Southern California can be thought of as a crazy quilt of humanity stitched together with the spices and flavors of many nations. And at no time is that more apparent than during the FIFA World Cup, which takes place every four years and riles up every nationality on our shores except our own.
That's why this is the perfect time to explore the rich multicultural gastronomy surrounding the local World Cup festivities, even if you're someone who thinks "goal" is a word best used on employee evaluation forms.
This year's games, which start Friday and last through July 11, are hosted by South Africa, where 32 teams will play a total of 64 matches in 10 stadiums located in nine cities. Meanwhile, in and around Los Angeles — from Koreatown to Gardena and beyond — each nationality represented in the games will be watching and feverishly cooking up their favorite traditional party foods.
Here are some top bets for good eats during the matches.
Our tour begins with South Africa. As the host country, it is the ambassador of all things World Cup. And L.A.'s South African consul political, Etienne Van Straaten, says that for South Africans living in L.A., "it's a great occasion to see what they call the 'beautiful game' played on our shores."
Many South Africans looking for a bit of hometown camaraderie will likely gather at the Springbok Bar & Grill. Van Straaten says his countrymen's favorite sporting food is farmers sausage, and Springbok makes its own, called boerewors.
Other prized savories, says Springbok owner Peter Walker, include chicken peri-peri made with a spicy chile that is indigenous to South Africa, peri-peri buffalo wings and grilled chicken livers.
"We have a South African cider called Savanna cider, but we can't get South African beer because they're not exporting it. It's crazy," Walker says.
This stein's for you
The Red Lion Tavern, in all its kitschy, dirndl-clad glory, is the go-to spot for German soccer fans. Happily, during game month the bar will open at 6 a.m. every morning until the bitter (albeit joyous) end, says manager Scott Gonnering. (Full disclosure: I worked as a waitress there several years ago.)
To eat at that early hour there will be a limited menu of easy-to-share traditional German bar food such as the sausage platter (made with sliced bockwurst, bratwurst and knockwurst and served with mustard, pickles and peppers) and crispy potato pancakes served with apple and cranberry sauce. After all, "Nobody wants to eat schweinebraten at 6 in the morning," says bartender and Hamburg native Elke Christopher.
With five World Cup wins to its name, Brazil has placed first more than any other country. As such, its populace is rabid for soccer. In Rio de Janeiro, the practice fields stay open and lighted all night, and the entire city stops working during important matches.
Brazilian fans have no shortage of places from which to watch the games in L.A., but one of the more raucous spots will be Gauchos Village in Glendale, where live samba music and samba dancers will perform at halftime during Brazil's games. Traditional Brazilian noisemakers, masks and hats will also be provided as party favors.
Revelers will munch on traditional Brazilian barbecue (churrascaria), with the top sirloin and tri-tip being the most popular, says Gauchos Village manager Claudia Miranda, who hails from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. They will also drink plenty of caipirinhas (a traditional Brazilian cocktail made from the sugar-cane spirit cachaça and muddled limes). Be sure to ask for Cachoeira da Onça — the cachaça that the restaurant's owners make on their farm in Brazil.
A league of their own
For 10 years, the owners of the Argentine restaurant 1810 in Pasadena played in an Argentine soccer league together. In fact, co-owner Gustavo Landgrebe is such a devoted soccer fan that he moved to the United States from Buenos Aires to watch Argentina play in the World Cup during the 1994 games, which were held in the U.S. (with matches in Pasadena, among other locales).
"I found a job and fell in love with the city," he says.
Landgrebe bought a flat-screen TV for the long bar in 1810 and says any time a game is on he will serve the happy hour menu, which offers $3 glasses of sangria; $2 glasses of Malbec; $2 empanadas (ham and cheese, beef, chicken or spinach and cheese); and $4 grilled Argentine chorizo sausage with salsa criolla.
Ricardo Flores, the owner of the rustic storefront Chilean restaurant and deli called Rincon Chileno on Melrose Avenue, knows that his Chilean customers will happily rise before dawn to watch their team compete. When Chile plays Honduras at 4:30 a.m. on June 16, Flores will be open and serving both a traditional Chilean breakfast (eggs, toast, jam and coffee) as well as a traditional Central American breakfast (frijoles, fried plantains, coffee and juice).
Later in the month, when Chile competes against Spain at 11:30 a.m., Flores will serve paella alongside beef and chicken empanadas and hearty cazuela beef stew.
An early favorite
Spain (along with Brazil) is among the top favorites to take the 2010 title, which is why the diminutive Santa Monica tapas restaurant Bar Pintxo is bracing for an onslaught of Spanish fans.
