For years I made myself a slave to the January detox, only allowing myself to eat and drink plain misery. But as you become older, you become (debatably) wiser, so these days I’m all about keeping things as exciting as possible when it comes to food in this otherwise dark and gloomy month. So, I want to tempt everyone out of boring culinary New Year traditions by focusing on colour, flavour and variety – the perfect tactic for blowing away the winter blues.
These days I’m all about keeping things as exciting as possible when it comes to food in this otherwise dark and gloomy month. So, I want to tempt everyone out of boring culinary New Year traditions by focusing on colour, flavour and variety – the perfect tactic for blowing away the winter blues.
My favourite food at this time of year is from the Far East – its fresh flavours and textures are the perfect antidote to the rich Christmas classics we shovelled down our necks in the name of silly season. And on these cold winter nights, there’s a certain Bath resident who is creating exactly that sort of food.
Noya Pawlyn was born in Vietnam but left aged seven for a Hong Kong refugee camp, along with her family. From then on, she cooked for her four siblings and, when her family moved to the UK, she began to share her Vietnamese culture with others through her cooking. Friends were so impressed with her food that they encouraged her to give cookery classes, which she began doing in early 2013. Later that year she started pop-up supper clubs, then in 2017 she opened her first restaurant, Noya’s Kitchen, in Bath.
Noya is one of those people who, when you very first meet them, makes you feel as if you’ve known them your whole life. Her warmth and personality are infectious – and also filter into her incredible cooking.
Noya cooks in a spontaneous way, writing her menus based on ideas that have come to her and simply what she fancies cooking that day, and it all comes together in a festival of colour and flavour.
I’m a sucker for crispy pork dumplings and Noya’s don’t disappoint. Hers are made with Vietnamese flavours, fried, and served with a spicy dipping sauce. Another of my favourites is her beef bún bò, a rich yet punchy broth from Hue, Vietnam’s old capital (it’s one of the area’s most celebrated dishes). Both are perfect for filling you up and making you smile in the darker months.
But what to drink with these beauties? Walking distance from Noya’s Kitchen are the two branches of Corkage, where you can sit in with, or take away, some cracking bottles of wine. Right now they have some of the greatest whites I’ve tasted in the last 12 months on their shelves.
With this sort of food, you need wine with bright character and a dash of sweetness in order to stand up to all the intense Far Eastern flavours. To go with the pork dumplings, I’ve got something quite unique from Spain. Oveja Blanca 2018 (£10) is a dry Muscat made from grapes grown near Madrid and has an aromatic peachy nose, which is incredible with the aroma of lime, chilli and ginger of the dipping sauce. There’s a lightly floral orange blossom quality to the taste, which works well with the minced pork and the chestnuts in the dumpling and evolves into a saline, grapefruit zest finish that’s just divine with the garlic and fish sauce.
As for the bún bò, well, it’s not always easy to find a wine to go with broth or soup, and because this dish is deep, rich and spicy, it makes finding a match even more intriguing. There are so many different types of Riesling out there, many of which complement this style of cookery, but I’ve found one from Germany’s Mosel Valley that is just lush. Dajoar Riesling 2018 (£17.25) has a slightly petrolled nose with luscious green apple thrown in there too, just amazing after you’ve hovered over the bún bò bowl and taken in its aroma. The flavour has so many layers and the underlying hint of candy floss is perfect with the balanced backbone of lemongrass that permeates the unctuous beef bone broth. This sweetness is offset by green-apple freshness and a streak of lime, which is great with the Thai basil leaves and Vietnamese hot mint, as well as the chilli oil.
And just as important as all that flavour is the texture of this wine – it’s not thin like some easy-drinking whites, which means it’s perfectly capable of standing up to the noodles and the beef brisket too.
So, remember, interesting food and wine isn’t just for Christmas – give yourself something to look forward to this New Year. Bland Jan is so 2019.
Andy is a freelance TV producer and writer; follow him @tvsandyclarke