I’ve still got the bloody hiccups. Mrs Ray has recently returned from the Far East and has been trying out on her nearest and dearest several of the recipes she garnered during her trip. There’s the one with a bit of garlic and lots of chilli and the one with a bit of chilli and lots of garlic; there’s the coconut milk one (with, erm, garlic and chilli) and that thing we had last night with lemongrass, star-anise, cloves, cardamom and, yep, garlic and chilli.
They are all delicious, natch, but along with other similar dishes they have one thing in common (apart from their two staple ingredients): they all give me hiccups. It’s the wretched chilli. It does for me every time. Well, it’s either the chilli or the ice-cold lager that I often have alongside. One mouthful of chilli and a lengthy but far-too-quickly-taken draught of Kingfisher, Tiger or Asahi Super Dry to douse the flames and I get that synchronous diaphragmatic flutter thing going on. It cracks my two boys up no end and they have bets on how long it will be before I become so afflicted and on how long it will take before I become calm and still again. Little rotters.
I’m nothing if not stoic, though, and it takes more than a little spasmodic gastrointestinal discomfort to put me off my tucker. I simply grit my teeth and carry on manfully. In fact, my main anxiety with such food is what the heck to drink.
The default setting is, of course, lager and I have shelves of Asahi in the fridge to prove it, but when I go out I do try to be a bit more adventurous, particularly at the Red Snapper, our local Thai. It not only serves excellent grub but also does BYO, which makes it cracking good value. It seems daft, therefore, to take beer when one can take wine for no extra cost. The trouble is that I am far too indecisive and always take too many bottles. I mean, I don’t know what I’m going to eat until I get there, do I? It might be Thai green curry or pad Thai or that nice sizzling fish thing they do on a skillet, and I like to be prepared. I invariably end up sharing the vino among the other tables, though.
The other day I took a nice ‘n’ spicy gewurztraminer, which always works well as a pipe-opener as you sit perusing the menu. Pick a good one that’s not too dry and it’ll suit many a Thai dish, the oiliness, spiciness and touch of sweetness matching like with like. Mine worked a treat with the spicy Thai fishcakes too. The subsequent crisp, clean Loire sauvignon blanc, though, tasted very odd with the coconut, galangal and chicken soup and was clearly a mistake.
I should have paid more attention to Costanzo Scala, the wine buyer and head sommelier at that nonpareil Indian eaterie, Benares, in Berkeley Square, London W1. Creamy coconut dishes need soft, creamy wines, he reckons. On the other hand, dishes with ginger, coriander and, say, lime need something more acidic. Sauvignon blanc would be perfect here, the wine’s grassiness matching the herby notes of the coriander.
Scala further contends that heat on the palate makes one salivate and that you need softer, oilier wines as a result. Acidic wines such as sauvignon or riesling simply accentuate the heat of the spice, whereas oak-aged chardonnays, viogniers or fine pinot grigio carry the spice for longer but in a soothing manner without imparting too much heat. With tandoori dishes the latter are a must, he reckons, with the oakiness and butteriness of the wines bringing out the lovely, smoky, charcoal flavours of the tandoor.
“But above all it’s balance that matters,” he cautions. “Try the wine on its own first. If it’s high in alcohol and warm in the mouth, imagine how much warmer it’ll be with chilli on top of it. You might think of taking something softer and less alcoholic, or at least one where the alcohol is well integrated.”
The other night at the Red Snapper I had a terrific South African shiraz (see Six of the Best, left) which was spot-on with stir-fried duck breast and spicy red curry sauce. It was spicy stuff itself, its sweet ripe cherry fruit weaving some particular magic.
But, but, but… having said that, a beer is sometimes just so right. A hoppy lager is perfect with a fiery chicken Madras, say, as is a sweet-edged stout or porter with lamb pasanda. And it’s hard to beat the superb Hoegaarden Blonde with coconut and coriander veg curry.
That must be a match made in heaven; I’m starting to hiccup at the very thought.

Six of the best to drink with hot food