The World Cup of Food
We couldn’t let soccer’s 2010 FIFA World Cup go by without throwing in our two cents — which as you might expect, has less to do with our feet than with our mouths. So while serious sports fans spend this week debating which squads got the crap draw and which teams are most likely to make the second round, foodies can put all that aside and take a look at our 2010 World Cup Food and Drink Rankings, in which we’ve ranked the 32 participating nations from worst to best, based not on soccer skills but on the appeal of each country’s most iconic dish.
For the record, I offer no apologies for the dishes or the order in which they are ranked—I had many discussions with my international friends when researching these and they have disagreed with me on many—for that, you can leave your opinions in the comments.
#32. Australia – Vegemite on Toast
Usually when there is a petition on Facebook in support of something, you know it’s a desperate plea, and Vegemite on Toast is no exception. This isn’t one of those love-it-or-hate-it kind of foods, this is simply a hate it kind of food. Yes, there are nearly 111,000 facebook users on the record as supporting it, but I’m pretty sure that’s roughly the population of Australia, right? Let’s hope for their sake that the Aussie lads find something better to chow on before their matches in South Africa.
#31. Ivory Coast – Kedjenou
Factoid: the current coach of the Ivory Coast team is former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. I’m sure old Sven has some tricks up his sleeves planned for the field, but you’ve got to admire the Ivory Coast’s cooking tricks, too. Kedjenou, like many other West African dishes, starts with some tough old chickens and basically cooks the shit out of them ’til they’re edible. It may not be the quickest way to make a meal taste good, but it sure as hell beats Vegemite.
#30. Slovenia – Buckwheat
I task you with something — Google “Slovenia” and “food.” Whatever the result is it’ll surely include buckwheat. Buckwheat, buckwheat and more buckwheat. Could you be any more boring, Slovenian cooks? If you must have a Slovenian soccer dish, I sifted through the ES archives and stumbled upon this tasty dish, vegetarian too — Wilted Greens with Buckwheat Noodles (and an egg).
#29. Greece – Ouzo
No wonder Greece is in a state of bankruptcy — they are the proud creators of Ouzo, an alcohol so potent it makes tequila look like a little girl’s drink. It’s equally effective at erasing your memory, lighting fire pits, and drowning your sorrows after a tough loss. Go on Greece, take a shot and forget your on- and off-field troubles — because losing your table is the least of your worries.
#28. Algeria – Couscous
Algeria is an exclusive member of Group C, as British tabloid The Sun put it, E-A-S-Y — for England. And that’s how I view couscous, easier than burning toast. Traditional Algerian Couscous requires a myriad of root vegetables, but in the summer heat I recommend something a little less heavy, like this ES favorite.
#27. Germany – Spätzle
I know what you’re thinking — the Brit chose something totally unappetizing for Germany, forcing them a low ranking. If you look at our footy history, you might be right. But the truth is, spätzle is a solid standby that can go with almost anything German — kielbasa, sauerkraut, bratwurst — anything. Like the German soccer team, it’s a little boring, but it gets the job done.
#26. Nigeria – Jollof Rice and Chicken
I consulted my Nigerian colleague for this one and she told me that if I didn’t mention jollof rice she would personally beat me down. Honestly, I know less about this dish than I do about the Nigerian backfield, but after searching around the internet I came across this great piece on all things jollof that has my interest piqued, with some great recipes to boot. Speaking of boots, the nickname for the Nigerian team is “Super Eagles” and they have appeared in three previous tournaments.
#25. Japan – Sushi
Japan’s iconic food displays an endless amount of versatility, from intimidating dragon rolls to hot dog sushi. If Japan can show half this much inventiveness on the field, they’ll breeze through Group E (that’s a big if).
#24. Switzerland – Fondue
No food says Swiss like cheese, and no dish does Swiss cheese prouder than fondue. If there was a way to eat fondue daily without gaining 100 lbs I would — and you would too. A great pick for a WC watch party, this is one of those fun food events you can do with your friends. Don’t you just love those sticks with the colored handles? I always get confused after a glass or two.
