Cocktail Pairing Guide For Spicy Food And Drinks
We love spicy food around here. Whether it’s a Friday night curry feast or mid-week Mexican cravings - bring it on! Our mouths are drooling already just thinking about it. If you want to enjoy some cocktails alongside your meal it’s important to balance spicy food with the right cocktail pairings. So with that in mind, we’ve created this spicy food and drink pairing guide to make your cocktail pairing decisions quick and tension free. We’ve grouped it into regions and cuisines with spicy food from all around the world and to spice things up a bit (see what we did there?) we’ve asked our well-travelled drinks expert for their valuable insights into the same. So dive right in!
Cocktail Pairing Guide For Spicy Food
1. Cocktail pairings for Thai food
Thai cuisine is known for its bold, spicy flavours and complex combos of sweet, sour and umami (a savoury, brothy taste). Three classic dishes are Pad Thai, a stir-fried noodle dish with sweet, sour and savoury flavours. Thai green curry, an aromatic curry made with green chillies and lemongrass, and massaman curry, a rich and creamy curry influenced by Indian food and Malay flavours. To complement this spicy food palate, our drinks expert recommends longer cocktails that are lime or citrus-based.
A mojito cocktail is always a winner, with its bright, fresh flavours and alluring, aromatic mint, or try an El-Diablo – the juicy and tart cassis really adds to these dishes. If that doesn't float your boat, how about a Tokyo Collins, gin, grapefruit juice, yuzu sake, lemon juice, sugar and soda water – DELICIOUS! Aside from looking uber-cool, it utilises yuzu – a Southeast Asian fruit that has tangerine and lemon vibes. For the adventurous, why not try making a Lemongrass Ginger Martini cocktail? As the name suggests, it uses lemongrass – a popular ingredient in Thai cuisine. All you do is muddle (crush) fresh lemongrass and ginger, then combine the mixture with vodka, lime juice, and a hint of simple syrup, and you're good to go.
2. Cocktail pairings for Indian food
Indian food features a wide range of regional dishes and heat levels, ranging from 'Ooh that’s cheeky', to 'I think someone used my mouth as a firepit'. Three popular Indian food recipes are tandoori chicken, murgh makhani (butter chicken) and chicken vindaloo – a very spicy dish of meat in a rich tomato and chilli sauce. To go with dishes like that, you want cooling cocktails that can put out the fire in your mouth. We suggest the classic Gin and Tonic, which was actually used in India in the 1850s to fight diseases with the help of quinine, an ingredient present in tonic water. Don’t forget to use lots of large ice cubes says our expert. You want the glass to be really cold, so don’t hold back on the ice. As an alternative, try Gin and Bitter Lemon, it’s as easy as pie to prepare and with its long, citrusy character, it’s the perfect fire hydrant to cool down the mouth.
3. Cocktail pairings with Chinese food
Chinese food and drinks offer a diverse range of flavours, from spicy Sichuan dishes to milder Cantonese fare. Two classic dishes are kung pao chicken, known for its bold flavours, and Szechuan chicken, which has a combination of sweet, savoury and spice. With all this flavour coming hard at you, try pairing your Chinese dishes with a Singapore Sling which combines cherry brandy and lovely citrus flavours. The Florodora offers a lovely blend of rum and rich raspberry. And if you want something that’s really easy to prep, but delicious and slightly tropical, vodka and pineapple juice never fails to hit the mark.
4. Cocktail pairings with Korean food
Korean cuisine is known for its bold flavours, vibrant colours and a wide array of side dishes. Popular dishes are Korean fried chicken, where the chicken is double fried and then coated in a sweet and spicy sauce, and yummy side dishes like seasoned spinach, cucumber salad, coleslaw and kimchi, which is made by fermenting vegetables with chilli peppers, garlic, ginger and other seasonings. For this, we recommend a gin-based Tom Collins. It’s a long, thirst-quenching cocktail which has a lovely sweet/sour thing going on, and it’s simple to prepare. If you’re feeling bold and you’ve got a Korean store in your neighbourhood that sells gochujang (a Korean chilli paste) you could make a Korean-style Bloody Mary. The gochujang gives it a spicy kick that goes perfectly with some of those Korean side dishes we hit you up with earlier. You can also alter the base spirit – vodka, gin, tequila, it’s really up to you!
5. Cocktail pairings with spicy Mexican food
Mexican cuisine is characterised by bold, spicy flavours and fresh ingredients like lime, cilantro and chillies. Three classic Mexican dishes are tacos, a tortilla filled with ingredients such as seasoned meat and spices, tamales and enchiladas. Now we couldn’t mention Mexican food and drinks without recommending the classic Margarita cocktail which is traditionally served in a salt-rimmed glass. The blend of tequila, fresh lime and orange is the perfect way to counterbalance that spicy food. Staying on the tequila topic, we also suggest a Tequila Mojito cocktail or the ever-popular Paloma cocktail.
6. Cocktail pairings with US and Caribbean food
Southern US cuisine often features bold, spicy flavours, particularly in Cajun and Creole dishes such as jambalaya. Buffalo wings are a classic spicy dish that originated in Buffalo, New York – hence the name. The chicken wings are deep-fried until crispy and then coated in a spicy sauce. For this, if you want something longer, try a Long Island Iced Tea, a Whisky and Cola or the simple orange juice-based Screwdriver. Caribbean cuisine is well-known for its vibrant flavours and spices. Jerk chicken is a famous Caribbean dish – the chicken is marinated in a combination of spices, including scotch bonnet which, gives it those explosive flavours. Adam recommends pairing Caribbean dishes with cocktails like a Rum Punch, which has lovely, cooling, tropical fruit flavours or the tangy cranberry taste of a New Yorker, or Tequila Piña Colada, made with pineapple and coconut that calms and soothes the palette.
7. Cocktail pairings with South American food
Brazilian, Peruvian and Argentinian cuisine all boast spicy dishes full of rich flavour. In Brazil, you have moqueca, a spicy fish stew. From Peru comes lomo saltado, a classic Peruvian stir-fry dish that combines marinated beef and Peruvian yellow chilli pepper. And from Argentina, you have the versatile chimichurri, a popular sauce that adds a spicy kick to grilled meats. To accompany your South American dishes, Adam suggests the Rum Caipirinha, a zingy blend of rum, lime and sugar; the simplicity of a Sea Breeze or the crisp, clean taste of Vodka and Apple.
To balance the potent flavours and heat of spicy food, choose a drink that cools and refreshes your palate without overpowering the flavours of the dish. And remember to have a good amount of ice at the ready. If the food is spicy and bold, the cocktails have gotta be cold and fresh. For the more adventurous, try making cocktails or alcohol-free drinks that incorporate ingredients from the same region as the dish, like tequila or non-alcoholic agave mocktails paired with Mexican food and drink. Ultimately, the best spicy food and cocktail pairing is simply the one that you enjoy the most, so don't be afraid to experiment and find what combo works best for you. And with our wide range of famous spirit brands and barware, there’s plenty to choose from.