My favourite food pairings

I recently bought a book about food and wine and food pairings. By recently, I mean years ago, but as I am a compulsive book-buyer with an ever-growing backlog to catch up on, I only recently got round to opening it. It was a fascinating read, which I will summarise with: a Riesling goes with pretty much everything I enjoy.

When I read about wine, I can’t help but feel like a philistine, confused and embarrassed by my own faulty perception. I don’t really get half of the flavours described. You know, plum and lemon and minerality and soil. But what I do know, is which foods go well with other foods. How rosemary and thyme can elevate a plump roast chicken, how a slick of mustard lifts up a plain ham sandwich made with white plastic bread. I love the classics: bread and tomato, balsamico vinegar on strawberries, tabasco on eggs. And many others, which may be a little idiosyncratic, like how I like a little pepper on a slice of peach so ripe it falls apart, no longer able to contain its juices, or ketchup on fish fingers. So below are some of my favourite food pairings, those foods and experiences which are far, far more than the sum of their parts.

Bread, butter, jam
I am a true believer in the power of butter, of which an innocently creamy layer will improve pretty much anything. On top of crusty bread, it will give life to canned sardines, anchovies, trickle-hued marmite, runny honey.
With jam, though, it becomes so much more. This is especially true in the villages in the Alps of my childhood, where the bread is still warm, the butter so thick and fresh it’s almost cheese, and the jam possesses the delicate tartness of fruits you’ve picked yourself.

Mint syrup, milk
Is this an Italian thing? It probably is.

Oysters, a drop of lemon, nothing else
I can’t fathom why people would want to cover the perfect taste of sea with vinegars and hot sauces. One drop of lemon to give it a bright acidic edge and that’s it for me.


Oysters, a drop of lemon, the seaside
Even better.


Polenta, spezzatino, the Alps
I don’t normally love polenta, but when you’re in the mountains there must be something in the fresh, pine-scented air that makes the creamy puddle on which your meat stew rests incredibly appealing.


Ice lolly, the seaside

watermelon lolly

Amatriciana, house red wine.
The wine needs to be served in a sturdy, small glass. One that was never intended for wine.

Instant ramen, American cheese slice

Mash, a single orange egg yolk
Yes, just the yolk. Yes, raw.

My aunt’s ricotta cake, my birthday
A spectacular baked cheesecake, light as air, with a jiggly, bouncy texture and often studded with freshly-picked blueberries. She gave me the recipe a few years ago and I tried a few times, but it never, ever comes out the way she does it. Might be because I never make it on my birthday.

An ice cream cake, a bowl of dark cherries, my sister’s birthday
Oddly specific, I know. But this is how we spent the majority of my sister’s birthdays as children: eating ice cream cake and fishing from a bowl of cherries in our underwear. I didn’t even know there could be another way.

Childhood birthday picture

Photographic evidence of said ice cream cake.

Fatty tuna, crisp cold sake
Especially when a little drunk and lost in Tokyo.


The actual perfect ration between fish and rice.

Late-night ramen ordered from a vending machine, cold beer
Especially when a little drunk and lost in Tokyo.

Lager, a glass bottle
Beer is 100% better when drunk straight from the bottle.

Fish fingers, buttered white bread, ketchup
I see why tartare would work better, but it’s the sugariness and sharp acidity of the ketchup that does it for me.

Fried egg, anything else

fried egg on rice

Bread, strong olive oil, flaky salt
The actual holy trinity.


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