Dining and wining highlights from Sri Lanka: Fish Curry
One of the most common dishes we came across on Sri Lanka is fish curry. Sri Lankans eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don’t blame them. It is so delicious! Sri Lankan curry is similar to the type of curry found in Southern India. However in terms of spiciness, I find the Sri Lankan version to be much milder. Rice and curry dishes in Sri Lanka are always accompanied by a variety of relishes and garnishes – or sambols – of varying spiciness. Some of them can get pretty hot!
I ate fish curry almost daily and it is the dish that I will miss the most. You can have it chili based sambols to enhance the spiciness:
Or with coconut and sweet onion sambols to keep it on the mild side:
Curries are generally very difficult to pair with wines because of their intensity of flavors and spiciness. The relative mildness of Sri Lankan fish curry (especially if you keep to the mild sambols) makes things a bit easier.
I paired two bottles of wine with the fish curry: a Soave from Italy and a dry Alsace Riesling from France. Both of these wines are dry and aromatic. The dryness in the wine works well to lighten up the creaminess in the dish and the strong aromas allow the wine to keep up with the fragrant dish (rather than being drowned out by it). For spicier curries, it would be better to go with an off-dry aromatic white.
The first wine is the Gini Soave Classico from Northeastern Italy. The vintage is 2012. Soave is a dry and crisp white wine. This bottle has very strong floral aromas as well as aromas of peach and golden apple. There is also a pronounced minerality and a hint of spice and oakiness to this wine.
Mild curries with the Soave go really well together. The Soave is a medium-bodied wine, which holds up nicely to the medium and meaty texture of the fish used in the curry. In addition, the mineral tones make this a very refreshing wine. The minerality, combined with the acidity of the wine, create a perfect freshness to balance the richness from the coconut milk. Each sip of wine helps to cleanse the palate after each bite.
When it comes to the aromatics, both of the wine and the curry pack an equal punch. The Soave is a very aromatic wine and the fish curry is itself a very aromatic dish with scents of soft spices and herbs. The aromas in both the wine and food are equally powerful, with neither overpowering the other, creating a good and complementary match.
The Riesling also worked really well with the fish curry. The particular bottle I chose is Domaine Weinbach Riesling Cuvée Sainte Catherine from Alsace, France. The vintage is 2010.
The Riesling is off-dry wine, from the same region as the Gewurztraminer I had with the spicy prawns. Domaine Weinbach makes a variety of Rieslings. The Cuvée Sainte Catherine uses grapes, which are picked later. As this allows the grapes to mature more, it creates a wine that is richer, more flavorful, and also sweeter than the typical dry Riesling. The richer the wine, the richer the food needs to be for a good pairing. I could use the same bottle of wine for a number of dishes, depending on the wine’s age. The older the wine, the richer its flavors become. For instance, a light and young red would go well with a simply grilled steak. Age the wine for a few years, I might pair it with roasted beef. Age it some more, and I might add gravy to the beef dish.
So while other dry Rieslings might go with well with lighter dishes, I think the Cuvée Sainte Catherine works great for this fish dish in a curry sauce. The richness of the sauce is a great match to the rich flavors and texture of this wine.
Especially when I add the spicy condiments – or the sambols – to the curry, the Riesling is a fantastic pairing to the fish curry. The Soave doesn’t work so well with the spiciness. The sweetness of the Riesling wonderfully offsets the spiciness of the dish and simultaneously, the heat from the dish cuts the sweetness of the wine.
Overall, either the Soave or the Riesling would work for the non-spicy curry. For me, the Soave works better by lightening up the dish with its crisp and refreshing qualities at the same time being able to keep up with the firmness of the fish. The Riesling works differently by complementing the richness of the flavors of the dish. So I think in the end, whether you prefer the Soave or the Riesling with the non-spicy fish curry is subjective and is based on personal preferences. However, when the spicy sambols are added to the dish, the off-dry Riesling is a much better choice hands down!
Sri Lankan food is so amazing that I also wanted to share photos of the other foods that we ate in Sri Lanka.
Egg hoppers for breakfast with coconut sambol:
Dhal (lentil) curry with roti and kiribath (coconut rice):
The amazing tropical fruit:
I can’t wait to go back and eat more food! We were definitely three well-fed and happy gals in Sri Lanka!