Dining In 4 minutes 18 December 2023

How to Pair Malaysian Food with Wine

MICHELIN Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2024's Sommelier Award winner, Cze Ying Yap of Hide, gives us the 101 on pairing wine with flavourful Malaysian dishes.

When it comes to pairing wine with Malaysian dishes, it's essential to embrace the diverse, spice-forward, and flavourful nature of the country's quintessential food. Off-dry white wines might be great accompaniments for the spicier delicacies in order to balance the heat and enhance the aromatic complexity, while heavier reds add contrast and boldness to hearty meat dishes.

In any case, there is no better person to ask at the moment than MICHELIN Selected Hide's Cze Ying Yap, who is also the winner of the MICHELIN Guide Kuala Lumpur & Penang 2024 Sommelier Award, which recognises the skills, knowledge, and passion of talented sommeliers of the industry.

Before entering the world of wine, Yap mainly focused on restaurant service. During one random workday, she met a sommelier who opened her up to the wine industry, introducing her to different types of wines, grapes, and how each one makes a huge difference when it comes to food pairing. Yap naturally took an interest in the subject and pushed herself to learn more about wine, eventually taking up courses to progress and improve. She received a distinction in one of the wine exams she took, and this gave her the motivation to steer her career towards the direction of a sommelier's.

Cze Ying Yap of Hide.jpeg

Yap has been working at Hide for eight months now, and during this period, she shares that what she loves the most about her job is the opportunity to play around with wine and food.

"Hide mainly focuses on seafood, and normally, tradition would say that seafood goes well with white wines; however, I would like to put a twist on that," says Yap. "I compare wines to be like the sauces that accompany the dishes, with the objective of bringing out the flavours even more. For example, I paired a Rioja Tempranillo, aged in American oak for 18 months, with a steamed toothfish served alongside a smoked swimmer crab sauce. The main purpose of the wine accompaniment was to enhance the smokiness of the crab sauce. It turned out to be a fun and playful wine pairing that I was very pleased with."

(Photo: Cze Ying Yap)

"Also, winning the MICHELIN Guide Sommelier Award means a lot to me," she adds. "It definitely gave me a lot of confidence and motivation, which encourages me to improve my craft all the more. I am also glad that I chose a career path that would make my mother proud of me. However, it [winning the award] also gave me a bit of pressure," she says with a laugh.

When asked what types of pressures she was referring to, Yap said that it was more of ensuring that things were in good and perfect condition, so much so that her appetite for learning more about wine has definitely increased. "Wine will never die, and with the current technology available, it will continue to be sustained. So many elements that have a direct impact on wine, such as the climate and the weather, change every year. And because of this, I have to keep an eye out on the latest wine news to keep myself updated."

So, how does Yap decide what wine to pair with a certain dish?

"In my opinion, in order to determine what wine to pair with food, and vice versa, it's important that the flavours either complement each other or contrast each other for balance. For example, a buttery Chardonnay can complement the richness of a beurre blanc sauce in a fish dish, while a fruity Tempranillo can also be used to contrast and cut through the dish's creaminess," she says.

We were curious as to what Yap's favourite wine is, and she shares that one of them is the Domaine Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py 2021. "It showcases the true potential of the Gamay grape. The wine typically features vibrant red fruit flavours, floral aromas, and a well-defined structure that evolves beautifully over time," she says.

Here are Yap's recommended wines for some of Malaysia's essential dishes.

Char Kway Teow and Pinot Noir

"Char Kway Teow is one of the locally signature Malaysian dishes — a combination of a fried noodles, prawn, eggs, bean sprouts, green onions, some soy sauce, and a lot of smoky flavours. When it comes to pairing this with wine, I would recommend a Pinot Noir from a country with a warmer climate such as Australia, specifically from the town of Mornington. The acidity, tannins, light-to-medium body, and the fruity characteristics of the wine can complement the savoury and slightly sweet elements of a Char Kway Teow."

Nasi Lemak and Fiano

"It seems interesting and challenging, but I would pair a Fiano from Campania in Italy with Nasi Lemak. Fiano has a pleasant acidity and floral notes to complement the richness coming from the coconut milk in the rice. It also cuts through the spiciness of the sambal, which helps bring out the wine's sweetness, providing a refreshing contrast."

Ramly Burger and Beaujolais Gamay

"As a Malaysian, I love a lot of local dishes. If I were at a pasar malam (street food bazaar), and I was presented with a lot of choices, I would definitely pick a Ramly Burger, topped with a seasoned chicken patty, cucumbers, egg, lots of chilli, and black pepper sauce. I would love to pair this with a Beaujolais Gamay. It's a light, bright wine with fruity flavours that add a refreshing contrast to the savoury and spicy components of a Ramly Burger."

Rendang and Gewurztraminer or Syrah

"For Chicken Rendang, I would pair it with a Gewurztraminer, as the aromatic quality and hint of spiciness from the wine can work well with the bold and complex characteristics of the Chicken Rendang. The wine also brings a touch of sweetness and floral characteristics, such as rose and lychee, to the pairing.

However, for Beef Rendang, I would pair it with a Syrah as it provides peppery notes that can complement the spices used in the dish. Also, the slight spiciness from the wine can harmonise the heat of the Beef Rendang."

Rojak and Riesling

"A Rojak is a dish made with a mix of fruits and vegetables, tossed in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. For this, an off-dry Riesling can be a delightful combination. Off-dry Riesling has a touch of sweetness that can add harmony to the dish, especially with the sweet elements in the Rojak, such as the peanuts and fruits. The sweetness can also balance out the spiciness of the sauce."

Satay and Viognier

"A flavourful dish of skewered and grilled meats usually served with peanut sauce — that's satay! Viognier will be an interesting pairing with it. Viognier is usually known for its aromatic, floral notes, as well as hints of spice. These characteristics of the Viognier can complement the complex and fragrant spices of the Satay's marinade, as well as its charred flavour."

Bonus: Durian and Moscato

"I love durian! And if it’s in a pancake form, I would choose to pair it with Moscato, as the sweetness and aromatic characteristics of the Moscato go well with the rich, distinct, and unique flavours of the durian."

All images are from Shutterstock unless stated otherwise

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