#23. Chile – Pisco Sour
I won’t get into the politics of who owns the Pisco — Peru, if you were good enough to qualify for the final 32 then I may have considered you for it, but you suck so I can’t. So during this tournament, go with Chile’s extra-bitters version. Everyone who reads ES know we are obsessed with eggs, but eggs in cocktails just blow our mind!
#22. Honduras – Chayotes
Hondurans love Chayotes, which involves a particular type of squash known as chouchou or mango squash, boiled in condensed milk. If that doesn’t sound appetizing enough, I’m told it goes well with fried fish heads. I’ll stick with just the chayotes.
#21. Serbia – Cabbage Rolls with Sour Cabbage and Rice
I’m going to be honest here — going into this I had no idea what Serbian food consisted of. Why would I? Cabbage rolls with sour cabbage and rice. This is one of those ethnic dishes that sounds so bad, you figure it just has to be good — otherwise why would they make it?
#20. Cameroon – Kondre
Even adventurous foodies often write off African stews as “tried one, tried them all.” And Kondre is indeed a thick, hearty stew, similar in some ways to many African dishes. But with 12+ ingredients, this one’s got some fun surprises, with a sweeter, more complex taste than most. This kondre recipe explains all you need to know.
#19. North Korea – Soju
Fine. Who the fuck knows what the people of the North eat? All Google could tell me when I researched this is that the country is under major famine alert, except of course for its trusted leader. Which I’d say calls for a round of Soju in respect of our friends in the north.
#18. Slovakia – Haloushki
Sort of like a more creative take on spätzle, haloushki is a simple, traditional noodle or potato food that can be incorporated into almost any dish. Just so long as it’s lumpy all is good — a poor man’s gnocchi some might say.
#17. Paraguay – Sopa Paraguaya
Sopa Paraguaya is a cornbread, not to be confused with straight up sopa, which is a soup. Apparently there can be many variations of this bread, although the version above, which I am insisting you make, is likened to a Latin Yorkshire Pudding — yes, I can bring anything back to England. Plus it’s made with chicken drippings, for some extra-greasy joy.
#16. Portugal – Bica
We all like our caffeine fix, but perhaps none of us more than the Portuguese, who on average consume 3 bica‘s daily, which might explain the dirty tactics of one particular Portuguese soccer player. If you are not wanting to booze up during any of these early-morning games, go for an extra-strong bica espresso to brighten your morning blues. Cristiano Ronaldo, I hate you, despite you being so cute.
#15. Ghana – Fufu
Say it with me — Fufu. I love that word. Ghana almost got the top spot for the word alone. Unfortunately, they lost 14 places when I found out what it looks like. What we’re talking here is a starchy, plantain-based dish. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it probably tastes better than it looks. If it doesn’t, I apologize — so here is a recipe for fufu and here’s a back-up recipe for some delicious plantains.
#14. France – Ratatouille
Only the French would have the gall to give basic chopped-up vegetables a fancy-pants name like ratatouille. But let’s be honest, only the French can make something like basic chopped-up vegetables taste so goddamn delicious. I especially love this ratatouille recipe, because it is inspired by the cartoon of its namesake. Isn’t it great how you can learn something from a talking rat?
#13. Uruguay – Chaja
World Cup fact: Uruguay was the first nation to host the tournament in 1930, and the first winners — they actually won a second time in 1950. And they’re winners at the dessert table too, with chajá, often referred to as “peaches in trees.” Peaches, whipped cream, sponge and meringue —this gooey mound of fun should be eaten with a very large spoon and shared with everyone at your table.
#12. The Netherlands – Advocaat
Random fact: despite the Dutch flag being red, white and blue, the Dutch team wears orange, as do their fans, obsessively so (in honor of the Dutch Royal Family and its lineage to Willem van Oranje.) One place the orange looks super-attractive is in this Dutch dessert, called Advocaat, for which I’m one passionate advocate. Go on, add a little brandy to it.
#11. Argentina – Pionono de Deluce de Leche
After many heated email exchanges with my Argentinian friend, we settled on this caramel jelly roll as their de facto national dish. I just love the look of these babies, perfectly drenched in deluce de leche to make for that ideal bite. Argentina has won the World Cup twice, 1978 & 1986, so apparently their players don’t eat too many of these.
