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Drink to dishes paired with baijiu
Publication Date : 06-11-2012
Baijiu is considered to be China's most popular alcohol; drunk on celebratory occasions. Yet, the distilled Chinese white spirit is still unfamiliar to many outside the country.
At 40 to 60 per cent alcohol by volume, the full-bodied drink is likened to firewater and is drunk in small shots. It is made from sorghum, rice, glutinous rice, wheat and maize, all of which is fermented in earthenware jars for two to three months.
More than 3,000 distilleries in China produce the potent white liquor. Among the handful of the premium luxury brands is Shui Jing Fang, which dates back 600 years. It is listed in The Guinness Book Of Records as the oldest distillery in the world.
On November 29, adventurous gourmands here can get a taste of Shui Jing Fang's premium baijiu which is paired with exotic meats, at a decadent seven- course dinner at Tong Le Private Dining.
This is part of the annual Asian Masters culinary festival, organised by Singapore Press Holdings' subsidiary, Sphere Exhibits.
To accompany the Chinese spirit, Tong Le's executive chef, Martin Foo, 45, has created dishes such as double-boiled soft shell turtle with fish maw and cordyceps, steamed wild empurau fish with crispy skin and traditional braised crocodile tail with morel fragrant rice.
Other courses include an appetiser of wild mallard duck prepared three ways - smoked with oolong, pan-seared and confit, as well as a dessert of blood bird's nest with cream of almond, black sesame and double-boiled ginseng with dried longan.
Foo says: "To go with the baijiu, we brought in the best products from various countries. The empurau is from Sarawak and the blood bird's nest is from Indonesia. A lot of work also goes into the preparation to enhance the flavours and match well with each of the baijiu."
The four baijiu to be presented at the dinner are Wellbay, Classic, Forest Green and Scholar's Edition. Lee Harle, 42, general manager of global alcohol distributor Diageo's Chinese white spirits division, will also be at the dinner to speak about the drink.
Before coming to Singapore, he had lived in China for seven years, learning about the drink and the Shui Jing Fang brand. Diageo acquired the Shui Jing Fang brand a year ago and has brought its baijiu to the United Kingdom, the United States and Singapore.
He says: "Like champagne, baijiu is an extroverted drink meant for celebrations. The drink pairs well with spicy food because of the strong alcohol content."
Like fine wines, premium baijiu can also be an investment, says Harle. Some bottles come beautifully packaged, with intricate paintings and carvings.
Other popular baijiu producers include Maotai from Guizhou and state-owned Wuliangye from southern Sichuan.
Unlike wine, there are no clear rules about indicating the vintage of the baijiu.
Harle says: "The premium brands have to always be on the watch for counterfeit baijiu that could harm the industry. It is important that they have their own labels so that the buyers can trace the source."
Of the baijiu scene, he adds: "With people becoming more interested in Chinese culture and cuisine, the market for baijiu is growing tremendously. People are learning to appreciate more and many travellers also pick up the drink at the duty-free outlets in airports. Now buyers come knocking on our door as well."