Match Made in Singapore
This one is for keeps! An A-to-Z guide on pairing wine with Singapore’s favourite food
Singaporean cuisine reflects the melting pot of ethnic groups on the island: Predominantly Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian, with influences from the colonial Portuguese, Dutch, and British, early mercantile Arabs, and neighboring Thais and Indonesians. Some dishes remain true to their cultural origins while others are a delicious blend of ingredients from several ethnic backgrounds. Nonya cuisine is the food of the Peranakan sub-ethnic group hailing from Malacca, Singapore, and Penang. Reflecting their ethnic origins, the cuisine combines Chinese and Malay ingredients and culinary styles. Eurasian cooking, meanwhile, reflects the Portuguese and Dutch origins of the community. Both Nyonya and Eurasian dishes are often very spicy but can be enjoyed with the right wines.
In pairing wine with Singapore favourites, it helps to have an understanding of the taste components, textures, sensations and flavours of these dishes as well as those of wine. Here is a handy A-to-Z wine pairing guide for lovers of local food.
Ang Ku Kueh
These rice-tapioca cakes with mung bean filling are best washed down with a glass of Cream Sherry.
Chicken marinated with turmeric and curry powder and then deep-fried is at once crunchy and savoury. Serve with Cava or a New World sparkling wine. This wine also works with ayam percik roasted chicken.
Ayam Masak Merah
Literally red-cooked chicken, this dish is spicy hot, red in colour due to the chillies, and quite powerful. It calls for the quenching, watermelon flavours of a White Zinfandel.
Bak Kut Teh
This Chinese herbal pork rib soup is usually eaten with rice, and often served with yu tiao (strips of fried dough) for dipping. The soy sauce may contain chillies and minced garlic. A fruity Merlot or Nero d’Avola will handle the spice but will also marry well with the pork dipped in the savoury soy sauce.
This clear light soup contains hand-rolled meatballs made of crab, pork, and bamboo shoots. The flavour of the soup is pure and calls for an equally pristine wine, such as Spätlese Riesling.
Char Siew Rice (or noodles)
Rice or noodles, the dish with barbecued pork in a thick sauce goes best with a fruity red wine from the New World with lots of residual sugar such as Shiraz-Cabernet blends, Cabernet-Merlot blends and Zinfandel.
Serve a Merlot, preferably from California with some residual sweetness, to match hot and spicy chicken wings or any spicy sauce served with the wings. Craving a white wine? Try Gewürztraminer.
Rice cooked with soy sauce in a claypot, then topped with braised chicken and Chinese sausage. The umami from the oil and shiitake takes to Merlot and Pinotage.
Spice-lovers will dig the curry flavours in these spicy vegetarian, chicken or pork pies. Serve with a chilled sweet Sherry.
This dish of braised duck with rice cooked with yam and shrimp comes with side dishes of braised hard-boiled eggs, preserved salted vegetables, and firm beancurd (tau kua). Taste wise, the duck predominates and so Pinot Noir has a place here.
Christmas in a Eurasian home is not complete without this curry of minced meat, liver and innards. The curry is best enjoyed with a crusty baguette and a glass of Moscato. If the curry is not too spicy, a Zinfandel also works well.
Fish Head Curry
This dish of red snapper head and okra stewed in a thick savoury-sour gravy of tamarind, lemongrass and coconut is popular around Asia. The Singaporean version has a thinner gravy spiced with coriander, cumin and fenugreek. To pair, the wine must have some sweetness to parry the chilli, and also some tangy acidity to maintain balance. Blended whites such as Chenin-Verdelho, Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc or Pessac-Léognan can work magic.
Jelly topped with shaved ice, lime and fruit is heavenly with a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.
Ikan Assam Pedas
This hot and sour fish dish is simply the perfect foil for a Sauvignon Blanc or Fumé Blanc.
Ikan Panggang / Ikan Bakar
Fish marinated with a spice paste, wrapped in banana leaves, then charcoal-grilled is a Malay classic. Its flavours are smoky and quite strong. Pick a wine that will not be overwhelmed, such as a Chardonnay aged in oak.
This Muslim-Indian dish of various vegetables and seafood deep-fried in batter is served with a thick, sweet sauce. For palatecleansing properties, a Trebbiano white wine or a blended white from Friuli, Italy works here. Alternatively, try a Chenin Blanc late harvest.
