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By: Donald Duong
Donald Duong is a renowned pastry chef and owner of Dessert Trends Bakery in downtown Toronto. His cakes have been served to several world leaders, including HRH Queen Elizabeth II, Pope John Paul II, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and several other dignitaries. He has won numerous awards for his work, including a gold medal at the 2004 World Culinary Olympics held in Germany.
Beer is a popular beverage for social events because its low alcohol level makes it easy to drink. In Western culture, it is not necessary to have beer with food, but for Asians, specifically the Vietnamese, beer is almost always accompanied by light snacks and multiple entrées. What beers are best paired with which foods?
There are two reliable guidelines behind good food and drink pairings; the first is selecting two contrasting flavors to bring out the best in each, while the second is opting for two mirroring flavors to complement one another and enhance the charm of both.
Beer is best enjoyed with dry foods since soup-based dishes are more filling. Some common examples of dry snacks that go well with beer are roasted nuts, chicken fingers, chicken wings, and beef jerky.
Vietnamese dishes typically to fall into two categories – sour-sweet or salty-sweet – and light beers without overpowering flavors will go well with them.
A family favorite among Vietnamese households is Budweiser, and for good reason. Vietnamese cuisine always has a strong herbal component. Vietnamese salad has coriander, mint leaves, Thai basil, spearmint, rice paddy herb and cilantro. Dishes such as Vietnamese salad or salted crabs, that have the rich aroma of five-spice powder, fish sauce or herbs, are good with Budweiser because it is light, with a tinge of sweetness and balances the acidity and bitterness of foods. Three recent Ontario Brewery Awards winners are also good options – Cool Beer’s Stonewall Light, Stone Hammer Brewing’s Stone Hammer Session Lager and Brock St. Brewing’s Blonde Ale.
Labatt Blue and Molson Canadian are stronger, with a lingering bitter and dry aftertaste, so they pair well with heavier foods – anything with mayonnaise, or anything fried such as shrimps, wonton, or egg rolls. Because it is bitter and stronger, it takes away the greasy flavor. Some Canadian favorite craft beers that also work well are Muskoka Brewery’s Detour, Creemore Springs Brewery’s Lot 9 and Kichesippi Beer Co.’s Heller Highwater.
Common import beers that the Vietnamese population prefer are Heineken and Sapporo, which are similar to Budweiser and Labatt Blue in taste. Heineken’s pH balance is more neutral so it goes well with our food.
Vietnamese cuisine is often fruity – Vietnamese salad with pomelo, mango salad with shrimps or pineapple and cucumber. Any stout beers, heavier beers or fruit beers generally are not compatible with these dishes.
The flavors from mango, pineapple, pomelo, kaffir lime leaves, fish mint, beefsteak tomatoes and dishes such as Vietnamese salad with fish, coconut, dried fried onions, or dried fried garlic are best with light beers.
Caramelized braised pork and eggs is a common dish among Vietnamese families. Broiled with sugar, this dish should not be paired with beer. Instead, opt for a stronger liquor like Japanese sake, Vietnamese rice wine or Vietnamese black glutinous rice wine to ease the sweet taste. Seafood dishes made with sea fish or shellfish also go well with rice wine since it alleviates the fishy taste.
The best pairing is Canadian beer with dry meat dishes like Vietnamese sausage/ ham wrapped in banana leaves, grilled pork sausage, beef jerky or cooked meat dishes like stir-fried chicken organs with satay or sweet and sour pork.
Mango salad tuna roll, a Vietnamese-Canadian fusion food, pairs well with Canadian beer. The salad of fresh mango and tuna meat is complimented with a dressing that has a tangy kick from tamarind extract and fish sauce. See my recipe below.
What to Drink at the GTA’s Favourite Vietnamese Eateries
Pinky’s Ca Phe
- West Avenue Heritage Dry: light to moderately sweet apple flesh flavour with floral honey undertones, dry
- Ace Hill Pilsner: easy to drink, mild notes of sweet caramel and grassy hops taste with a fruity aftertaste
- Hogtown Ale: medium, Kölsch-style beer, clean and fresh aroma, notes of white grapefruit, biscuit, caramel and floral hops
- Labatt 50: lightly roasted grain and mild hop aromas with light and dry finish