["Sakana," "Tsumami," and "Ate"]

The words "sake no sakana," "sake no tsumami," and "sake no ate" are frequently used in izakaya (Japanese style pubs) and restaurants, as well as in daily evening meals. Although these words are usually used to mean the same kind of "food that goes well with sake," they are strictly speaking slightly different and have three different etymologies.

The oldest name that can be confirmed in literature is "sakana (side dishes)." The Hitachinokuni Fudoki, a geographical record of Hitachinokuni (present-day Ibaraki Prefecture) compiled in the early Nara period (710-794), describes the lifestyle of people in the early 8th century and their perception of the time. In the first place, in Japan, side dishes (greens) eaten while drinking sake were called "sakana." Later, the kanji character "肴," meaning "dishes to be served with sake," was introduced from China, and "sakana" came to be expressed with the character "肴." In other words, all dishes served with sake are "side dishes." Until around the Muromachi period (1333-1573), the word "sakana" did not seem to specifically refer to seafood, but since many of the dishes served as side dishes contained fish meat, it is said that fish, which was called "uwo (fish)" in ancient times, came to be called "sakana" around the Edo period (1603-1868), when the word "side dish" was changed to "fish".

"Tsumami" was a type of "snack" that could be picked and eaten with one's hands, and was distinguished from others by the kanji character for "摘," or dried salt and shellfish, fruits, and nuts, which were called "tsumamimono." Through the Nara period (710-794) and into the Heian period (794-1185), the term "tsumami" became common, with the polite word "o" added. Today, simple foods that can be picked up by hand, such as edamame (green soybeans) and surume (dried squid), are called "tsumami" or "otsumami." Also, so-called finger foods, small dishes that can be picked up with the fingers, such as canapés in France and pintxos with skewers or toothpicks in Spain, may be classified as "tsumami" in Japanese.

Then, "ate" is a Kansai dialect centering on the Kinki region. It is not clear when and how the word "ate" originated, but in the "Osaka Shikka Fudoki" written in 1814 as a guide to the city of Osaka, it is mentioned that snacks were called "ate". The word "ate" comes from "a dish to be served with sake." Of course, it is to be eaten with sake, but it often refers to light dishes such as small bowls of food, small dishes, and delicacies that are served as appetizers.

As you can see, although times and places have changed, we Japanese have long enjoyed sake and the dishes that go with it. The reason why there are various ways of saying "sakana," "tsumami," and "ate" is that food that goes well with sake is important. And I think it is because people in the Nara period thought that the opportunity to gather with others and drink sake, or the time to quietly enjoy sake alone, was essential to life itself. Delicious sake, delicious food, and favorite drinking vessels and utensils that complement both will surely add color to the moments in your life.

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