How to Pair Nguyễn Dynasty Vietnamese Food with Wine!
Uncorked Academy again opened its doors for a special supper club type of food and wine pairing in Barcelona. I have done several collaborations with Hanoi native Tien (from The Lush Kitchen) but this was one of the most memorable. An assortment of international guests via Dinnernations started arriving and mingling as dusk was falling, with a tantalising aroma of Asian spices and cooking in the background eventually enticing us all to come sit at the table for the dinner pairing.
We started the dinner with Gỏi su hào or kohlrabi salad, which as Tien explains is a typical vegetable used in Vietnam (although pretty hard to find in Barcelona, but she pointed us in the right direction, Dong Fang supermarket has it). The salad is more like an elaborate slaw, with finely grated carrot, kohlrabi, pork and a host of other flavours, including lime and chilli. Spicy, tangy and delicious, the salad was perched on a few prawn crackers to give the dish some extra crunch and weight. I decided to pair this dish with a classic for Vietnamese cuisine: a light and fresh Riesling does the trick! I used Winzerverein Deidesheim Riesling Kabinett Trocken, but any dry Riesling from Pfalz will have the right balance of bright zest to carry off the pairing.
Next up on the platter was Bánh Hỏi Thịt Nướng, a main dish representing the cooking of the Nguyễn Dynasty. It is said that one of these last emperors of Vietnam would spend entire days eating instead of dealing with matters of state, but this has helped give the Huế region its gastronomical fame. A fine rice noodle woven into intricate mats, accompanied with peanut and herbs, is the bed for a special pork ball satay with spicy sauce. Having tried Tien’s cooking before, I knew I wanted to balance out the juiciness of the pork balls, but not become overpowering, and also give a little light relief to the heat. I chose Snou Rosado, an ecological rose wine of 100% Garnatxa Tinta from Tarragona (Cellar 9+, Vins del Baix Gaià). Dry but with those grenache candy undertones, the Snou is perfect to deal with the spicy pork dish.
The second main dish, Bún bò Huế (beef noodle soup like Phở) is not available anywhere else in Barcelona! Using secrets and recipes passed down through generations (Tien has been cooking since she was three years old) the dish is a perfect symphony of sweet and sour, savoury and spicy “watch those red chillis!” we were warned. Being a beef dish and wanting to go deeper with the wine pairings for Vietnamese food, I opted for rounded red wine from Terra Alta: Tempus. I actually put this wine in the fridge for a little bit, because I wanted the service temperature to be perfect to enjoy the Phở (the wine warms up in the glass as you eat the broth). This wine benefits from a generous percentage of Shiraz, which is bold enough to stand up to the heat of spicy foods. Also Garnatxa Negra, Merlot and Samsó give the wine body, for a smooth and meaty finish. We loved this pairing and the guests loved the wine (it is our best selling red after all).
Finally, Chè Com, one of the usual Vietnamese sweet mung bean dishes with a very unusual ingredient (to western eyes). The dessert is topped with pandan leaf (a vibrant green colour) and thick strands of juicy coconut. For such an exotic dish there is only one good option, we enjoyed the strong lychee aroma and medium bodied Gewürztraminer from Pla de Bages (Mas de Sant Iscle) as a fun pairing of quirky dessert and interesting white wine.
The conversations flowed as steadily as the wine: A Bulgarian businessman offering opinion on Catalan versus his home wines, a Californian reminiscing about fermenting vodka with cherries from his sour cherry tree, A Wall Street Journalist and Barcelonians sharing their own anecdotes and a table of strangers forming friendships through food and wine! Thanks for a lovely evening.