Your guide to the food and culture of the tropics


5 Food and Drink Pairs that Were Meant to Be Together

The sun’s beating down, you’re on a vine-laden veranda overlooking the sea, and you’re browsing the menu for the perfect dish. Just as you’ve pinpointed which dish you’re going to order, the waiter comes over and asks what drink you want. Cue more frantic menu perusing. There’s an art to pairing food and drink, but when you get it right it can really add another dimension to your ethnic recipes around the world. Pretty much every food and travel guide will tell you which dishes to eat from where, and they might even tell which wines, beers, and spirits are most popular in certain regions, but they rarely teach you which drinks work best with which dishes.

Across the tropics there is a diverse range of traditional dishes, each one boasting its own unique flavor made from local ingredients and spices. To bring out the unique flavors in each dish, try pairing the perfect boozy beverage and make it a complete meal.

Photo: Flickr Stacy Spensley

Photo: Flickr Stacy Spensley

1.Mexico: Enchiladas and Pale Ales

Enchiladas are the quintessential dish in Mexican cuisine. Made using corn tortillas with a variety of fillings – everything from meat, cheese, beans, vegetables, seafood, and chicken – topped off with a hot pepper sauce, enchiladas are both savory and spicy.

To bring out the combination of savory and spice, pair enchiladas with a pale ale. A popular option is the American Pale Ale from Mexico’s neighbor to the north. The zesty, citrus flavor contrasts well with the darker, heavier flavors of the pepper sauce and sets off the slight sweetness of the tortillas perfectly.


2.Costa Rica: Ceviche and Light, Fruity Wine

Ceviche is a versatile Costa Rican dish served up in a range of different styles consisting of freshly caught raw fish that’s been marinated well in lime juice and herbs. It receives its fiery kick from a combination of garlic, hot pepper, and onion. Ceviche’s versatility lends itself to be served with tortilla chips, crackers, pita bread, or even in a bowl by itself.

Light, fruity wines like Riesling and Pinot Grigio are the perfect accompaniment to ceviche. Anything heavier makes the dish taste thick, but you need to have a bit of acidity in your wine to make the handful of flavors in ceviche really shine. Jill Gubesch, wine director of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, says that “if the wine doesn’t have as much acidity as the dish, it can fall flat and the wine will taste sweet.”


Photo: Flickr Luca Nebuloni

Photo: Flickr Luca Nebuloni

3.Brazil: Moqueca and Caipirinhas

Brazilian seafood stew, known in Portuguese as Moqueca, is a classic favorite thanks to the powerful combination of fish and shellfish, vegetables, and coconut milk. Traditionally the stew is simmered for hours in a clay pot to create a tender and smoky flavor that’s both comforting and filling.

Brazil’s national cocktails, Caipirinhas – made with Brazilian rum, sugar, and lime – are the perfect accompaniment to moqueca. The cachaca (Brazil’s answer to rum) brings the tomato, coriander, and hot pepper in the stew to life.

Photo: Flickr Naotake Murayama

Photo: Flickr Naotake Murayama


4.Jamaica: Jerk Chicken and Dry-Sweet Wine

Jamaican food is notoriously spicy and the popular jerk chicken is no exception. The fiery jerk sauce is made with Scotch bonnet peppers (some of the hottest in the world), pimento, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Rubbed over tender chicken, jerk makes for a smoky dish that’s incredibly hot and flavorful.

Dry-sweet or a light sweet wine like Riesling or Pinot Gris works best with the harsh spice of jerk chicken. A wine that expertly mixes fruity tones with a sweet acidity will compliment jerk chicken perfectly. And, if you’re feeling the heat, the acidity of the wine will counteract the intense spiciness of the jerk sauce.


Photo: Flickr Alpha

Photo: Flickr Alpha

5.Malaysia: Curry Laksa and Hoppy Pale Ale

Curry Laksa is a tasty concoction of coconut, ginger, lemongrass, chilies, and turmeric. The flavorful broth is served over noodles with shrimp, tofu, fish balls, and eggs. The weird and wonderful selection of ingredients offer a rich and unique flavor that’s commonplace in Malaysia.

Spicy curries are best paired with pale ales that combine floral notes with a fruity bitterness. This combination cuts through the intense spiciness of the laksa and creates a balanced flavor that’s not too overwhelming. Indian Pale Ale is a popular choice in Malaysia and other South East Asian countries.



Written by

Lizzie is a freelance travel writer who spends her time between sunny Spain and not-so-sunny England. When she’s not exploring new cities or wandering through art galleries you can find her chatting about the freelancing life on Twitter (, Facebook (, and on her blog, Wanderful World ( Give her a cup of tea and a good view and she’ll be happy for hours.