A Fiesta of Spirits and Food

South Indian cuisine is known for its spices, aromas and rich flavours. The abundant use of cinnamon, cardamom, peppers, cloves, coconut and tamarind imparts a bouquet of tastes to superbly complement the spirit of alcohol. Yes…cuisines from the South go extremely well with liquor, providing a great experience as you sip and savour the well-crafted drinks and dishes. RITZ gets experts to explore the unique pairing of liquor with delicacies from down South.

When you head to a premium fine dine and start combing through the F&B menu, wondering what food to pair with great liquors and wines, look straight at regional delicacies from the South.

Whisky with Malabar Fish Curry

Varun Sudhakar, Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador, believes the best way to pair food and whisky is either by using complementary flavours or cutting through the flavours of the dish. “When attempting to match a food dish with whisky, I would begin with the spirit tasting notes and work with the chef to build the dish around them. You see, the whisky cannot change taste and is full of powerful flavours, so the food has to be the one that gives way,” says Sudhakar, adding that whisky goes very well with Malabar fish curry. “The creamy texture and spicy notes of pepper and cinnamon (amongst others) from the curry are an essential element to the aroma and taste of many whiskies. The distinct qualities and characteristics of Single Malt Whisky’s are borne out of the locations, climate and hundreds of years of craft. The flavours of the malts range from smoky (that come through the peat used to dry the barley), to delicate (non-pated malts), and from light (flavours of green grass, fresh fruits and barley), to rich flavours like vanilla, chocolate and dry fruits.”

He says that with the multitude of flavours in the curry and lightness of the fish, a Single Malt from the Speyside region (in Scotland), is a great option. Speyside whiskies have a light to medium body, with a sweet, fresh palate and a lightly smoky-sweet finish. When paired with a Malabar fish curry, a light Speyside tastes great.  Sudhakar says you could also pair a whisky like Talisker with the Malabar curry. “This whisky has a maritime, salty flavour that goes great with the fish and that Islay peat smoke from the malting process will stand up nicely to the ginger and curry leaf flavours in the curry.”

Rum with Coorgi Pandi Curry

A cocktail of dark rum with pineapple juice, lime juice, sugar syrup, curry leaves and pineapple chunks becomes an ideal beverage when relishing Coorgi pandi (pork) curry. Hemant Mundkur, Brand Ambassador, Captain Morgan, says the sweetness and fresh flavours of the pineapple, marry with the rich and juicy flavours of the pork. “They also help lighten the palate and break down the complex flavours in the pandi curry. The distinct flavour of the pork is elevated with the Kachampuli (Coorg vinegar), which has a high degree of pungency and tanginess that acts as an accompaniment for this cocktail. The curry leaves in the cocktail balance the beautiful local masala blend in the pandi curry.”

Wine with Bisi Bele Bhaat or Kerala Pachakari Stew

Wine is paired depending on the structure of the cuisine, and in South Indian cuisine, ‘structure’ implies spice level, says Abhay Kewadkar, Chief Winemaker and Business Head, Four Seasons Wines. For a dish with a slightly lower spice level, white wine works best. “While eating something with more spice, a Rose would be appropriate. If the dish is even spicier, a medium-bodied red wine would go well.”

The popular rice-lentil-veggies-spices combo, bisi bele bhaat, could best be paired with Rosé. “Red chillies add spice to this dish, while the presence of tamarind lends an acidic flavor. The spiced plum fruit style of Rosé  matches ideally with the spices in bisi bele bhaat, bringing richness to the palate. Since bisi bele bhaat is mostly eaten during lunch, a chilled glass of Rosé makes for a perfect, refreshing drink,” says Kewadkar.   

Brut wine, the driest Champagne is a sparkling wine containing very little residual sugar and can be effectively paired with the Kerala Pachakari stew. Rohan Jelkie, Brand Ambassador, Moet Hennessy India, says the bright and fresh bouquet of citrus blossom, green apple with hints of tropical fruits and vanilla makes Brut wine a perfect match for the stew, which is a mélange of veggies, onion and ginger in coconut milk. “The stew is a creamy and hearty dish. The crisp acidity of the Brut wine works wonders in matching the creaminess of the coconut milk and cleansing the palate of creamy fattiness,” says Jelkie.

Vodka with Chicken Chettinad

When pairing food and vodka, the dish can take the lead and it’s best to craft a cocktail around the flavours present, given that vodka offers a fundamentally clean slate, says  Nicholas Ord, Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador.

“To cut through the spicy flavours of South Indian food, sweeter vodka would make for a great pairing.” Ord says that with something like say Chicken Chettinad, a twist on the classic pina colada cocktail would make for an ideal pairing. Concocted with vodka, fresh lime juice, pineapple juice, coconut cream and Chettinad syrup (made with sugar, filtered water, dry red chilli, black pepper, cumin, fennel, star anise, clove and cinnamon); the smooth cocktail would complement the hot and spicy flavours of Chicken Chettinad. “The lime in the cocktail balances the sweetness and cuts through the curry spices, giving a refreshing counter-point to the rich dish.

Further, taking inspiration from the core ingredients of the dish, the cocktail entails a reduction of the various spices used to create the dish, thereby seamlessly integrating the two,” says Ord.