A Taste of Tokyo: Food and Spirit Pairings


Tokyo, home of the 2020 Olympics, is not only a beautiful city, but also a culinary traveller’s dream. Photo: Courtesy of Go Tokyo

 If you’re watching the Olympics, you will have Japan on your mind, and should have it on your bucket list as well, especially if you enjoy culinary travel. The island nation will fulfil that dream. But in Canada, we’re fortunate to have many chefs who have brought their Japanese cuisine to our shores. 

Aburi Hana in Toronto
Aburi Hana in Toronto, pictured above, serves Kyō-Kaiseki cuisine, which originates from Kyoto, Japan. Note: Since this photo was taken, plexiglass barriers have been added at the counter for COVID-19 measures. Photo: Paula Wilson


Take for example, Executive Chef Ryusuke Nakagawa, of Toronto’s Aburi Hana – Aburi Restaurants has a variety of restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver.  This includes the flagship restaurant Miku, along with Minami, Gyoza Bar and the newest addition Aburi To-Go.  In Vancouver, his first outpost is Japanese Grocerant. Nakagawa has also brought in Suntory Whisky Toki and Roku Gin, both made by the House of Suntory. 

“Creating Japanese cuisine in Canada is a dream. I have such a plethora of beautiful ingredients readily available to me from the west to east coast of this diverse country,” he says. “Beyond ingredients, I’m constantly inspired by the multitude of different flavours, food stories, and people that keep my imagination ignited.”

Chef Ryusuke Nakagawa also gives his take on using spirits, rather than wine, for food pairings, as well as a few recipes to try at home.

“I love pairing spirits with my food because it surprises and delights diners since it’s usually unexpected,” he says. “Spirits have just as much complexity and versatility as wine and it can elevate the dining experience to a whole other level.”

Roku Ginza Gin Fizz 

Roku Gin Fizz Cocktail
Photo: Huy Tran



1oz roku gin
1oz yuzu sake
4oz club soda
.5oz honey syrup (can be substituted with simple syrup)
3 shiso leaves
1 egg white (foamed)
.5oz green tea
4 cubes of ice
Edible blossom and twig or swizzle stick 


1. Muddle 2 shiso leaves 

2. Pour in liquids and dry shake vigorously 

3. Add ice and shake again 

4. Fine strain into chilled Collins glass 

5. Take remaining shiso leaf and wrap around edible blossom 

6. Spear the shiso leaf and edible blossom with twig or swizzle stick and place horizontally across lip of collins glass as garnish 


Deep Fried Cod With Almonds 

Photo: Huy Tran



1 tara (cod) fillet
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg
40g flour
150g crushed almond slices
Oil for frying (cod) – enough to fill 1/3 of your pan
30ml oil for frying spinach leaves
50g grated daikon radish
30ml ponzu
60g cubed cucumber (1cm pieces)
60g turnip (1cm pieces)
20g umeboshi paste
10g vinegar
1g sugar
4g olive oil
7g miso
15g spinach
1g anori powder 


1. Pat dry 1 tara (cod) filet and season with salt and pepper

2. Rub flour, egg, and crushed almond slices all over the cod

3. Fill pan about 1/3 deep with oil and place cod filet in when oil is hot

4. Fry the cod at 180°C turning once, until fully cooked inside

5. Remove from pan and let rest on rack or paper towel to absorb excess oil

6. Daikon Ponzu Sauce: mix the grated daikon radish and ponzu

7. Cucumber and Turnip Plum Miso Vinaigrette: combine the diced cucumber and turnip with the Ume Sauce (Umeboshi paste already mixed with vinegar, sugar, olive oil and miso)

8. Spinach Chips: pat dry the spinach leaves and fry in pan with oil until slightly browned 


1. Spread the Daikon Ponzu Sauce on the plate and cover surface area the same size as the fish 

2. Place cod on top of this 

3. Spoon a generous amount of cucumber and turnip vinaigrette over the fish 

4. Drape fried spinach over the ends of the fish 

5. Sprinkle Anori powder over the fish and around the plate


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