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White Orchids Thai Cuisine is a restaurant located in Center Valley, Pennsylvania–serving traditional Thai food but also a complete wine menu for delicious pairings. If you enjoy Thai food but have never had it with wine, consider it your new best way to dine.
Touting itself as the ‘best restaurant in the Lehigh Valley,’ you’ll find classic entrees like Pad Thai, curries, and Drunken Noodles with a Thai basil sauce. Also on the menu? Fresh appetizers like summer rolls, grilled prawns, and potstickers. For customers looking for a blend of cuisines, they even have the option for Hawaiian Pad Thai.
But that’s not all. The full drink menu has recently gained attention, especially as the owners plan to open up a second restaurant this coming August. The second restaurant, following up on the success of the first, will seat two hundred customers at a time and this time blending both Asian and American influences.
But despite the new restaurant’s slight tweak on Thai food, it will parallel its flagship Thai restaurant with a full wine bar complete with many wine varieties.
Make no mistake: the full and drink menus about both menus isn’t simply to bring in new customers. In fact, one of the best ways to enjoy Thai Food is with the proper wine pairings. But how do you find the best wine pairings with Thai Food? We hope this guide will help you do just that.
What is Thai Food?
Thai Food, as the name implies, comes from Thailand and has gained prominence in other countries like the United States, though Thai Food is not as popular as Chinese Food. Contrary to what might be popular belief, Thai Food actually is regional, with variations on cuisine depending on where you are in Thailand:
Central Thailand refers to the region west of Bangkok, the capital city, and includes a rich delta region which is ideal for growing rice. Jasmine rice is naturally served quite a bit here, as is especially spicy, sweet and sour flavors. Chili sauces are popular in this region, as are a variety of spiced and lemongrass soup. Shrimp is a favorite source of protein.
Northern Thailand is known for its mountainous, jungle-covered regions and high peaks. Dishes typically are sour or hot instead of sweet and centered on more understated staples, such as sausages and pork with steamed vegetables.
Southern Thailand, on the other hand, serves up dishes with bold flavors, with everything from sour and salty to hot. In fact, it’s in the South you’ll find some of the spiciest dishes Thai Food has to offer, especially curries which are quite popular. Dipping, sauces, pastes, and chiles are common accompaniments to fresh seafood.
Northeast Thailand is a drier climate, with low levels of rainfall. Most dishes from this region combine spicy and sour elements, with beef and chicken in a sour sauce served alongside steamed rice being the common entries.
Is Thai Food different in the United States?
Maybe you’re a fan of Chinese Food but have heard that what we’re eating in the United States isn’t the same as what is being eaten in mainland China. Those are not just rumors. Many Chinese dishes we enjoy are actually Chinese-American dishes, adapted for sweeter and specific flavors that would not normally be consumed in China.
Typically, the dishes that are the most popular with Americans are the very ones that aren’t eaten in China, and they tend to have a few things in common: they tend to be both heavier and sweeter. In fact, crab wontons, sweet and sour chicken or pork, egg rolls, and even fortune cookies are all ‘Americanized’ versions of Chinese dishes.
The same is true of Thai Food, though to a lesser extent. Though Thai Food has not been as heavily adapted to American tastes as Chinese, there are a number of differences. With That Food, it’s not so much that Americans have added dishes of their own so much as they have changed them:
Portions: American Thai Food dishes tend to be much larger than those served in Thailand. The ratio of meat is far different as well. Well, most Thai dishes in Thailand tend to have a little meat, American dishes make meat more the focus of the dish.
Fewer Herbs: American Thai Food tends to have less fresh herbs and seasonings.
Heat Level: American Thai Food, for the most part, turns down the heat level; even spicy curries tend to be mild hot rather than very hot.
Sticky Rice: While in Thailand steamed rice is most often used and sticky rice only for certain dishes, American Thai Food tends to favor sticky over steamed rice.
Why do differences matter when it comes to finding the best wine pairings?
This will only matter technically were you to eat traditional Thai Food, but as a whole, we have to adjust what wine recommendations we make ever so slightly for American Thai Food. As a whole, America Thai Food is slightly more heavy on meat and less spicy than traditional Thai Food.
What are the signature flavors of Thai Food?
For our intents and purposes, from here on out we will be referring to Thai Food as the dishes served in the United States. In general, there are five main flavor notes in Thai Food: sweet, sour, salty, spicy and creamy. Occasionally, there may be some bitter accent notes.
Sweet flavors usually come from coconut and other fruits; Sour flavors can be found in soups, dips, and drinks and include lemongrass, lime, vinegar, and not yet ripe fruit. Salty flavors come from sea salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, and seafood. Creamy flavors can be found in creams and cream based sauces.
Spicy flavors can range from mild to very hot and mostly come from chili peppers, peppercorn, garlic, ginger, and coriander.
What are some of the most popular Thai Food dishes served in the United States?
In order to determine the best wine pairings with Thai Food here, we need to take a look not only at the general flavor profiles but also specific popular dishes. Here are some of them you might find yourself ordering. Most if not all of these dishes you can also find in Thailand; they just might be slightly different.
