Dining and wining highlights from Sri Lanka: Prawns
I just came back from a trip to Sri Lanka. Being an island-nation, seafood features dominantly in Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka is not a wine producer and not being able to predict what kind of wines we would be able to access at the restaurants and stores, I brought my own wines. I chose a number of bottles that I thought would go with the dishes I planned on eating. I brought a couple of bottles from Abu Dhabi myself. I also asked my friends, who were meeting me in Sri Lanka, to bring the rest from New York. I was especially interested in trying two dishes during my trip: prawns and fish curry. In this post I will write all about the prawns and my next post will focus on the fish curry.
You can find prawns of any size in Sri Lanka, ranging from small shrimp sized pieces to lobster sized jumbo prawns. They can be cooked in a variety of ways, such as curried, devilled, simply grilled, with a variety of spices and sauces.
The first prawn dish I tried was in Kirinda (the nearest town to Yala National Park), on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka. I ordered the freshly caught Kirinda prawns, grilled and served with a creamy lemon butter sauce and rice.
The wine I chose for these prawns is a rosé made with Mourvèdre grapes from South Africa: a 2012 Circumstances Cape Coral by Waterkloof from Stellenbosch. I love the mourvèdre grape and I really love this rosé.
This wine has a pale pink color. It is a dry wine with fruity aromas like peach and pineapple and even some red fruits, as well as some hints of herbs. There is also a pronounced minerality to this wine. It has a strong and dry finish. The flavors of this wine are bold, ending with a punch. Its acidity is much lower than most whites.
The prawns worked well with the wine on their own but the pairing was so much better when I added the lemon butter sauce. Prawns are naturally sweet and the best wine pairing would be with a light and fresh wine. I think the rosé is a bit too full-bodied and strong in flavor for the prawns on their own. All in all, it’s not bad but it’s not great either. However, when I added the sauce everything changed! The creaminess of the sauce creates an added layer of richness to the dish as well as additional sweetness (the creamy butter was the dominant flavor in the sauce rather than the lemon). With this enhanced layer of flavors and richness, the rosé becomes an excellent pairing! The minerality of the rosé was great in lightening up the richness that came from the sauce. And the sweetness of the flavors in the prawns and the sauce did a great job of smoothing out intensity of the wine’s taste, while enhancing the flavors.
I would serve this rosé with any prawn or shrimp dish with an aoli or other creamy sauce. In addition to prawns, I think other rich and creamy seafood dishes would work really well with this wine. My friend had the salmon with the creamy saffron tagliatelle and she said that the wine worked well with that dish too.
The next prawn dish I tried was devilled prawns in Weligama, a spicy medley of prawns and vegetables.
The wine I chose for this dish is a full-bodied Trimbach Gewurztraminer from the Alsace region of France. The vintage is 2011.
Gewurztraminer is produced in the same region as the dry Riesling that I will try to pair with the fish curry. The aromas of this wine include sweet exotic fruits like lychee and some floral notes. It is an off-dry wine with a slightly sweet taste (but far from being as sweet as a dessert wine and it actually smells much sweeter than it tastes). There is also a spicy quality to this wine (more like cinnamon and cloves rather than black pepper or cayenne), both in terms aroma and taste.
I have to say, this was a fantastic pairing! I think it was the best pairing of the entire trip!
The sweetness of the wine was a great factor in balancing out the spiciness of the prawns. At the same time, the heat in the dish did a great job in mellowing out the sweetness of the wine. I am not a big fan of sweet wines as the sweetness overwhelms me. I only drink these wines with dishes that are able to cut down on the sweetness and this is perfect case in point. The sweetness of the wine was much more noticeable when I tasted it before the food but it immediately became much lighter once I had some heat in my mouth. The Gewurztraminer’s spicy notes also did a great job of complementing and even adding a touch of complexity to the spiciness of the dish.
This wine would go really well for any pricy prawn dish and not just the devilled prawns in Sri Lanka. Spicy foods are really hard to pair with wines but this wine is simply perfect!
Our last night in Sri Lanka, we went crazy with the food and ordered a whole bunch of seafood dishes. The highlight was the jumbo prawn – enormous! We almost mistook it for the lobster that we also ordered (the lobster turned out to be a fifth the size of the jumbo prawn). While I didn’t have the right wine with me that night to go with this beast, I will make sure to put the jumbo prawn on my list of things to eat for my next trip to Sri Lanka and bring the appropriate wine.
Next post: Fish curry.