Siem Reap’s first sake bar, Anji, opened in The Lane on Sunday September 28 with a mission to introduce traditional sake to non-Japanese palates.
With a selection of sakes from Kyoto – the home of the eponymous co-owner Anji Nakatani – the bar features sake-based cocktails and Japanese finger food that will be served tapas style.
Owner Anji aims to bring together lovers of the rice wine, old and new, in the intimate modern bar. For those who wish to stay with things Japanese, but whose palates are less tickled by sake, then Sapporo beer will also be available.
Anji Nakatani is not new to Cambodia and is known in Phnom Penh for his popular yakitori restaurants, Jidaiya and Jidaiya 63st, which he opened over the last year. The busy chef also owns five restaurants in Kyoto. The expansion to Siem Reap has been undertaken with his business partners and fellow epicureans, Yoshihiko Arai, who also has a restaurant in Kyoto, and Masaaki Inoue, who worked for a sake brewer in Kyoto and also for Sapporo Breweries Ltd.
Although sake is commonly referred to as a rice wine, it is actually brewed in a manner similar to beer. But instead of cereal grains, the base ingredient is steamed rice. It can be drunk at room temperature or warmed, depending on the flavour of the sake, which can be quite variable.
“There are 47 prefectures in Japan, and sake is produced in 46 of them,” said Nakatani, “It is produced by brewers that work in a similar way to the French Chateau arrangement for wine production, and like wines they all taste different.”
There aren’t many strict rules about which sake goes with what, but some preferences will be revealed at Anji.
“One of our sakes is made a bit sweet, with like a Japanese lime flavour, and this is good to increase the appetite and it is nice before a meal. There is another sake with a whitish colour, not clear like the other sakes, and this is usually good after a meal,” said Nakatani.
The bar will also feature sake-based cocktails, including a ‘sakanic’ – sake with tonic – and sakatini.
Anji hopes this will make it easier for those unfamiliar with the drink to approach it in a style that they are able to relate to more easily.
Alternatively, guests can also sample sakes from a small tasting menu.
Anji came to Cambodia a year and a half ago, and has been busy in Phnom Penh ever since.
“After I came to Cambodia the first time, I knew I wanted to be here,” he said. “I want to build a foundation here that others can build on in the future. I want to teach more about Japan in Cambodia, and more about Cambodia in Japan.
“I think that coming from Japan gives me a responsibility to give to other parts of Asia, because Japan is the first country in the region to develop and is the most developed country here.”