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 Matching Thai Food with Wine

Arriving in Thailand many visitors have one thing on their minds… Thai food.

They are anticipating the enjoyment of the dishes they are familiar with and want to discover new ones… so off they go, sampling dishes from one end of the country to another. Along with this food they will be drinking beer as the alcoholic beverage to accompany their meals…since everyone "knows" that Thai food and wine don't mix.

Certainly a thirst quenching beer is a wonderful beverage for spicy food, especially deep fried dishes, but for those who take pleasure in wine with dinner, they should not give up. Here are a few guidelines to help you choose a wine to drink with the sometimes spicy and often flavorful foods of Thailand.

When thinking about Thai food and wine, think about balance. First a few words on the sense of taste. The four basic tastes are: sweet, sour, salty and bitter… these are easily identifiable to most people, but people vary in their tolerance of each. There are three basic tastes in wine: sweet, sour (or acidic) and bitter.

So balancing the basic tastes in food and wine will allow you to enjoy wines with Thai food. In general most wine drinkers have adopted off-dry white wines with too much wood aging and fruity red wines to accompany Thai food.

Spicy food exaggerates the tannin and natural bitterness in wine. So if you are eating a very spicy curry, the addition of salt or sour flavors to the dish, will help counteract this effect on wine. Salty and sour tastes in the food make the wine taste milder, less dry or (sweeter) fruitier and less bitter. For example if you would like to drink a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon with duck in red curry, the addition of fish sauce to the curry or salt to the duck will help counteract the affect the chilies have on the wine. Or if you are having a green mango salad, squeeze additional lime juice onto the salad to offset some of the spiciness and drink a Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon blend with this classic Thai salad.

Many favorite Thai dishes are not very spicy, but are very flavorful. These flavors are a result of the abundant use of the Thai spices, and herbs as well as ingredients commonly found in Western cuisines. Some of these herbs are very wine friendly, including basil, mint, and coriander. The spices like pepper, and garlic are complimentary to wine whether in Thai food or Italian. Look for dishes with these ingredients when studying a menu.

Another consideration for Thai food and wine is the method of preparation. Whether eating fish, chicken, beef or pork, generally food that is grilled or pan roasted will be a better match with your wines than deep-fried foods. Think of chicken, think of Kai Yang, the Issan style grilled chicken marinated in garlic, pepper and lemon grass. By marinating and then grilling, this chicken is delicious with a crisp white wine or a fruity red. A whole steamed sea bass or a red snapper grilled in banana leaf will pair with a New World Chardonnay far easier than the deep-fried version.

If you are in Thailand for a few weeks, with a few guidelines and common sense, you don't have to give up wine…you can enjoy it and will discover that Thai food and wine can be a complimentary couple, it just takes a little matchmaking.

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