Six drinks you might not have thought of pairing with Indian food
Asking what to drink with Indian food is a bit like asking what to drink with European food - it’s so incredibly varied - but there are pointers that should hopefully make the decision a bit easier.
* First of all how hot the food is overall, bearing in mind that not all Indian food is super-spicy. There’s generally a difference between shop-bought dishes which are likely to be milder and ones you might have in a restaurant or make at home. Stands to reason the hotter the food the more cooling you want your drink (which is why lassi works)
* Secondly the basic ingredient, whether that’s meat, fish or veggies. Not as important as the seasoning and the spicing but it does have some effect. As with other type of cuisine think in terms of lighter, fresher drinks with fish and vegetable dishes and more full-flavoured ones with meat
* Thirdly, and not least important, your own preference. Whisky? Fine - no problem - just dilute it a bit more than you would normally. You don't drink? There are plenty of alcohol-free options these days
1. Beers that that are not lager
Although for many the automatic match for Indian food would be lager I find a beer with more flavour works better, particularly a well-hopped pale ale or IPA. But maybe I’m not being adventurous enough. Mark Dredge recommends a hefeweizen with jalfrezi and a brown ale or dunkel with a lamb korma in his book Beer and Food. And a pils is certainly good with snack food like samosas and bhajis - and with currywurst though I’m not sure that really counts.
Maybe you don’t associate cider with curry but try it. To my mind it goes best with a medium-dry cider - you need a touch of sweetness with most dishes but with milder fish and veggie curries it can be incredibly refreshing.
3. Wines that go surprisingly well with Indian food
Aromatic wines such as riesling, pinot gris and gewürztraminer are generally considered the ideal wines to pair with Indian food but they’re not the only game in town.
particularly with lighter, less heavily sauced dishes that are that include green chillies, garlic, ginger and coriander. See this recent match of the week of Indian veggie food and sauvignon blanc which highlighted how good it was with paneer with spinach
Especially with dishes with a creamy or buttery sauce like butter chicken. (Here's Vivek Singh's recipe)
Red wine wouldn’t be my automatic go to for Indian food but medium to full-bodied reds like malbec and rioja generally work with Indian meat dishes the same way they do from those from other culinary traditions especially lamb ones like rogan josh or marinated whole leg of lamb (raan). They can also work with Indian spiced game like this dish of tandoori-spiced grouse with a Tuscan-style Indian red.
Lighter reds such as Beaujolais and other gamays can also go surprisingly well with spicy vegetarian dishes as I discovered recently (scroll down for the reference).
Rosé pairs remarkably well with a range of Indian dishes though I’d go for the deeper-coloured Spanish rosados, or fruitier pinot noir-based ones rather than the pale Provençal style (unless your curry is quite mild). Particularly good with chicken tikka masala
Sparkling wine - even champagne!
Not so much with curries but sparkling wines are great with Indian snacks like samosas, bhajis and pakoras. As they are with other crisp or deep-fried foods. If champagne seems a bit extravagant choose cava or crémant.
4. Whisky (especially Indian whisky!)
A drink that’s well appreciated on the Indian sub-continent so maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it goes with Indian food. Two tips though - first of all you can - and should - dilute it, probably quite a bit more than you’re used to and secondly try the younger styles of whisky that are becoming popular including the Indian whiskies (there are 33 currently on the Whisky Exchange website). Younger English whiskies such as Cotswold Whisky’s single malt whisky would be good too.
See also Pairing Whisky with Indian Food
You might not think of pairing cocktails with Indian food but modern Indian restaurants often have a great cocktail list, and many Indian cookbooks suggest cocktails that are designed to go with their recipes like Dishoom’s delicious East India gimlet (gin and lime). Or make a gin and tonic with a twist like Gymkhana’s House pink gin and tonic.
6. Mango soda, kombucha and other new alcohol-free drinks
India, of course is a predominantly teetotal nation but there are so many great alcohol-free drinks now that it’s easier than ever to find a good match - at home, if not in a restaurant, where options are often quite limited. Mango is still my favourite flavour - the Manchester brewery Cloudwater does a delicious mango soda or make your own mango lassi with equal quantities of canned mango pulp and yoghurt or kefir (and a splash of water). Kombucha pairs well with lighter veggie curries too. And obviously alcohol-free beers and ciders do the same job as categories 1 and 2.
What sort of drinks do you enjoy with Indian food? Anything I haven't covered here?
For more thinking on matching wine with Indian food read how to pair wine with an authentic Indian meal
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