Wine pairing with Sundal


Sundal (pronounced like this) is a famous street food in Chennai (capital city of the southern most state (Tamil Nadu) in India.

There are 2 things that come to mind as soon as I think of Sundal. One, is the beaches of Chennai and second is this festival called Navratri (meaning ‘The 9 nights’) that falls around the same time as Halloween (October) every year.

  • About the Chennai beaches, when you sit in any beach in Chennai to just relax, enjoy the sea breeze and the sounds of the waves crashing… you will be pleasantly surprised by the constant interruption of vendors calling out the following: ‘Thengai (Coconut) Mangai (Mango) Pattani (Peas) Sundal’. And this sequence is repeated in the same order over and over again. When you do not want them to plead anymore, and mainly because you are secretly drooling with the sundal aroma, you ask them to give you either a ‘small’ or a ‘large’ cone filled with sundal. You can either use a spoon or your hands to eat a mouthful of the sundal. This delicious beach snack, sundal, is usually made either from green peas or chickpeas. The peas is first cooked, fried with mustard seeds, curry leaves and blended with mango, coconut and a splash of lemon. Absolutely delicious, nutritious and all of this with just (chick) peas.

Note: If you are interested to know more about all the different varieties of sundal there are, click here.

  • The second aspect that pops up in to my head every time I make, eat or think about sundal is this festival called Navratri or Dussehra ('Dus' in Hindi means 10) that is 10-days long around the month of October each year. All the kids (especially girl kids) get to dress up in costumes every day for those 10 days. In the evenings kids parade the neighborhood in these costumes (most costumes mimic Hindu Gods and Goddesses) and knock on neighbors’ homes. Every house will have a stand with odd number of rows (looks just a staircase) to arrange dolls and idols of all sorts (again mostly Gods and other notable Hindu mythology characters).

It is an amazing sight to watch all these kids dressed up in cute costumes dancing or singing in front of all these dolls in every neighbor’s home. I remember being such a kid, walking from one neighbor’s home to another eagerly waiting to finish my singing, so I can rightfully receive my sundal!

Yes, that was part of the tradition. Every home had one kind of sundal made – one for each day for the 10 days. And if you are lucky you may get to try 3-4 different kinds of delicious sundal on the same day!

I have always thought that Navratri and its rituals are so comparable to Halloween. The Indian kids are also dressed up like the kids in the US walking from one home to another in their neighborhood. Instead of trick or treating, it is either singing or dancing and instead of candies it is sundal!


The WINE pairing with Sundal

Sundal has this one ingredient that is the key. It is either chickpeas (white or brown), green peas or several other kind of lentils. So, the wine pairing that made most sense for me was something that did not have any harsh tannins or strong earthy qualities that may clash with the subtleties of the sundal ingredients. 

I had decided to make sundal with chickpeas as my key ingredient. There is one theory that has worked well for me so far with respect to food and wine pairing. And that is, wines made from grapes grown in a certain region/soil pairs well with food created with ingredients grown in the same soil.

This is why there are some Italian wines that are to die for when paired with a risottos or pizza made with ingredients (some or many) from the same soil. If I applied the same theory to sundal, how would a Greek wine pair with sundal given chickpea is also the main ingredient of hummus (a very important Greek delicacy)? So for this dish, I decided to check out the Greek wines' section in the local wine shop.

Xinomavro is definitely my first choice when it comes to Greek wines and especially to pair with a dish like Sundal. The reason being, Xinomavro has the right amount of red fruit flavors and a sharpness about  it as an after taste (indicates considerable alcohol level) that adds a remarkable balance to the wine - without the harsh tannins or a prominent earthy character.


Tasting notes

I have tasted Xinomavro just once before this. But, I vividly remember a clean wine with bright red fruit flavors. This wine from Naoussa was no exception. The first flavor profiles were juicy licorice and red raspberries. Next, there was a subtle sharpness to the wine (just like I remembered) that definitely left a mark (in a good way). Xinomavro is typically the lighter red wine from Greece (unlike the other famous red - Agiorgitiko) which makes it very easy to drink - with or without food.


The verdict

The red fruit flavors and the 'easy-to-drink' nature of this wine paired nicely with the subtleties of the chickpea sundal. The nuanced residual sugar that caresses you at the very end of every sip blended nicely with the semi-sweet mangoes in the sundal. The coconut gave a crunchiness in every bite of the sundal and that magically hit the spot with the 'sharp' aftertaste of the Xinomavro.

The conclusion? Well well well, the Greeks may know their wines, but we Chennaiites take our beach snack very seriously too. What can I say, this was my Big Fat Greek pairing which had a very nice ending!

Yamas and Vanakkam! :)