#10. USA – Hamburger
Yes, there are those of you who might say the hot dog, the NY strip or the lobster roll — but for me, there is nothing more American than eating a nice juicy burger, something old fashioned. If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve realized by now that England is ranked higher than the U.S., but take solace in this — the last time our two countries played each other in a World Cup was 1950, and USA beat England, 1-0. We’ll find out who’s really number one when the two meet in the opening round.
#9. Italy – Mascarpone Pancakes with Raspberries
Unfortunately for us in the U.S., we’re probably going to miss most of the World Cup, since we’ll either be getting ready for work or will be too hungover for the 8am wake-up calls. For those of you fortunate enough to be productive in the morning, you’ll need some grub to get you through. And when it comes to breakfast, the normally dinner-focused Italians come through pretty strong here as well. As in mascarpone pancake dish with raspberries. Sure puts Vegemite to shame.
#8. Denmark – Frikadeller
Fried. BALLS. Pork. These words speak for themselves. Meatballs — they’re balls– like footballs. OK, I’m a child, but seriously, these are some A-list balls, and also an ideal dish to make ahead and serve during half time. Footy fact — Denmark qualified for the World Cup by defeating Sweden, ending Sweden’s World Cup dreams, hence no Swedish meatballs. Long live the new northern European king of balls.
#7. South Africa – Bobotie
With South Africa being the host nation they also have the honor of being the first African country to host the World Cup, so in honor of the moment we have to go as traditional as possible, which brings us to bobotie. Eggs, meat, vegetables, curry, fruit. All in the same dish. Holy crap, SA. That is some serious cooking. I doubt South Africa will make the quarterfinals, but this dish sure does.
#6. Spain – Paella
I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever had paella once and that was twelve years ago while vacationing in Tenerife, the day David Beckham kicked Diego Simeone of Argentina, ultimately causing England to lose out on penalties in the 1998 World Cup. That has left a bitter taste in my mouth and I’ve never gone back. But if I did, there would only be one reason: paella. I suggest you take a look at these mouthwatering pictures and take your pick of which one to make.
#5. South Korea – Bi Bim Bap
Let’s do the hip, the hop with the bi bim bap. I went there, don’t judge. Served in a large cast-iron bowl, sizzling hot and beaming with intense flavors, BBB is a delight for your senses. And the fried egg on top, now that is really the icing on the cake. Give it a go at home with this bi bim bap recipe.
#4. New Zealand – Lamb
Everybody loves lamb — so versatile, from rack to chop to curried, shank, grilled, roasted…And New Zealand raises those little babies the tastiest. Like their Australian neighbor, I don’t think the Kiwis are going to go far in the tournament, but I don’t think they’ll get too bent out of shape about it. They always seem so damned happy. Maybe because they’ve got all those little lambs to go home to.
#3. Brazil – Caipirinha
Five-time winners Brazil, undoubtedly the most formidable of opponents, are also undoubtedly the most formidable of drinkers. So why not steal a page from their playbook and celebrate the World Cup with a Caipirinha? (or 32). My lack of being able to pronounce the damn thing does not stop me from pounding a few, and I think you should too.
#2. Mexico – Mole Poblano
I stopped counting the number of ingredients in this dish when I hit 20. Amazing. Mole Poblano is one of the many dishes that exemplifies Mexico — the beauty of the spice and the depth and sophistication of the flavors really tells you where you are, or perhaps where you want to be. Mexico will likely make an impact on this 2010 World Cup, but they’d have to do pretty damn well to outshine the impact they have on food.
#1. England – Chip Butty
I could have written about a bacon sandwich, fish and chips, or the English breakfast — all solid winner. But there is nothing more special than a greased-up sandwich packed with fries chips and laced with ketchup. All I ask is that you give it a try. It really is something special and perhaps one of the best foods to eat while watching a game, in my honest unbiased opinion. I don’t just predict a second World Cup win for England, but I am confident that England’s greatest culinary invention will be a winner with anyone brave enough to try it.