Which drinks pair best with Thai food?
With the Thai New Year celebrations coming up you may well be planning to eat in a Thai restaurant or host a Thai meal at home. But which drinks pair best with a Thai food?
The predominant flavours of Thai cuisine are sweet, sour, hot and salty - slightly different from the warm spicing of many Indian curries or the more fragrant, herbal notes of Vietnamese.
As with other Asian cuisines dishes are served at the same time rather than in succession - a typical selection being a salad, a soup, a deep-fried or steamed dish, a stir-fry and a curry - which can make it difficult to find one drink to match all. (Thais themselves would not typically drink wine with food - traditionally green tea or jasmine-infused water would have been served either side of rather than during the meal.)
Authentic Thai food can be really hot but tends to be modified in most Western restaurants. The pairings that I think work best are aromatic or fruity white wines and light, cloudy wheat beers. Here are my favourite pairings:
Alsace - and other - Pinot GrisMy favourite pairing overall. Alsace Pinot Gris has the requisite touch of sweetness but also an exotic muskiness that tunes in perfectly with Thai spicing. New Zealand pinot gris, particularly the off-dry styles, also works well.
Spätlese and other off-dry RieslingAgain, a touch of sweetness really helps, giving German and Austrian spätlese Rieslings and Alsace vendange tardive Rieslings the edge over their dry counterparts. A fruity Clare Valley, New Zealand or Californian Riesling can also work well too especially with Thai-spiced seafood, salads and stir-fries.
Many people’s favourite with Thai and other oriental cuisines but in my view it goes better with some dishes such as Thai red curries than others (I find it slightly overwhelming with more delicate dishes like Thai spiced crab cakes or green mango or papaya salads). One good compromise is an aromatic blend that includes Gewürz. (Domaine Josmeyer produced a very attractive one called Fleur de Lotus which included Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling though I’m not sure they’re still making it) Vendange tardive Gewürztraminer can be very good with intensely sweet Thai desserts.
SylvanerQuality is on the up with this overlooked grape variety which performs well with Asian food, Thai included. May possibly not have the power to deal with hotter dishes but worth a try.
Sauvignon Blanc and other intensely citrussy whites such as RuedaIf you’re not a fan of aromatic whites Sauvignon Blanc is the best alternative though may get overwhelmed by hotter dishes. Best with Thai-spiced seafood, salads and stir-fries.
TorrontesThe quality of Torrontes has much improved since I first made this suggestion a few years ago. A good budget option with Thai.
As already noted, Thais wouldn’t traditionally drink tea throughout the meal but if you’re not drinking alcohol it can be a refreshing accompaniment. Alternatively serve it at the end.
Exotic fruit juicesWith their intense sweetness most tropical fruit juices go well with Thai food especially those made from or including mango, papaya, passion fruit and lychee.
Wines that don’t pair easily with Thai food:You will notice there aren’t any reds which I find really difficult with Thai food although chef David Thompson, author of the seminal Thai Food, holds that they do have a place at the table. “I like Pinot Noir, a light Shiraz, Côtes du Rhône, Grenache or an elegant sparkling red wine . . . but then I like these wines with almost any food” he writes. Oaked whites such as barrel-aged Chardonnays also tend not to work too well.
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