Cheapest Wine & Hawker Food Challenge: Finding The Perfect Pair

We all know the classic wine pairings: steak and fries with red, champagne and oysters, white and cheese, and so on. But does wine only taste good when paired with posh dishes? Who says you can’t drink wine with hawker food? (Need to know wine basics? Check out our infographic here).

Pairing food and wine is not so different from pairing any food and drink. The same guidelines apply. Their flavours should complement each other.

If your food is light, go with a delicately perfumed wine to let the subtle flavours and textures stay in the forefront. Meanwhile, the robust flavour of gamey meat calls for wines with deeper bodies. A red that doesn’t stand enough on its own can disappear into the smokiness of pork ribs—but a heavy red can get lost in rich flavours such as the rich spicy-sweetness of our chilli crab sauce.

Some may say that it’s a challenge to pair Singapore’s hawker dishes, because of their complex flavours that play up spices and combine the sweet, savoury, and tangy. That’s why we considered it a gastronomic adventure and challenge to find the cheapest wines that go well with hawker food.

Here are the pairings that perked up our taste buds.

Chenin Blanc and Thai food

Photos courtesy of Giant (wine label) and huahommag via Pixabay (satay)

Wine: Paradise Valley Chenin Blanc (2016), $15.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: Satay and Roti Prata

While the char of barbecued meat is often touted to be best with Zinfandel, we go for white rather than red with satay. We find that the sweet marinade of the chicken, pork, or mutton pairs better with the Chenin Blanc’s dry and crisp flavour profile.

It also pairs well with roti prata, which tends to be slightly greasy. The Chenin Blanc helps cut through its richness; it is sweet enough to not be overpowered by the curry. The dhal, which is lentil-based and lighter than the fish curry version, also complements the white perfectly.

The body of this white likewise brings out the mellow sweetness of rice ketupats.

Sauvignon and Omelette
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and Banej via Wikimedia Commons (oyster omelette)

Wine: French Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (2016), $19.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: Oyster Omelette and Wanton Mee

The oyster omelette or orh luak—with its savoury and smoky flavour profile and a mixture of textures from juicy oysters, thick soft egg, and sticky starch—is simply fantastic when complemented with Sauvignon Blanc’s citrusy freshness. When paired with wanton mee, the crisp sweetness of white wines (more specifically, the Sauvignon Blanc) helps cut the slight bitterness of the egg noodles and brings out the robust flavours of the char siew and wanton mee sauce.

Claro Chardonnay
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and Ruth Ellison via Wikimedia Commons (white carrot cake)

Wine: Claro Wine of Chile Chardonnay, $17.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: White Carrot Cake and Hokkien Mee

The white carrot cake isn’t really a carrot cake. Its main ingredient is white radish, which some people call “white carrot.” The chardonnay’s bright fruit tones are a sweet and refreshing complement to the subtle flavours of the white carrot cake. It also brings focus on its slightly crispy textures.

Meanwhile, the hokkien mee features stronger flavours of seafood, wok hei, and the umami of pork lard and belly slices. As it’s more savoury than sweet, it’s a good match with the zesty wine. The version we had from Dunman Food Centre had more seafood than the pork, so a different version might do even better with another white.

Pisang Goreng and chardonnay
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and ProjectManhattan via Wikimedia Commons (goreng pisang)

Wine: Copper Ridge Vineyards Chardonnay, $19.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: Goreng Pisang and Egg Tarts

The sweet Chardonnay is brilliant with pastry-based snacks like Portuguese egg tarts and the goreng pisang. Served chilled, it is a refreshing contrast to the flaky pastry and fried batter of these snacks. Its subtle floral undertones pair well with the light custard of the egg tarts and, while less prominent, still matches with the sweet punch of the banana. This comes with a warning: it is an addictive pairing. They’re great as appetisers or snacks for post-dinner hangouts.

Five Oaks Wine
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine label) and The Hungry Cow via Wikimedia Commons (goreng pisang)

Wine: Five Oaks White Zinfandel, $25.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: Har Cheong Gai

The rosé proves a good match with a number of dishes, but the absolute standout is the har cheong gai or prawn paste chicken. Its flavour profile presents a challenge: The earthy and slightly pungent fermented shrimp paste (har cheong) making up the crunchy batter must remain prominent. After all, it’s what makes the fried chicken so special.