This classic noodle dish is both heavy and light, with medium to thin noodles served with bean sprouts, onion and, in some cases, egg. Normally vegetables may be included, including carrots and other stir fry vegetables.
Thin rice noodles are the most classic, but other noodles are sometimes used. The noodles are lightly tossed in oil and often topped with garlic, pepper flakes, and lime. Crushed peanuts also add texture. The sauce tends to be salty sweet, but Pad Thai can also be served with a peanut sauce. Protein options include shrimp, chicken, or strips of pork.
Overall, Pad Thai is a rich and creamy experience, with a meaty feel but bright notes of citrus and heat, as well as some texture from the peanuts. Pad Thai usually is more mild than hot, though heat levels can be adjusted to your liking.
Tom Yum Goong
This is actually a soup, which can be used as an appetizer or an entree. This is a spicy, flavorful shrimp soup that features some of Thai Food’s most signature flavors, including lemongrass, lime, shallots, and chili. Mushrooms are also included, adding an umami note. Bright, but spicy and full, this too is a dish with complex flavors.
While there are many specific curry dishes, we’ll quickly summarize some of the more popular ones. Panang Curry may not be one you hear often, but it’s basically a red curry with salty and sweet elements. The curry is made from peanuts, chili peppers, lemongrass, garlic, shrimp paste, lime, coriander, and cumin.
Green curry dishes typically combine coconut milk with chilies and even contains a bit of sugar for a very mild, sweet and creamy dish, often paired with pork, beef, chicken, fish, or even as a vegetarian dish. While there are many other curries, red and green curries are most popular in the United States.
Fried Rice, often thought of like a Chinese dish, can be served as an entree or side. Fried egg, onions, and herbs and tossed with pan fried rice for a simply starchy dish without a ton of explosive flavor. However, it is often topped with other protein sources, sauces, and seasonings.
Kai Med Ma Muang
More commonly known as Chicken with Cashews, this classic dish is a staple at most Thai Food restaurants. Known for its varied textures and structure, it’s a salty-sweet dish. Roasted cashews, sweetened soy sauce, a touch of honey, onions, carrots, and mushrooms accompany the chicken. There is often some chili flakes, but the heat level is very low to mild.
What should my approach be to pairing wine with Thai Food?
When pairing wine with Thai Food, it’s important to keep a holistic approach in mind. Unlike pairing wine with salmon, when you’re trying to pair wine with Thai Food you’re taking into account the complexity of textures and flavors that are common in the most popular dishes.
Because of this, you need to find a wine that is generally not one note. While there are many excellent wines that have a central flavor profile, complex, multilayered wine will pair far better with Thai Food. As we have also discussed, Thai Food does vary a bit in terms of flavors, heat level, and sweet vs sour notes. As such, no one wine will be suited to all Thai Food dishes.
To that end, we’ll give some general recommendations based upon the most common flavors in Thai Food, but we’ll also get a bit more specific as well when it comes to some individual dishes.
How do I find the best wine pairings with Thai Food?
The best wine pairings with Thai Food can be found by taking a look at the following characteristics:
What level of acidity is best?
Acidity in wine is the puckering sensation, or tartness you taste when you drink. Wines high in acidity are often described as more crisp or sharp. Bright, crisp notes, often associated with more citrus based flavors all describe a wine with high acidity.
With Thai Food, that’s exactly what you want: a wine with bright notes of acidity for a refreshing, fresh and crisp taste. The higher levels of acidity complement the lime and citrus notes that are commonly used as garnishes in Thai Food, and helps lift the heavier elements of starchy rice and noodles.
Bright acidity is also a natural pair for dishes with chicken and seafood, both of which are very popular for Thai Food. Finally, the acidity helps add levity to a complex dish. Low acid wines tend to be less stated and more smooth and may get lost with the various textures and flavors of Thai Food.
What color of wine should I select?
With Thai Food, there are a few options you have in terms of your wine color; however, as a general rule, most Thai Food pairs best with white wines. White wines tend to be lower in tannins.
Tannins, also known as polyphenol, are naturally occurring substances that provide structure but also bitterness in the wine. Tannins in wine tend to create a more bitter profile that is not well suited for the sour, hot and sweet flavors of most Thai Food.
The one exception is that dishes with a lot of heat, like a hot curry, can blend reasonably well with a red wine that isn’t too pronounced. Some Rosé also works, as long as they are the more crisp side. Rosé drinks work because the fruit-based flavors blend well with curries and chilies.
What kind of flavors should I look for in a wine pairing with Thai Food?
The best wine pairings with Thai Food tend to blend dynamic, layered flavors. The ideal is prominent fruit flavors, with acidity and a touch of sweetness–as is the case with Riesling, which works as an all-around safe wine pairing. Tropical fruits, such as mangoes, as well as lemon or lime citrus are also excellent options. You can also opt for a wine that embodies sweet and sour elements, like a Pinot Noir.
Does body matter?
