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Yuntako the Italian bitter made from goya, the super vegetable of the centenarians of Okinawa

Yuntaku it is the first Japanese bitter inspired by Okinawan culture, but also the first ethnic one on the world market. And, again, the first based on goya, a sort of bitter melon rich in antioxidants which can only be found on the Japanese island with a tropical climate. Over there – one of the world’s Blue Zones, where centenarians are concentrated – it is consumed regularly. The «best friends for 15 years» Benedetta Santinelli And Simone Rachetta – long experience in beverage and in the management of venues and events – discovered its existence right there, in their beloved Japan, during one of their trips in 2019. «It was served by a lady who was certainly much older than she seemed, in a stall, to the inhabitants in line and we decided to taste it”, they say. Result: «Very bitter». But since you always take a memory with you from your travels, they purchased some seeds. Which, upon returning, Simone’s mother decided to plant in the Marche region. And since she has a green thumb, magic: the plants grew luxuriantly, until even the goyas ripened. Meanwhile, how could we forget, the pandemic arrived, which Benedetta and Simone spent “doing experiments”, drying and mixing the precious exotic ingredient. Up to the intuition: «use it in a new amaro», a sector in which Italy is notoriously the undisputed queen, mixing it with other oriental ingredients including galangal, Sichuan pepper, ginger, jasmin tea, sour cherry, hibiscus and green cardamom. After several tests, they returned to Japan to taste it where it all began – in a certain sense to close the circle – and “they liked it very much”.

The bottle of Yuntaku, with the precious goya on the label

And here we are: Yuntaku has been on the market since January 2023, has a magnificent bittering note and gives its best when served cold between 3 and 5 degrees, “preferably without ice” (in the best wine shops, online and in about a month at La Rinascente , at a recommended price of 37-38 euros). As well as in cocktails, so much so that it is already among the favorites of several bartenders, as well as on the menu of 500 restaurants. Among these, the Milanese Bentoteca of Yoji Tokuyoshi, born on the island of Honshu in 1977, former sous chef of Massimo Bottura. An absolute culinary genius – his Italian cuisine based on Japanese ingredients is very popular at the Alter Ego in Tokyo – with whom, during the pandemic, he decided to give up the star of the Tokuyoshi restaurant to transform it into a new idea of fine dining. In short, it doesn’t seem exactly a coincidence that these two beautiful stories with incredible common traits crossed paths, until the dinner on May 16th on the common thread of Yuntaku, where we were lucky enough to be present.

Tuna in oyster shell.  Yoji Tokuyoshi's dish was paired with the Scents of Okinawa cocktail

Tuna in oyster shell. Yoji Tokuyoshi’s dish was paired with the Scents of Okinawa cocktail (Yuntaku, Nikka Gin, Yuzu Sake, passion fruit)

On the menu: Tuna variations; Takoyaki, eel Yakitori, octopus, lotus flowers, calamari and pea tartlets; Veal tongue katsusando; Soba with seared tuna; Horse diaphragm with sansho pepper sauce and Yuntak; Yuntaku cheesecake. All served in pairing with cocktails by Marco Masiero – F&B of ISSEI Milan, Radisson Hotel Santa Sofia. Namely: Scents of Okinawa (Yuntaku, Nikka Gin, Yuzu Sake, passion fruit); Katana Gimlet (Yuntaku, Rice Shrub, Jasmine tea, Grapefruitmousse); Umami highball Yuntaku (Raspberries & Shitake Cordial, pink grapefruit soda). The good news is that it’s just the first stop of the tour: you can relive the incredible experience at the Roman restaurant Retrobottega by Alessandro Miocchi and Giuseppe Lo Iudice, next June 6th. And a further appointment is scheduled for October.

Source: Vanity Fair

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