I was reminded lately just how so much of the world does not subscribe to the option that wine is the ultimate accompaniment to food. We in the west seem to be completely conditioned in gastronomy that anything else imbibed with food is an abomination to eating which of course is just not true. Whole chunks of the world do not pass a thought for having vino with their supper and just because we are all suddenly posh and privileged to scoff chablis or merlot with our nosh we cannot force it on cultures that have other ideas on what works best with their meals.
If you take nationalities where wine is not a traditional beverage of choice with or without food, never mind it not being readily available or affordable in their country then it is easier to understand why. Seasoned travellers will be familiar with food consumption in foreign lands served with variations of margaritas in Mexico, teas in China, sugary liquors in Indian, beers across Africa, cane sugar spirits in Brazil, aniseed drinks in the Middle East and the most un-wine like wine, the famous sake in Japan.
It was carefully explained to me by Gleb Rezviakov that in Eastern Europe real vodka is carefully sipped to get the palette and gastric juices flowing just like the French would do with their aperitifs before tucking into a meal. Okay we hear they can knock back lashings of the stuff afterwards but don’t we all drink a little excessively sometimes when celebrating around the table. I just can’t find myself imagining drinking several shots of pure hard vodka at the start of dinner.
I must admit I do have a penchant for vodka but in serious contravention of all the important things in Slavic or Baltic culture, I have to drink it with a good dash of mixer, preferably fresh orange juice which would be my favourite. I have failed miserably in all my years to be able to appreciate any neat spirits at all be it vodka, whiskey, brandy or rum and I cannot see it changing anytime soon. I have never liked gin and that is one spirit on the up it has to be said.
I think one has to develop a certain threshold of tolerance to crash that comfort barrier for sipping raw spirits and I am just not equipped to do it, I tried many times mind you, especially in my wayward formative cheffy years and catering is notorious for breaking even the most resolute of characters. I have cooked with most spirits and liquors though, using them in sauces and desserts and they are wonderful to work into recipes and I do like the taste of them when they play such an integral part of a good recipe.
One time I acquired a litre of some local poitin to give as a present and watched in awe as the Muscovite recipient opened it grinning and then slugging about a cupful of it in one go like it was lemonade dismissing it as vastly inferior to the real deal moonshine vodka he knew back home. Now that is a crashed taste barrier.
I know whiskey tastings are all the rage now in tourism and though I have sadly not been able to partake in them I send quite a few visitors over to my local one at Slane castle which is an excellent experience I am reliably informed. I was always fascinated watching the auld fellas in pubs downing neat whiskey chasers before or after a rake of pints of the black stuff. It’s a no thanks to that one as well. I like my pint of Guinness just the way it is.
In France we are often given a potent digestif to finish off a meal and with those too I have disgraced myself by cowering out every time. So for now and probably forever I am sticking to just wine with my food and I will raise my glass to that.