All about sambai, the hip Japanese vinegar

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With sushi rice, in sweet and sour vegetables or in marinades and dressings: rice vinegar can be used in countless ways. Yet the popular traditional stuff has been competing for some time: from sambai, to be precise. That’s a trendy Japanese vinegar that appears on more and more menus and is as tasty as it is mysterious.

Time to find out all about it.

What is samba?

Okay okay, sambai – officially sambai-zu – isn’t quite a competitor to the rice vinegar; it is a sauce with rice vinegar as a base. The basic ingredients are pure rice vinegar, bonito broth or dashi , soy sauce and mirin . Bonito is a fish also known as skipjack tuna.

Often the basic ingredients are supplemented with other seasonings, such as salt, sugar and other rice wines. Oh, and of course MSG (ve-tsin).

Due to the sourness of the rice vinegar and the sweetness of the mirin, sambai has a strong, sweet-sour taste. Extra nice: if you prefer it a bit more sour, sweeter or saltier, you can simply adjust the proportions.

Because sambai-zu is made from fairly readily available ingredients, you can make it yourself. There are plenty of recipes for that! Bonito broth can then be replaced with dashi.

Make your own sambai zu

Do you want to make this sauce yourself? Mix one part rice vinegar, one part soy sauce, one part mirin and one part dashi together, possibly with additional ingredients. Bring to the boil briefly in a saucepan. This cooking ensures that the alcohol evaporates and that any added sugar dissolves properly.

What do you use it for?

Sambai vinegar can be used for even more purposes than regular rice vinegar, mainly because of the variety of flavors it contains. Unlike rice vinegar, you can easily serve it separately, for example as a dipping sauce for sushi or dumplings.

Prefer to process it somewhere? Sambai goes well with (raw or fried) fish and many vegetables, but you can also use it as a seasoning in your ramen.

We found this recipe for grilled fish in sambai , and this ramen with sambai-zu and duck also sounds fantastic. It also works well as part of a dressing for a shrimp salad, for example.

Multifunctional, you might say. In other words, wait until this becomes your new  go-to sauce for any Asian dish.

Source: Culy by
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