The body of a wine is essentially how heavy wine feels as you drink it. In most cases, you want to look for a light bodied wine. Since we’re looking for a wine that is crisp, acidic, low in tannins and adds lift to the heavier and complex elements of Thai Food, light to medium body wines are best. If you are having a Thai Beef dish, you can opt instead for a medium body red like Merlot or a Rosé. For most Thai Food dishes, however, PRosé CCO, Veltliner and Pinot Blanc are better options.
Should the wine be aged?
Aged wine tends to produce flavors over time, but not all wine is better with age: in fact, a very small percentage of wine is even meant to be aged. With that in mind, consider that not only is less likely your wine has been aged (not to mention it would be more expensive) but it may not be suiting. This is the case here, as well. Barrel aged wine, in particular, tends to add a signature oak and vanilla taste, which doesn’t pair as well with Thai Food. You’re fine without your wine aged; it’s better to have it crisp and bright.
Dry or Sweet?
Dry wine is simply wine that has little to no residual sugars. If you’re trying to find the best wine pairings with Thai Food, you’re best off with a dry wine. Dry wines pair well with bright acidity; a sweet wine undercuts acidity.
Dry wines also tend to be sharper and crisper in terms of their flavor notes, which is helpful when pairing with complex, sweet, sour and hot Thai Food. If you do want to go a little sweet, pair a sweet Riesling with red curry. Green curries still may do better with a more dry wine, because they tend to be more smooth and mild, while a red curry packs enough heat that a sweet wine can add some balance.
Can you summarize general wine pairing suggestions with Thai Food for me?
Thai Food is highly versatile, as is the selection of wines you can choose from. Dry white wine with crisp and bright acidity, light to medium body, and fruity notes is a safe bet. The wine should have many flavor notes to complement the layered flavors in Thai Food but also not feel too heavy or overpowering.
A spicy red curry may be mellowed out with a sweeter wine, and while spicier dishes can be accompanied with a mild body red wine like Cabernet Franc, white wine and Rosé are preferred.
What about wine pairings with specific Thai Food dishes?
While we’ve given you some general suggestions, let’s take a look at just a few specific recommendations for wine pairings with specific Thai Food dishes.
For Pad Thai, try a French Riesling like Josmeyer Grand Hengst Riesling, 2014
This wine comes from Alsace, with bright acidity, notes of ripe lemons, apples, and tropical fruit, and a medium body. The fresh notes complement the lighter bean sprouts and shredded carrots, with the multi-layered flavors pair well with the complexity of a mostly mild, creamy and crunchy dish.
For Red Curry, a try a classic Chardonnay like Babich Hawkes Bay Unoaked 2016
For this dish, try a wine with flavor notes like stone fruit and touch honey. Peach, melon and a hint of raisin produce a pleasant and creamy wine. The sweeter touches and smooth experience are a great pairing for the heat of the red curry.
For a Green Curry, a dry German Riesling is a great option, such as the Riesling Maximin Klosterlay, 2017.
Lemon is the prominent flavor but is given more depth just like a sweeter curry, with licorice notes and a long finish.
For Fried Rice, you want a more understated but still acidic and crisp wine
Depending on what sauce accompanies the fried wine, you can go a few ways, but a nice option is a Rosé like Biohof Pratsch 2018. The Austrian wine combines watermelon and strawberry notes with earthier undertones, which complement the rice itself. However, it is considered a lighter, less complex wine, meaning it will feel pleasant but not overbearing for a simple dish like fried rice.
For a Chicken with Cashew dish, considered a white, acidic wine such as a Chenin Blanc with apple notes, like Habit Chenin Blanc 2016.
This Californian wine combines apricots, peaches, lemon, and a dash of nutmeg–all of which complement the crunchy-creamy, slightly sweet complexity of Cashew Chicken.
For Coconut Based Dishes, such as soups, go with a sweet Reisling or a dry Chardonnay.
Dishes with coconut milk are naturally rich and creamy, and either is well suited, but a sweet Riesling is better for spicier dishes, as a dry Chardonnay like Edna Valley Vineyard Paragon Chardonnay is more suited for sweet dishes. This American wine is oaked, but you can get by with it because it produces a buttery wine with medium acidity that plays well with the creamy coconut.
FAQ’s About Wine that Goes with Thai Food
Thailand is not a big wine producer, but it does have some regions known for its wine. The principal wine production in Thailand is around Pak Chong and Khao Yai national park in Nakhon Ratchasima. On the second hand, there are other regions like Pattaya, Hua Hin and the North Region.
Drinking laws in Thailand are very similar to other countries. There are some places where it is illegal to drink, like temples and worship. If you drink or buy alcohol underage, it can result in jail time.
Surprisingly, wine is very cheap in Thailand, you can find a good bottle of wine of 0,64 liters in just 2$. It’s very easy to find good deals in larger supermarkets to pair your traditional dish.
With cooking, you definitely have to think about finding a perfect wine pair to the dish you are preparing and here we explain to you some tasty combinations that you can make including: