Although I am a devout reader of Food And Wine magazine, I read a disturbing article recently lauding the pairing of Belgian beer–yes, that sweet, fruity, flocculant style of beer–with dishes from Asia. Do I remember what issue of F&W it was? I might, if I hadn’t been so vexed at the article in question that I tore the magazine in half and fed it to the bears.
This, dear reader, was over the damned line, and I think it’s up to me to set the record straight.
The flavors of Asian cuisine are as diverse as the populations of the Asian continent; this is why we don’t see many Russian/Chinese restaurants. For the purposes of my argument, however, we will confine the scope of cuisine to the sub-continent, specifically Thailand, Vietnam, and a little bit of Japan.
Let’s start with Japan, where the chief diet comes from the sea, and is accentuated with rice, vegetables, and sauces.
Adding a robust (say, overwhelming) Belgian trappist-style ale to this meal may prove disastrous. Belgian beers are (while light in color, mostly) sledgehammer-flavored mouth-bombs with benefits: that is to say that they get you incredibly drunk incredibly fast. What, then, would the Banjo suggest you drink with your Japanese meal? This is a tricky one to answer, although the answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT a Belgian beer. This may surprise you, but the point with Japanese cuisine is to get out of the food’s way, so I give you:
It’s a strange pairing, but a German-style lager complements almost any Japanese meal without overwhelming the subtle flavors on your plate.
Vietnamese is another enigmatic cuisine with French and Cambodian influences, so let’s take a sample Vietnamese dish (my favorite) and pair it appropriately:
Bun-Cha (Open-Barbecued Pork)
There’s hardly anything I can say here that can describe how wonderful Bun-Cha is when prepared correctly. Let’s say it’s served this way:
I’d serve a red ale without question. Reds are less snarky than pale ales, and usually hold greater depth–perfect for putting out the hallmark fire of these dishes while leaving you hungrier and hungrier.
Thai is all the rage now in America, and for good reason: it’s delicious, complex, [somewhat] accessible, and (like many types of Asian food) now ubiquitous in North America, although the best Thai, like anything, is very rare.
Okay, let’s start with the one you all want to know: Phat Thai.
You've Never Had It?! SERIOUSLY?!
Although this is a dish enjoyed daily by millions (if not billions), it is a serious, serious bastard to pair with beer. In fact, Thai cuisine, by its very hallmark traits of light, aromatic preparation, is fairly beer-hostile.
Don’t fret, of course. With the rare exceptions of Satay or the heavier red curries, simply follow a similar track as you would with Japanese, although Thai lends itself to some more diverse beer pairings, such a a good Pilsner:
Get the good stuff.
Or, if you can’t visit Manny and Roger, get a bottle of one of the originals.
Either way, you are selling each of these essential Asian cuisines short by brow-beating them with some over-the-top Belgian beer. These are beers much more suited to pairing with French or English fare. Asian food is like a delicate flower, and this is one successful drinker who intends to give it the respect it deserves.
Come ON, F&W.