Also known as kiam chye ark t’ng, this is a soup of salted mustard leaf and duck. It is salty with flavours of nutmeg, savoury Chinese mushrooms, tangy tomatoes, and peppercorns. The accompanying wine with this complex dish should be reddish and sweet. Try Marzemino, Lambrusco and Brachetto d’Acqui, failing which, White Zinfandel.
Banana cakes with vanilla and coconut flavours are easily matched to an ice wine or Bonnezeaux.
Compressed rice cakes in a spicy vegetable soup is all coconuty in taste with the crunch of vegetables. Rosé is the wine of choice here.
This spicy sweet mango salad, different from the Thai version, is made from ripe sweet mangoes. The sweet taste is tempered with a tinge of chilli and lifted by fragrant cilantro. Any dry wine will taste sour alongside, so venture a dessert wine: ice wine, Barsac, Moscato or late harvest Riesling.
This popular dish of coconut rice with chicken or beef rendang, fried anchovies, peanuts, boiled or fried egg, chilli sambal and cucumber is spicy and sweet, so try an ice-cold Austrian Beerenauslese.
Nasi Goreng Kampung
This traditional, village-style fried rice is usually very spicy. Think Malvasia, Marsala or any sweet wine here.
A stew of chicken or pork with potatoes and mushroom, sugarcane, fermented soybean, and Peranakan spices is quite savoury and can be paired well with a Malbec.
Originating from the Portuguese settlement of Goa in India, this dish features meat marinated in a blend of hot chillies, ginger, garlic, and other spices. Vinegar adds a mouth-watering tang to the dish. Try a Recioto di Soave, which is crisp and sweet and offers a good balance to the chilli tang.
Sambal Assam Udang
The use of tamarind, chilli, sugar and candlenuts gives this prawn dish a sweetsour-piquant taste. Mirror the sweet and sour flavours with a Sauvignon Blanc that brings with it a grassy edge.
This dish features bitter (some would say foul-smelling) beans in a sweetish chilli sauce; sometimes crispy fried anchovies are added. It is then consumed with rice and other dishes. As such, the wine should play a secondary role. Wash everything down with a chilled ‘blush’ wine or White Zinfandel.
Pork loin, marinated overnight with herbs and spices, and cooked to perfection over a slow fire will take to most red wines. Shiraz– Cabernet blends, Nebbiolo, and Merlot have their place here.
Turmeric squid with sambal paste and kaffir lime leaves are cooked in light coconut cream sauce—the dish would go with a Pinot Blanc.
Stir-fried Pork with Cincalok
Cincalok is a potent condiment made by fermenting tiny shrimps with salt, water, and sugar. As lime juice is usually added to cincalok dishes to brighten the flavours, wines such as Vin de Savoie, Picpoul de Pinet, Shilcher or Vinho Verdean play the same role and make the marriage.
Fried tofu with sweet sauce is sometimes served with crushed peanuts or prawn paste. Neither versions will overpower an oak-aged Soave Classico or Spanish Albariño Barrica.
In this version of tempeh—in a cookeddown dry curry stew of rendang—the creamy coconut taste can take on reds such as Beaujolais or Bardolino.
Ter Thor T’ng
Soup of pig stomach and strong white peppercorn spicing calls for a sweet wine. Any late-harvest wine served ice cold will play a contrasting role in taste and temperature.
Udang Nanas Lemak
This popular dish comprises prawns in a spiced gravy studded with chunks of pineapple. Its creamy coconut gravy with a hint of belacan, turmeric and galangal is quite complex tasting, if mild in terms of chilli piquancy. Pair with an unoaked Chardonnay from a warm New World country, which often has tropical fruit nuances.
Yong Tau Foo
The taste of this Chinese beancurd dish is dictated by the dipping sauce, usually a sweet one with a little spicy edge. Because of the sweet sauce, choose a generic red wine with some residual sweetness. Try Southern European wines and New World wines from warm countries.
This Chinese raw fish salad with sweet, nutty and tangy sauces is always served during Chinese New Year, and is best paired with a lightly sweet wine. For the celebratory spirit, uncork a demi-sec or a doux (richly sweet) Champagne.
Claypot Chicken with wine