Japanese Delights: From Kanpai to Umeshu


An all too brief meeting recently, with a dear friend returning to Japan, has left me a little richer in ‘spirit’. Along with lunch and affection, I received from her a hamper of Japanese goodies. One of those, served chilled, is what I sip while I write this post. This is a first for me, sharing an experience even as I savour it…

Called Umeshu, this is a traditional fruit liqueur which is aged with the whole ume fruit, its extract, and spirits. The pickled ume, visible in the bottle, appears to be a cross between a plum and an apricot, is neither, and has a citrusy flavour to it. Since the language on the label is, well, Japanese to me, the only recognisable feature is a heart warming 14% lost amongst the sea of kanji. The effects of which number are manifesting themselves in the best possible way.

I learn that only the finest, fully ripened ume are picked and preserved within a day of harvesting. Then, a year of natural fermentation, extracts from them the delicate sweetness, and juice-like fruity flavor that I am relishing right now. A few sips into the drink will soon get your olfactory sense used to the overwhelmingly sour aroma, which dissipates, in any case.

Considered a healthy drink by the Japanese, it has found mention in ancient documents related to pharmacy, soon after it was introduced from China in 500 AD. Its medicinal properties are many and it was recognized, way back in the 17th century, as an agent that arrests accumulation of phlegm, relieves sore throats, improves appetite as well as dissolves poisons.

The list of benefits is long and frankly….now back to enjoying my delightful umeshu unhindered. Kanpai!

Puneet Sidhu
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu, travel enthusiast and the author of Adrift: A junket junkie in Europe is the youngest of four siblings born into an aristocratic family of Punjab. Dogged in her resistance to conform, and with parental pressure easing sufficiently over the years, she had plenty of freedom of choice. And she chose travel.

She was born in Shimla, and spent her formative years at their home, Windsor Terrace, in Kasumpti while schooling at Convent of Jesus & Mary, Chelsea. The irrepressible wanderlust in her found her changing vocations midstream and she joined Singapore International Airlines to give wing to her passion. She has travelled extensively in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, South Africa and SE Asia; simultaneously exploring the charms within India.

When she is not travelling, she is writing about it. Over the past decade or so, she has created an impressive writing repertoire for herself: as a columnist with Hindustan Times, as a book reviewer for The Tribune and as a contributor to travel magazines in India and overseas. Her work-in-progress, the documenting of colonial heritage along the Old Hindustan-Tibet Road, is an outcome of her long-standing romance with the Himalayas.
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