totally different product, retarding spoilage, lessening saltiness and endowing Tofuyo with a special savor and a flavor something like cheese and sea urchin - all in all, making Tofuyo a first-class and justly famous Asian cheese.

Now, a bit of digression: in the making of one of Okinawa's craft products, "Ryukyu dyed indigo," Awamori and "Mizuame" starch syrup are applied to the indigo to quicken fermentation. It seems that the Awamori brings out the true color of the indigo.