As you may have surmised by now, my stern mother got me cooking and my wacky father got me drinking. Bo Gia (Old Daddy, a term of affection in Vietnamese) introduced me to red wine and cognac when I was of elementary school age. I suppose that was among the benefits of being raised Catholic in a former French colony. Even though Vietnamese women (let alone girls) are not usually thought of as drinkers, Bo Gia (pictured above, photogenic as always!) and I became drinking buddies. It’s been that way for most of my life and after I got married, my husband Rory became part of our drinking circle.
Last week was spring break for Rory and we headed down to Southern California to spend a week hanging out with family, friends. Our activities revolved around lots of food and drinks. We went to my parents’ house for lunch last Monday, and thought it would be fun to introduce my dad to Pinkus, a great certified organic beer from Germany. In case Bo Gia didn’t like the Pinkus hefeweizen or ur pils, we hedged our bets with one of his favorites, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale. These are sizable 500ml bottles and we figured that the three of us could polish off three beers.
I knew that my mom would be serving a main course of cha ca Ha Noi, the turmeric and dill catfish classic that is enjoyed with funky fermented shrimp sauce (mam tom). It turned out that she had a three-course seafood lunch menu. (Mom is an overachiever when it comes to spoiling people at her table.) Rory and I surprised Bo Gia with the beers and told him that we’d have an impromptu beer tasting.
A wide grin appeared on my dad’s face. Our beer wasn’t cold and Bo Gia said, “Maybe we should drink it like the Europeans and have it at room temperature!”Rory and I reflected on the fact that it was nearly 80 degrees outside and suggested that we drink the beer Vietnamese style – on ice. The three of us decided on trying to pair the beers with each course and see how we did. Bo Gia had never had hefeweizen before so he asked about the weightiness of the beer. We described it as light and citrus-like. He decisively said, let’s drink it first. The pairings went as follows:
1st Course: Oc nhoi – steamed stuffed periwinkles with lemongrass and ginger lime dipping sauce. The citrusy hefeweizen went very well with the tart, bright sauce. No we didn’t have it with the squirt of lemon as there were plenty of counterpoints in the lemongrass, ginger, and lime. (In the top photo, Bo Gia is holding a periwinkle shell in one hand and his beer in the other!)
2nd Course: Cha ca Ha Noi – the rich and pungent fish dish described above that’s served with bun rice noodles, herbs, lettuce, peanuts, toasted rice crackers and mam tom shrimp sauce. Bo Gia has had this dish so many times with the earthy Nut Brown Ale and once again, the dark beer proved to be a perfect pairing. (To make sure I tasted the beers without diluting them too much, I had gulped mine a little too fast. Thank gawd my mom had a lag between this and the final savory course. )
3rd Course: Bun Rieu Ca – a tomatoey fish and dill noodle soup. All we had left was the Pinkus ur pils, which was slightly heavier in body than the typical Vietnamese pilsners or lagers. However the Pinkus ur pils finishes dry and clean, making it a great compliment to the brothy noodle soup.
Many people drink dry beers with Asian food but there is room for greater variety. You don’t have to lead a life of Tsingtao (Chinese), Asahi (Japanese), and Hite (Korean) beers. In Vietnam, beer drinkers often have fresh bia hoi, which I love because it drinks like a refreshing soda, especially over ice. Bottled Vietnamese beers such as 333, Saigon, Hue, and Halida, have more heft to them and you can vary them with foods and moods. In the last 10 years, a few microbreweries have popped up in Vietnam (particularly Saigon) to offer greater beer variety so there’s growing awareness in Vietnam about different styles of beer making.
The beers that we shared with my dad each had a true character to them and they expressed their personalities well with the different courses. I’ve never done a beer pairing like this with Vietnamese food but it was lots of fun. I’m sure it won’t be the last time.
After we drank all the beer, my mom served a dessert of her lean version of Vietnamese banana cake. Bo Gia brewed a strong pot of espresso. Rory and I drank the inky coffee with a touch of sweetened condensed milk and were ready to hit the road!
Your thoughts on pairing beer with Asian food?