You may have a beer anytime you choose.
Can I have a beer and a curry?
Of course, but let’s see where all these drinks take us. . .
Since I started my research on the kind of beverages that ‘go well’ with Indian food, I have to tell you that the results have been fascinating and also confirmed what I thought might have been the case.
Here is what I discovered.
Indians have been drinking alcohol before, during and after meals for G-d knows how long; even before man came to earth!
Legend has it that in the epic Ramayana, Sita promises the goddess Ganga that she will give her a thousand jars of wine if her exiled party are permitted to return home safely. Well, after they do so her husband Rama, with his own hands, feeds Ganga with maireya, a spiced wine!
In the Mahabharata, the longest epic in the world, Lord Krishna is seen enjoying a drink with Arjuna, and the Yaadavas are finally killed in a drunken brawl!!
Drinking scenes are also depicted in sculptures on the Saanchi stupas!!!
In these traditional stories and in images, all of the characters are drinking either a wine or a spirit made out of a fruit or a grain.
But where’s the keg of beer?
Well, fast forward a couple of centuries and the keg, or the beer, was introduced by the British in the 18th century to . . . well, we all know why they wanted the beer, and to be absolutely honest I just loved the fizzy drink as well!
During my working days at the Taj in Bangalore the beer was the best, sorry, the only incentive that I needed to perform my tasks well!
My general manager would give me special permission to have a bottle or two, or three!, to drink (with my chefs) at the end of the late and blo..dy tiring nights of functions!
I just loved it and so did my chefs!! Time passed and we all did what we had to do with the moving on of history, we spread our wings, we grew up, we went on to different things!!
I came to Australia with two ambitions in mind: the first was hoping to meet one Mr Don Bradman and the second was to have a beer called Fosters (but not with Mr Bradman, my ambitions were modest!).
Well, I did the second but I never got to meet the Don!
However, I’m not downcast as I know that one day I’ll catch up with this legend when I meet him up there, and we’ll have all the time in the world to chat. He was, and still is, my favourite cricketer!
Fosters beer was light and easy to drink and went very well with my style of Indian food, however after the second bottle was drunk I soon lost interest in the food and reached for more beer. Know the feeling?
This was mainly because the beer was filling me up with gas. Not a great combination.
It was not until 1996 that I got a taste of the beautiful elixir called “wine” and I caught onto it as a bee does to honey!!
This was not only a beautiful drink but it was also a perfect companion to my cooking; it actually brought life to the food and not the other way round!!
I have not looked back since!
Over the years, and after attending numerous classes on wine tasting, I have finally concluded that the best beverage to accompany Indian food, especially the regional kind of food that we cook at nilgiri’s in Sydney, is wine.
A good wine, whether it be a white like a Semillon or Chardonnay from the Hunter or a Shiraz, again from the Hunter or the Barossa Valley in South Australia, is an excellent accompaniment.
Other good wines with Indian food are the Pinots from the Mornington Peninsula!
As for the beer, a light beer like the Japanese Asahi, or even Kingfisher which comes from Victoria, are great to kick-start your Indian soirée, along with some nibbles, or even starters, followed by a good Shiraz to go with any red meat, especially goat.
My friend, Roger Lilliott, does a great sweet Shiraz from his vineyard in the Hunter called Iron Gate and actually recommends that you chill it before it is poured. Absolutely brilliant!
A good wine to accompany white meats and paneer is a Pinot from a vineyard called Nazaaray, owned by Paramdeep Ghumman who was a doctor in his previous life! This man makes some of the best Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris in the land.
Well, that’s the alcohol drunk, but what about our non-alcoholic friends?
How about the lassis?
I mean, everyone knows how to make a lassi, it’s not rocket science, not till you go to the Punjab and realise that lassi making is, in fact, rocket science, it’s an art form! Here the yoghurt is set in an earthenware pot and is churned using a wooden stirrer called a ravi.
There are generally two different versions of lassi, one is sweet and the other is salted with a hint of spice!
Mum would make a good sweet lassi on a hot day in New Delhi, when we lived there in the early 70s, however personally I do not like a sweet lassi with my food as it is like having a dessert with your meal. I prefer to have my desserts after the meal.
When they make lassis in the south of India the yoghurt is churned till the fat rises to the top and is then skimmed off leaving behind the mor, which is then tempered with spices and curry leaves. A similar drink in the north is called chaach or chaas, but up here it is not tempered.
And what of our spiced teas, known as masala chai?
Most Indians prefer not to have tea with their food, mainly because it contains tannins which make hot food (both the temperature and the flavour) taste hotter and that is also the reason why a young red wine, which is high in tannins, is also not recommended for the very same reasons.
However, as with our sweet lassis, spiced teas are another great way to round off an Indian meal!!
And, finally what about the simplest drink of them all, served in a jug, or nowadays in bottles either fizzy or still?
Many people feel they need to drink copious amounts of water to ‘cool themselves off’ if they feel their meal is too spicy, and indeed, water is the perfect drink to go with an Indian meal.
However, be warned, it is not recommended to drink it during a meal as it tends to bring out the heat in the chillis and makes a hot dish taste hotter!
Water, the simplest liquid of them all, is by far the most popular beverage to have at the end of an Indian meal.
Well, as for me, I need to make up for all the lost years that I missed having fuqqa (as the Moghuls called it in Hindustaan way back in the 15th-17th centuries), so I will stick to the “poetry in a bottle”!!
Anah daata sukhi bhava!!