Now that the year is almost over, I have time to reflect on some of our best food and wine moments of 2016. One of these happened when Louis Watana, the first secretary the Royal Embassy of Thailand, reached out to me with an interesting idea. He wanted to organize a few Thai dinners paired with Hungarian wine. He suspected that the two put together could lead to some great pairings. The dinners were also part of Watana’s larger project of producing a Thai e-cookbook featuring Hungarian wine pairings.
For our experimentation in finding the best pairings, we split the job: Watana was in charge of arranging the food (his area of expertise) and I chose the wine pairings (my expertise). The first dinner would be at the Thai Ambassador’s Residence, and the second would be at the Tasting Table. The guests were ambassadors and diplomats residing in Budapest, as well as a few visiting diplomats.
This was one of the two menus. Note that we singled out the ingredients and the dominant flavors, which helped when thinking about the wines (and the characters and flavors of them).
Thai Papaya Salad
Hernyák, Királyleányka 2015 (Etyek)
Flavors: fresh and crisp, sour and sweet
Ingredients: garlic, chili, peanuts, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime tomatoes, papaya, dried shrimp
Pad Thai Noodles
Gál, Zweigelt Rozé 2015 (Alföld)
Flavors: sweet and salty
Ingredients: tamarind sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili, vegetable oil, bean sprout, eggs, dried shrimp, cilantro, lime
Deep Fried Fish in Sweet and Sour Sauce
Budaházy, Szent Tamás Furmint-Hárslevelű 2013 (Tokaj)
Flavors: spicy, sweet and sour
Ingredients: fish, vegetable oil, garlic, chili, tamarind paste, palm sugar, fish sauce, coriander
Minced Duck Salad
Hummel, Portugieser 2014 (Villány)
Flavors: duck, salad, spicy, sour, sweet
Ingredients: shallots, duck, galangal, garlic, palm sugar, coriander, mint, chili, lettuce
Beef Masaman Curry
Vida, Kékfrankos 2013 (Szekszárd)
Flavors: creamy, mildly spicy, nutty, slow-cooked curry, influenced by Indian, Malaysian and Persian cuisines
Ingredients: beef, vegetable oil, coconut cream, cinnamon, bay leaves, potato, salt, palm sugar, tamarind, fish sauce
Erzsébet 5 puttonyos aszú 2008 (Tokaj)
There was no ham, lard, bacon, or paprika in sight. Instead there were the typical Thai flavors—chili, coriander, sweet and sour, tamarind, garlic, and more. I’d eaten Thai food countless times, but I always had beer with the meal. I was out of my comfort zone with the wine recommendations. But making a strategy (and a few basic principles) helped us develop some excellent food and wine combinations.
Our first principle was that we wanted to focus on the local Central European grape varietals. Secondly, since Thai cuisine is much lighter than Hungarian, we wanted to choose wines which were not too full-bodied, heavily-oaked, or high in alcohol. These two priorities worked perfectly together.
Dry and off-dry furmints (with their grapefruit or lychee aromas) or királyleányka (with its beautiful perfumed nose) turned out to be amazing pairings for dishes with lime, chili pepper, cilantro, mango, and other exotic fruits, spices, and herbs. With the reds, we were equally lucky by choosing local varietals. A medium-bodied kékfrankos from Szekszárd or portugieser from Villány were not too overwhelming (or too light) for these delicate, but spicy dishes. The sweet Tokaji aszú with its citrusy, caramel, honey, and dried apricot aromas was the perfect dessert after this meal (but isn’t it the perfect finish to any meal?).
So here’s the question. If these wines go so well with Asian food (and this is not just limited to Thai cuisine), why don’t we drink more wine with Asian meals? Why is the typical wine selection so limited in most Asian restaurants? Could this be another selling point for Central European grape varietals? I did not get an answer to these questions. However, before I started my speech at the Ambassador’s Residence, a nice Thai lady asked me “Mr. Gábor, would you like a massage?” I was surprised to see that there were several masseuses stationed around the room giving short Thai massages to the guests. This was another first. I’ve never had the luxury of starting a wine tasting with a massage … What a job I have!
Note: The Thai Embassy’s e-cookbook (with Hungarian wine recommendations) is available as a free download! (Scroll to the end to read my introduction to the project.)