Matteo arrived a little bit later than our appointment time. While waiting for him, we had time to briefly wander around the Sake Central. The place, located in PMQ, owns many bottles of sake imported from Japan that were tagged with distinctive labels. With the faint light in the store and the conversation made by two Japanese guys next to us, there was a second we thought we were somewhere in Kyoto. Matteo was born and raised in Italy and came to Hong Kong in 2017 with the passion of Sake. Italy, Japan, Hong Kong---to connect these locations together needs imagination and bravery, or just sake. Soon, Matteo entered the room with apologies for being late. He looked no different than pictures posted on Instagram: beard, broad forehead and with a sense of concentration. Sake’s market in Hong Kong and China , compared to wine and whiskey, is limited. Most bars in Asian regions do not provide sake for customers. Instead, whiskeys and wines are prevalent among daily talks. As an Italian living in Hong Kong who takes Sake as a career, curiosity on this person would never vanish.
Matteo at Sake Central (credits: Sake Central)
Q: Tell us about your career, why you chose to come to Hong Kong?
I came to Hong Kong in 2017 for a project called Sake Central. I came here to celebrate Japanese culture. In these years, our group created two bars and we just opened a new Japanese restaurant. I also take charge of spirits for Certa as a business development manager.
Q: Wow, that's impressive. So you found your interests in Sake in Italy?
Yeah I started drinking sake in 2015 and in 2016 I took the Sake courses. And moved to Hong Kong in 2017 for the project Sake Central.
Matteo pouring Amara liquor in our Zafferano Party tumbler
Q: So why Hong Kong instead of Japan?
Because I met one of the founders of Sake Central in Milan, the place where I came from. After we met we just kept in touch and I decided to move to Hong Kong after the talk.
Q: Amazing encounter! But do you have any concerns about the “culture shock”? I mean, as an Italian to promote Japanese culture in Hong Kong could be a little bit tricky?
Well, I found there are many similarities between Japanese culture and Italian culture. Besides, I think Italians have a huge passion for Japan. So I think there is a connection between them. I blend these two cultures, from an international view. I’ve always thought about how to use Sake for the Western market. In that way, being a non-Japanese is an advantage for me to treat this with a new perspective. And Hong Kong is a really nice place that contains mixed cultures, so I can explain Sake to people who don’t speak Japanese easier.
Sake Central at Lunch Time
Q: Interesting. So you are like a connection in-between two cultures. Tell us about your business during the COVID.
It’s tough but also pushes us to think creatively to make profits. We were trained to have different minds when meeting different situations. Luckily we have a big shop so we concentrated on E-commerce and delivery. But we’ve always wanted to find a way, a legal and safe way to attract customers to taste sake. The experience is crucial. In the past we were always thinking about expanding the market overseas but during the COVID, we somehow expanded our market locally. Our shop in Vietnam is waiting for us to reopen it after COVID.
Q: It sounds like sake has been brought to many places. How do you observe a place’s culture while telling the story of Sake? Is that a lens for you to know a place?
I think one thing is to experience. Our customers should try our sake first and the connection is made unconsciously during that process. With that connection existing on both sides, I can explain Sake for them. I can also learn what they like, their tastes while talking with them. Italians are not like Hong Kong people who would go far for Sake and food. We would prefer pizza and sake but Hong Kong customers are more likely to have Sake with seafood. So based on differences, a mutual learning experience is created.
Ginepraio Gin with Chiaro di Luna Beverage by Zafferano
Talking about experience, when we moved to Hong Kong we didn’t know anything about Sake and we can say Matteo explained us many things. We cannot help but living in Hong Kong changed us a bit: our passion, our taste and.. our behaviour maybe.
In any case, as usual, don’t forget to follow us because, on July 28, there will be an amazing event in collaboration with Matteo and Certa and the Italian Chamber of Commerce at Boffi showroom in Causeway Bay.
In fact, this event is part of the project TRUE ITALIAN TASTE, organised as part of the campaign “The Extraordinary Italian Taste” promoted and financed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This campaign’s aim is to promote awareness of the benefits in utilising authentic Italian agri-food products. In light of this, the initiative hopes to support producers and suppliers of certified Italian products while demonstrating the enticing qualities of Italian food.
Don’t miss it!!!