The floral and fruity white zinfandel with the aroma of apples works well with the prawn paste chicken wings. The wine is not overpowered at all by the distinct taste of the dish.

Claro Cabernet Sauvignon
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and sharonang via Pixabay (beef rendang)

Wine: Claro Wine of Chile Cabernet Sauvignon (2017), $16.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pair: Beef Rendang Rice

The very popular Cabernet Sauvignon is our top choice of red for the hearty Beef Rendang Rice. The wine’s bold and bright flavours go perfectly with the sweet savoury rendang, rounding off the piquant sauce. Meanwhile, the cool cucumber slices bring out the rich flavour of the wine. When we tried other reds, we found the rest of the dish—the rice and the egg—overpowered by heavier bodies such as Merlot. Lighter reds and whites, on the other hand, simply got upstaged by the rich rendang stew.

Merlot and Char Kway Teow
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and Alpha via Wikimedia Commons (char kway teow)

Wine: Van Loveren Merlot (2016), $18.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pairing: Char Kway Teow

It was tough to find the wine that would pair well with char kway teow. The complex flavours of this dish come from the mix of pork lard, briny cockles, and the ever elusive presence of a good wok hei. Char kway teow also has an interesting blend of textures. The base of the dish are noodles that are silky yet have bite, and slick with just the right amount of oil. Then, there are chunks of soft scrambled egg, crunchy beansprouts, and bits of sausage and seafood.

The merlot’s balance of spicy and sweet flavours with earthy and woodsy tones pair well with the dish’s complex taste. We also recommend trying a white wine with enough acidity to cut through oiler or heavier versions of this dish.

Syrah Winemakers Reserve
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and theMEATMENchannel via YouTube (tau suan)

Wine: Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah (2015), $17.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pairing: Tau Suan and Dimsum

Light tannins in this syrah work well with the flavours of both dim sum and tau suan. It pairs beautifully with the siew mai—the mix of seafood and pork provides a lovely balance with the mellow and buttery syrah.

There are also subtle notes of plum and light florals in this dimsum pairing. Even if they’re less noticeable when paired with the tau suan, the combination remains enjoyable. Overall, the syrah is good on its own or as a palate cleanser to prepare us for the next pairing.

Pinot Noir Van Loveren
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and Sjschen via Wikimedia Commons (popiah)

Wine: Van Loveren Blue Velvet Pinot Noir (2015), $18.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pairing: Popiah

The pinot noir goes well with the popiah, which at first seems a light dish. However, the popiah actually packs a punch. It’s a savoury stewed radish rolled into one joyful bite of sweet thick soy sauce, toasted peanuts, sausage, prawns, chives, and the magic sprinkle of crunchy pork lard. The popiah also benefits from the red wine’s woody profile.

When paired with the popiah, we discerned hints of fruit in the pinot noir. The fruitiness was not as obvious when we drank the wine on its own.

Berri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon
Photos courtesy of Giant (wine) and Meditations via Pixabay (lamb steak)

Wine: Berri Estates Cabernet Sauvignon (2016), $19.90. Buy here.
Hawker food pairing: Lamb Steak with Fries, Pasta, and Coleslaw

Matching the cabernet sauvignon with our local hawker version of Western fare is a no-brainer. This medium-bodied red is spicy with hints of plum and notes of berries. It leaves a lingering kick that pairs perfectly with the slight gaminess of the lamb steak. The sides of fries, pasta, and coleslaw round off this comforting meal.

Again, it ultimately boils down to the balance of flavours, the compatibility of ingredients, and your personal preference. No need to overthink things. Go ahead, experiment and take notes. Try out the pairings with a group so everyone can weigh in. That’s exactly what our team did—and we had loads of fun getting to know each other’s preferred flavours. (We tested out the cheapest wines here)

Want to hold your own wine and hawker food tasting session? Go to your favourite food hawker stalls (or make your own), and then shop for these wines at Giant. Be one of the first to know about Giant’s hottest deals on wines and many more!