The restaurant will screen all the games beginning after 10 a.m., says manager Katharine Verge. Spanish brunch items as well as typical tapas will include tortilla espanola; baguettes with red and green peppers and garlic aioli; cauliflower soup with chives and virgin olive oil; chorizo with potato and fried quail egg; and dates with blue cheese.
And for "those who are up for it, we have a Spanish porron, which is a way of pouring wine directly into your mouth that is almost like a funnel," Verge says.
A citywide party
Fans of Mexico will be watching in bars, restaurants and workplaces all over the city. Multitudes of margaritas will be consumed, as will plenty of Mexican beer and Clamato. But what is Mexico's favorite soccer-watching food?
"Tacos! What else?" says Ramon Arellano, manager of Pasadena's El Portal restaurant, adding that the most popular fillings would have to be carne asada and cochinita pibil, both of which will be served along with other specials at El Portal during its World Cup celebrations, which the restaurant knows from experience draw legions of fans.
For fans looking for an extra kick, head to El Compadre in Echo Park, which will be serving its signature flaming margaritas during the games as well as featuring live mariachi performances.
Soccer is Greek to me
Open since 1971, West Hollywood's classy Mirabelle restaurant has been around for its fair share of World Cup-related mayhem. Although owner George Germanides says that until now he hasn't really organized any special viewing parties, that changed this year. "I have too many Greek customers, and they pressed me to do it," he says.
The restaurant will open early for Greece's games, and Greek appetizers and breakfast will be served, including meatballs made from turkey and lamb; flaky phyllo dough stuffed with feta cheese and spinach; baby lamb chops and plenty of licorice-flavored ouzo.
Fit for a king
Some of soccer's most boisterous fans are British and as such will be found in record numbers at Santa Monica's popular Ye Olde King's Head Pub. "I'm expecting some friendly banter," says operations manager Lisa Powers. "All the guys will be winding each other up for sure. They'll probably start drinking at 11 a.m. and finish at 11 at night."
The bar will open for selected 4:30 a.m. matches, and Powers encourages fans to call in advance if they'd like to watch a particular match in the early morning. "We'll open for you," she says.
King's Head will serve "a special menu that people can eat standing up," including fish and chips; sausage rolls; samosas; onion rings; mini Brit-burgers and hot dogs; chicken strips and breaded mushrooms.
An international melting pot
If you have no special allegiance to a particular team, your best bet for an international crowd is at the Original Farmers Market, where the market's employees speak nearly 20 languages and EB's bar will open at 7 every morning to screen the games on the new 46-inch television that bar manager Gary Twinn helped procure specifically for the World Cup. Bloody Marys and mimosas will be the early bird specials.
EB's festivities will dovetail with the culinary efforts of sports-and-food writer Diane Scalia (who also leads the Melting Pot Food Tours through the market on a regular basis). Scalia has partnered with the Farmers Market to write 32 recipes, one for a player from each country competing in the World Cup.
Her recipes will be available on color fliers along with a brief bio of the profiled player at different stalls around the market where the ingredients to make the recipes can be purchased.
Dishes created by Scalia for her SportsBites blog as part of her "If I were his World Cup chef" series include African-spiced short ribs over polenta with yellow squash for South African midfielder Steven Pienaar and hot-and-sweet lamb rollups for Algerian player Karim Matmour.
Bunny chows go global
Finally, if you don't want to cook for yourself but are looking for an international bite, the World Fare Bustaurant (a new mobile food venue located on a double-decker bus) specializes in the popular South African street food known as bunny chows, which are basically hollowed-out loaves of bread filled with chicken or mutton curry.
World Fare takes the bunny chow international by filling bread with traditional foods from all over the world — like barbecue pork, beef stroganoff or veggie chili.
For the World Cup, owner Travis Schmidt says he and chef Andi Van Willigan are creating bunny chows for competing teams — like USA versus England or North Korea versus Brazil — then they'll try to predict the outcome of the game based on the sales of each dish. Schmidt is also looking for a spot to park the bus where he can project the games onto a wall.
A football isn't round
With its red-white-and-blue name, the American-themed sports bar Yankee Doodles hosts its fair share of NFL and MLB fans, but during the World Cup it will play host to a very international crowd. Among the events planned, the South African consul is holding three World Cup parties there. But that's hardly the end of it.
"I'm not sure why, but we see a younger crowd with soccer, and they're a bit more devoted than your average fan," says Shannon Ivey, the bar's director of marketing and events. "They'll call in to work and play sick for a game."
And even though they love a foreign sport, they stay true to American food. They eat hot wings with celery and ranch dressing and sliders on Hawaiian bread, says Ivey.
Culinary crazy quilt, indeed.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun