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Monday, 13 February 2012


Beer? Wine?
How to Douse
Three-alarm Spicy Asian Foods

By Don Merlot
[Writers Clearinghouse News Service]

Every year there are more and more publications and editors discussing food and wine, analyzing trends in major markets regardinging preferences and expectations of global gastronomy. They report consumer changes.

Years ago, during the classical era between the World Wars, gastronomic trends were centered on the wines of the Grand Crus of Bordeaux and Burgundy in France, the Grande Haute Cuisines of Western European, and the Michelin stars in Paris and Lyon. Europe dominated the wine and food culture. Political and cultural history will argue. But with the victories of the Allies. the economic world became part of the PAX AMERICANA.

To America G.I.’s brought home the foods and drinks of Europe and Asia. New York became the capital of America, and America was reaching its cultural zenith. Since that time all the foods of the major markets became American fusion foods. Before of this fusion food trend, American expectations followed the local habits on serving food and drink, but as new foods were introduced to the mix, new tastes and spices were brought onto the menu.

Traditionally, spicy food was accompanied by a beer. Many spicy foods originated in tropical East Indian and West Indian climates and European Colonialist brought their beers to their new colonies: Indian food with English Ales, Dutch beers with Indonesian foods& Southeast Asian foods, German beers with Chinese foods, Mexican and American beers with Mexican and southwest foods.

Eventually the new world focused on food preparation from the Northeast to California (USA) and later Australia. The blend of cultures created fusion food which created a new breed of chefs who became artists in their food creations and were matched with the new vineyards. In London, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Sydney wines began to be served with the spicy foods from Asia and Mexico.

Many Americans, if they do not experiment on their own with wines and spicy food, will go to their wine shop and rely on the advice of the wine attendant, who, in turn, relies on his the wine supplier purveyor/wholesaler. I have noted in traveling through many mega wine shops that wines written up as going with spicy foods rarely if ever are found on the shop shelves. There is little choice or selection.

Many East Indian restaurants (in all major markets) rather than stocking wine developed a BYOB (bring your own bottle) programme that allows their own choice.

This new trend --matching wines with spicy dishes -- is more difficult than the traditional matching because you want to balance these new strong flavours as we matched the European cuisine. Again, you have to know your own tastes and expectations and understand the taste of the food that the chef has used in his food preparation.

Traditional wine protocols matched white with fish (or white meats) and red with red meats or preparations that need to be blended with rich protein and fat. Knowing what Chardonnay (Creamy/buttery fish dishes) or Sauvignon Blanc (grilled shell fish) you like is good with classic food and or Pinot Noir with lighter red meats or merlot with steaks or Rhone wines or Cabernet Sauvignon with a roasted lamb or a roast beef. Matching a spicy meal with a traditional white or heavy tannin red wine may not be such a good idea because the taste you like will not be the same with some of the spices.

My first exposure to spicy Asian cooking started in the Caribbean and South America. How so? The Dutch Antilles, the British Caribbean, and Surinam were my first ports of call, and my customers were Dutch and English. When the Europeans came to the New World, they brought their foods with them; and from their East Indian colonies and their subjects brought their manpower for labour loads for West Indian trading systems.

The new East Indians in the New World brought their foods to places like Trinidad, Curaçao and St. Marteen; the diets were not just from the European fare from the motherland. Not only did I get exposed to the Asian cooking, I learned the glossary of the foods and the menus. Beer (Bass Ale) was the beverage of a Raj Curry and/or the Indonesian rijstaffel (a Dutch word meaning 'rice table,' individual preparation of Indian foods) or Heineken.

My first Spicy East Asian/European experience was in England at an Indian restaurant in Central London. My English colleagues were very big “Raj curry” aficionados. I found the English were inclined to drink a pint of ale as an aperitif, but would switch to wine with the meal. We were hosting other European catering executives, and we knew we wanted to match the meal with a wine; Gewürztraminer was the preferred choice. I knew this wine from Alsace before, as my French mates who knew wines had introduced me to Alsatian wines with French Alsatian cooking: Choucroute, another story for another day. My French friends were adamant that French wine was the only way to go. They would not drink a German Riesling, but they would have an Alsatian Riesling. Same is true of a Pinot Gris from Alsace; drink that instead of a Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy: SGN stands for Selection de Grains Nobles -– semi-dry; and Vendage Tardive. These can be aged, so in selecting this wine keep in mind that it should age in the bottle.

Chacun son on gout!

England does not have great wines, and the English gentlemen and Publicans match foreign wines with their foods.

For me, learning this for myself was a phenomenal experience. The restaurant was Veraswamy’s, nestled in between Regent Street and Piccadilly Street. This is a true Raj setting. The dining room was filled with wafting aromas of saffron rice, cardamom, cinnamon, anise seeds, and cloves and cumin which made my mouth water. When it came to ordering the wine we were focused on an Alsatian Gewürztraminer. The range of this varietal is dry to sweet. To match it with a curry the drier is better for the low picante dishes to medium levels; and the fuller sweeter wine is for the regular and fierier spice, (for the more fiery curry requires the sweeter version of varietal.)

In Indian, Thai, Malaysian, Nonya, Indonesian cuisine/scenes, a wine that has its own distinct taste when matched is Gewürztraminer, a Germanic varietal, that is noted in Alsace (France); Gewurz is spice in German and is a varietal. It is also grown in Australia, Chile, and in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. In Europe, the Alsatian is the most noted with spicy Asian Cuisine. Since wine trends have shifted as gastronomy has changed, there is a lot of selection.

The following is a demarcation: In France (Alsace) SGN stands, as already noted, for Selection de Grains Nobles -– semi-dry; and Vendage Tardive. These last two can be aged, so selecting this wine at a store or a restaurant keep in mind that it should age a few years in the bottle to mature. Gewürztraminer, spicy grape (Geh-virts trah-mee-neer).

Other white wines arealso matched with Asian spicy food. It comes back to taste and who is ordering, but wine is now becoming de riguer with spicy Asian Cuisine.

Viognier, French varietal (Vee-own-yay)

Pinot Blanc

Chenin Blanc

Unoaked Chardonnay

Off dry Riesling or semi-sweet Riesling

Red wine does go with Asian spicy food and are matched with spicy food.

Beaujolais, Gamay varietal

Pinot Noir

Shiraz blends (Australian variation of the Syrah grown in France and the USA)

Curries and Indonesian (and Chinese) food when accompanied with wine should be an occasion. A group meal family style is recommended where all dishes are shared.

Sipping a wine with a meal has become part of a modern ritual for lunch and dinner. At private gatherings usually the host provides or offers a white or a red (in the USA in particular a rosé has become very popular). When it comes to spicy food think of the first wine serving and an aperitif. If you plan to eat spicy food you may have to shift to a wine that will match the spicy food. I have suggested some wines that are not the first tier (popular wines) in most markets.

If you’re favourite sipping wines are a dry Sauvignon Blanc such as Sancerre or a French white unoaked Chardonnay (Chablis); or an old zinfandel (fully mature ) and eat it with spicy food it may be a disappointment in not matching up to the layer of spices. Next time, seriously, try a Gewürztraminer and or a Beaujolais.

If this matching does not work for you, consider going back to tea, or stick to beer, and keep in mind that old Victorian saying, ”It is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.”

(In his other life, el Don is known as Ron, Ron Alonzo).