Extortionately priced raw fish served on a conveyor belt is the new fast food; we‘re shifting our furniture about in a quest to improve our love life, career and bank balance; we’re necking Chinese herbal medicine to cure our ailments; chopsticks are the thinking man’s knife and fork; there are minimalist Japanese shops on the high street, Chinese players in the Premiership, crazy Japanese game shows on the telly and arty Manga films at the cinema. Throw in the Beijing Olympics next year and it’s safe to say that we’re all going mental for all things Oriental.
And whether it’s subtle sushi in a style bar or a creamy Thai green curry in a rural boozer, Pan-Asian cuisine has firmly entrenched itself within the western world’s gastronomic psyche and, now, Asian beers are also making the transition from the tables of ethnic restaurants into the drinking repertoires of the young and trendy.
When Asian beer and food fuse together, however, it tends to be a relatively pedestrian affair. The vast majority of Chinese and Japanese restaurants couldn’t give a crispy duck about the kinship between the two and rarely stock more than a couple of taste-a-like lagers.
Given Far Eastern cuisine’s myriad of rich flavours, variety of textures and wide gamut of ingredients, this myopic approach to beer and food matching seems a rather baffling oversight and one that, we felt, needed to be urgently addressed. It’s time for the grasshopper to leave the temple.
So, in a display of journalistic endeavor not witnessed since John Simpson single-handedly freed Bagdhad, we raided our beer cellar for a dozen bottled beers, ordered enough Asian food to feed the Terracotta army and then embarked on an unselfish mission to unravel the mysteries of Oriental food and beer matching.
Singha (6% ABV) Thailand
ErdingerWeiss Bier (5.3%) Germany
Asahi (5%) Japan (brewed under licence)
Kirin Ichiban (5%) Japan (brewed under licence)
Tiger (5%) Singapore
Marston’s Pedigree (4.5%) England
Tsingtao (4.7%) China
Harbin (5.5%) China
Dark Star Imperial Russian Stout (10.5%) England
Sun Lik (5%) Hong Kong (brewed under licence)
Adnams Explorer (5.5%) England
Young’s Special Ale (4.5%) England
THE DISHES & DISCOVERIES
PRAWN CRACKERS ERDINGER
WEISS VS TIGER BEER
Prawn crackers are moorish little blighters that dissolve in the mouth and cling to the tongue. In terms of a beer match, carbonation is needed along with a lightness of flavour so as to both quench and complement.
Despite high hopes, the choice of Erdinger Weiss Bier was all wrong. Its clove and pear flavours merely confused affairs, it was far too flavoursome and made an inauspicious start to proceedings. Tiger, meanwhile, was an ideal foil. Quaff in one hand and crackers in the other, it was an admirable ambidextrous appetizer and many regarded Tiger as a solid allrounder throughout the meal.
CHICKEN AND BEEF SATAY
SUN LIK VS YOUNG’S SPECIAL ALE
Sun Lik may be one of the biggest beers in China but it simply didn’t have enough power to crack the powerful peanut sauce. It was perfectly suitable as a refresher but crumpled in the flavoursome face of the beef especially.
The bready and somewhat nutty base of Young’s Special proved to be a rather fine, albeit rich, partner, its Goldings hop-inspired tang dovetailing nicely with the caramel sweetness of the grilled chicken.
AROMATIC CRISPY DUCK
DARK STAR IMPERIAL RUSSIAN STOUT VS ASAHI
On realising our local Chinese takeaway had forgotten to throw in the all-important plum sauce, morale in the camp plummeted. “Aromatic duck without plum sauce is like chips without ketchup,” wailed one distraught panellist. But he, and we, needn’t have worried for Dark Star’s deep, dark and devilishly velvet stout from Sussex was a sublime substitute.
Drawing rather than drowning out the succulent duck, it was the best partnership of the evening. One dissenter, however, disagreed by stating: “It tastes and looks like Quink.” The exceptionally dry Asahi shredded the duck’s fatty texture but we couldn’t help thinking that Asahi Black, its maltier and fuller-bodied cousin, would bring a lot more presence to the party.
CHICKEN WITH CASHEW NUTS
ADNAMS EXPLORER VS SINGHA
Blessed with an exceptionally eclectic range of flavours and textures, this dish proved to be a rather tricky customer. The sip from Southwold is a cracking blonde beer but proved far too fruity and flavoursome here.
The sharp fruit bitterness simply didn’t settle down with anything and so it was left to Singha, a muscular Left: Mmm chow mein Right: Sun Lik, one of the biggest beers in China and great with our takeaway malt-driven lager, to knock it into shape. No fireworks here but a nice enough combination.
BEEF IN BLACK BEAN SAUCE
MARSTON’S PEDIGREE VS HARBIN
While Marston’s was a perfectly acceptable partner, its distinctive Burton character grated a little with the thick, glutinous sauce. Chinese lager Harbin may not impress overly on its own but it was just what this juicy tender dish needed. When beef is this delicately marinated, the beer should play a cameo rather than leading role.
SWEET & SOUR PRAWNS
TSINGTAO VS KIRIN ICHIBAN
A dead heat. The only way to tame the sweet and sour sauce is with bubbles and drinkability. Kirin, brewed in Bedford, boasts a quintessential dryness and a curt finish that shuts off the prawns a little too sharply.
The genuinely-imported Tsingtao fares a little better, however.
Pronounced ‘Sing-dow,’ this distinctive Chinese lager is a lot trickier to say than it is to drink. The initial sharp, piquant hop aroma gives way to a taste that’s surprisingly clean and crisp yet with a feint apricot-like finish.
“It’s a bit like a rickshaw,” said one panellist, “an intriguing experience but you wouldn’t want to spend all evening on it!”