Skip the sake bombs, but continue your foray into Asian tippling with some flavorful shochu, a vodkalike alcohol distilled from a rainbow of raw foods ranging from grains to vegetables. “In Japan, people drink more shochu than sake,” said Jeremy Adler, manager of EN Japanese Brasserie(435 Hudson St at Leroy St; 212-647-9196, enjb.com), which boasts its own shochu bar. Try the Beni Otome, a smoky-tasting shochu derived from sesame seeds ($7)—and don’t worry if you can’t stop at just one glass. “I’m a wuss, but I can drink this stuff all night long and go to the gym the next morning,” Adler says. EN also hosts a daily sake tasting from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, where $18 will get you a sampling of brands newly available in the U.S., like Azure, a sake brewed from desalinated water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
For the uninitiated, the traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a source of intrigue and intimidation, with its intricate procedures defining everything from how to pick up your cup (turn it 90 degrees, so the front faces away from you) to folding your napkin. Get a taste of the ritual for $15 per person by making a reservation at East Village tea house Cha-An(230 E 9th St, second floor; 212-228-8030, chaanteahouse.com). The half-hour ceremony includes matcha, an earthy-tasting tea made of finely ground green tea leaves, and special Japanese sweets.
If the caffeine leaves you feeling peckish, head to Ippudo(65 Fourth Ave between 9th and 10th Sts; 212-388-0088, ippudony.com), the U.S. branch of “the Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara’s popular food chain. Though Chinese in origin, ramen noodles, which are made from inexpensive white flour, became popular in Japan during the food shortage following World War II. Slurp a steaming bowl of shiromaru hakata, a classic soup of ramen, pickled ginger, fried pork, boiled egg and scallions ($13).
In a 2000 poll by the Fuji Research Group, the Japanese public voted instant noodles—invented by Nissin Foods in 1958—as the best invention of the 20th century.