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A Michelin-recognized restaurant’s guide to pairing drinks with Indian cuisine

From beer to wine to cocktails, the experts at Chola Coastal Indian Cuisine break down all the details.

Red wine pouring.
Bastian Lizut / EyeEm / Getty Images

When it comes to beverage pairings, French and Italian food holds the spotlight in America. But with its vast range of spices and variety, Indian food is also an amazing culinary landscape when it comes to drink pairing. If the idea of ice-cold lager combined with spicy shrimp baghari jhinga doesn’t excite you, we don’t know what will. 

For expert guidance, we spoke with Chola Coastal Indian Cuisine in New York City. Recognized in the Michelin Guide and a favorite of Martha Stewart, Chola breaks down every pairing from beer to wine to cocktails.

Beer

bowl of Indian shrimp black background
The shrimp baghari jhinga at Chola. Chola

To start, Chola recommends the popular Indian beer brands Taj Mahal and Kingfisher. Indian cuisine is justifiably famous for its spice, and the crisp and refreshing qualities of these lager beers (especially during spring and summer) pair particularly dishes like butter chicken, vindaloo, or shrimp baghari jhinga. These lagers also offer the widest range of pairings as they complement most dishes.

For IPAs such as Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, these hoppier and bitter beers are excellent with Indian dishes that pack a punch. “The bitterness of the IPA can balance the richness of dishes like lamb curry or murgh tandoori chicken,” explains Chola.

And for Blue Moon fans, Chola recommends fruity and smooth wheat beer with milder and creamier dishes. The citrus and clove elements of wheat beer go great with paneer malai tikka and tanjavur avial, a creamy coconut-based vegetable dish from Southern India.  

Wine

indian lobster with black background
Lata Shetty’s Lobster Ghee Roast at Chola. Chola

If you’re looking for a wine to pair with a hearty Indian meat dish, Chola has the perfect suggestion — cabernet sauvignon. “This full-bodied red wine is rich in tannins, allowing it to pair well with hearty and spicy dishes,” explains Chola. “Its bold flavors can stand up to the intensity of Indian spices while complementing the savory notes of meat-based dishes.”

But for roasted or grilled meats, Chola leans towards Shiraz. “Shiraz wines often have peppery and spicy undertones,” says Chola. “Making them a natural match for Indian cuisine. The wine’s dark fruit flavors and hints of black pepper can enhance the flavors of grilled or roasted meats.” Their suggestions? Try Shiraz with anything from the infamous tandoori chicken to a goat biryani.

For white wine, sweet riesling is a natural with spicier dishes, and the natural buttery mouthfeel of chardonnay is a fit for anything creamy, such as shrimp tikka masala or lamb gosht pasanda. Since one of Chola’s specialties is seafood, they have plenty of white wine recommendations for shellfish. Specifically, sauvignon blanc has the crisp acidity that complements lobster ajwain tikka. “The wine’s acidity can cut through the richness of creamy sauces,” says Chola. “While its herbal notes can complement the spices used in the dish.”

Finally, pinot grigio is another excellent white wine choice. Chola advises pairing pinot grigio with lighter seafood dishes, like meen polichattu, a Southern Indian dish of fish cooked in banana leaves. The wine’s acidity and fruit-forward notes will pair nicely with this more delicate fish dish. 

Cocktails

Whisky, whiskey, bourbon or cognac with ice cudes on black stone table and wood background
stockfotocz / Adobe Stock

Chola features an extensive cocktail list, but they lean towards recommending something light and refreshing when pairing. The idea is to cleanse the palate and not overpower the flavors. Some of the most popular cocktails at Chola are the Himalayan Sunset (vodka, King’s Ginger Liqueur, mango puree, and fresh lime juice) and the gin and bourbon-based Anara Cumana(recipe at the end).

Generally, vodka, gin, and whiskey are the spirits recommended by Chola with Indian cuisine. “Vodka is a recommended spirit for enjoying with Indian cuisine as its clean and neutral flavor profile allows it to pair with a wide range of Indian dishes,” says Chola. Gin, with its blend of bitter herbals notes, can be great with some spicer Indian dishes.

But a favorite of the three might be whiskey. Due to its vast range and complex flavor profile, whiskey or a whiskey cocktail is perfect between bites of spicy Indian food. “Its smooth texture and caramel, vanilla, and smoky notes can balance the spices and richness of the food, creating a harmonious dining experience,” says Chola.

Anara Cumana cocktail 

orange pink cocktail with orange slice.
The Anara Cumana Cocktail at Chola. Chola

Ingredients

  • 1 oz of bourbon whisky
  • 1 oz of gin
  • 1 oz of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 3/4 oz of grenadine syrup
  • Garnish: orange slice and a cherry

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 5 seconds. 
  2. Strain and pour it on an old-fashioned glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry.

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Hunter Lu
Hunter Lu is a New York-based food and features writer, editor, and NYU graduate. His fiction has appeared in The Line…
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