Baijiu is often considered a social drink, and it plays a large part in most Chinese business deals. A willingness to drink baijiu demonstrates a high alcohol tolerance and strong constitution. Many Chinese nationals will take this is a sign that you are prepared to sacrifice western ideals, and do what is necessary to respect the customs of your host.
Baijiu is not only a spirit that is associated with binge drinking, however. Many families enjoy baijiu at mealtimes in the home. In addition, baijiu will often be served with a business or state dinner.
The first exposure of many western patrons to baijiu will come through pairing the drink with food. This is particularly advisable for first-time baijiu drinkers. The strength and potency of the spirit can be intolerable when consumed as a straight shot. Combining baijiu with food softens the strength of the alcohol, and allows an unaccustomed stomach to digest it better.
Baijiu and food are linked very closely to their territories in which they are produced. Different Chinese provinces will have different preferences toward baijiu. Depending on where a meal is taking place, Strong, Light, Rice or Sauce Aromas baijius will be served. This will be accompanied by a traditional dish from this same area.
While there are no formal rules surrounding the pairing of food and baijiu, some guidelines can be found below. If you ever find yourself in doubt, however, never hesitate to ask advice of your host. Locals will enjoy sharing their beliefs surrounding alcohol and food pairings, as these are two major elements of Chinese culture and social behaviours.
Best Food Pairings for Strong Aroma Baijiu
Strong Aroma baijiu is very popular in the Sichuan region of China. This territory is most famous for its strong and spicy sauce. This means that a Strong Aroma baijiu should always be paired with a hot and spicy food.
Thick and fatty meat will pair well with Strong Aroma baijiu, as the spirit will cut through the toughness of the meat. Consider pairing these meats with stir fried noodles for an authentic Chinese experience. When replicating the Sichuan experience, however, a hot and spicy sauce is a must.
Sichuan sauce, much like baijiu, is not the faint-hearted. If your palate cannot tolerate hot sauce, the cuisine of this region is best avoided. If Sichuan food is prepared appropriately, your lips will tingle and your throat will burn. The addition to baijiu will neutralize this spiciness.
As a result, Strong Aroma baijiu does not naturally pair with many western dishes. If you enjoy a particularly spicy Indian-style curry or hot cause, however, you will find this baijiu a natural accompaniment.
Best Food Pairings for Light Aroma Baijiu
Light Aroma baijiu is considerably subtler than most alternatives. This does not mean that it contains low alcohol. This baijiu is just as potent as any other. However, when soaking up the alcohol of this spirit, you can select a far lighter accompaniment.
When in China, most nationals will pair a Light Aroma baijiu with chicken or seafood. Pairing Light Aroma baijiu with spicy red meat is inadvisable, as the strength of the two tastes will clash.
If you are confident in your ability to drink baijiu, you could even consider pairing a Light Aroma vintage with a salad. This baijiu will have a slightly sweet and floral taste, so it complements such greenery well. If you are inexperienced in the world of baijiu, however, it is safer to select a more substantial food.
Best Food Pairings for Rice Aroma Baijiu
Rice Aroma baijiu is similar to Light Aroma in that it is comparatively light. Again, this does not mean that it is low in alcohol. You will still likely experience a minimum of 50% proof in a Rice Aroma baijiu.
However, the lighter taste sensation ensures that this baijiu is more often paired with appetisers than a main course. Popular choices in any Chinese eatery such as ramen, tempura or fried mushrooms can also be accompanied by Rice Aroma baijiu. Avoid red meat, as the tastes will clash.
If you are enjoying a chicken chow mein or similar dish, devoid of strong and spicy sauces, a Rice Aroma baijiu will make a natural accompaniment. Fresh seafood is also paired with the baijiu on occasion, though a Light Aroma baijiu is considered a more natural bedfellow to oysters and clams.
Best Food Pairings for Sauce Aroma Baijiu
Sauce aroma baijiu is arguably the best-known and most prestigious baijiu in China. This is because Moutai, the most celebrated brand of baijiu, is a Sauce Aroma spirit. Moutai is served at all state banquets, and formal occasions. This means that if you are being treated as a VIP guest in China, you will likely be served Moutai baijiu.
If you are looking to pair a food with Sauce Aroma baijiu, select something with very strong flavours. This is designed to counteract the strong taste of the spirit. If sampling this baijiu in the west, consider pairing it with smoked Buffalo wings or fatty meats, such as pork.
If your meat is pickled or accompanied by a strong sauce, this will also complement the baijiu well. Remember that Sauce Aroma baiju often contains soy sauce, however. This means that you should minimize the use of salt in your cuisine choice. Failing to do so could lead to sodium overpowering all other flavours.
If dining in China, most dishes that accompany Strong Aroma baijiu will be pickled and spicy. This means that chillies will play a major role in the cuisine, as will unmistakably strong tastes such as garlic paste. Grilled Korean foods, caviar and Japanese sashimi are also natural pairings for Sauce Aroma baijiu.