Culinary World Cup: Traditions and Foods of the 32 Countries
As the final days of waiting and first days of play for the World Cup approach, those lucky enough to snag tickets are on a Brazilian tour of culture, sport, and food. For everyone else who will be glued to their television screens, we thought it would be interesting to uncover what the countries of the world cup are known for when it comes to culinary offerings. In this battle of cuisines, the countries are broken down by group, and an iconic dish or two from each is highlighted; consider it Lionel Messi fighting it out against the Wayne Rooneys and Clint Dempseys of the culinary world. Keep reading to see who you’d have leave the group stage based on food and drink.
Brazil: As far as Brazilian food goes, it doesn’t get more iconic than feijoada (pictured.) Simply Recipes explains that you can’t nail down just one way to make this rich stew, since it seems that just about everyone in Brazil goes about it in their own way. At its most basic level, feijoada consists of fresh meat cooked with black beans. Consistency runs from thick to soup-like, and it can be served with collards or rice.
Croatia: According to Frommer’s, in Croatia, lunch is the main meal and often consists of a soup, then meat, some vegetables, and a potato or noodle dish, and is finished off with dessert. One typical Croatian dessert is palacinke, a crêpe-like pancake that is filled with honey, jam, walnuts, and other sweet ingredients. You might find this is a coffee or ice cream shop, both of which are popular throughout the country, providing people the chance to socialize over espresso, sweets, and sometimes both.
Mexico: MexConnect tried to unearth the origin of what many consider to be Mexico’s national dish: mole poblano. Specifically, mole poblano de guajolote is the dish most commonly associated, but there are many other moles in Mexican cuisine — like mole negro and mole verde. Common at weddings and other celebrations in Puebla is the region’s mole poblano de guajolote – turkey cooked in mole sauce.
Cameroon: Ndolé, Immaculate Bites states, gets its distinct flavor from the use of bitter leaves. The soup brings together bitter leaf, dried shrimp, meat, stock, and peanuts for a flavorful stew often served in Cameroon. Nigeria News Daily says that modern versions of the soup will use whatever ingredients are on hand, and that the rich dish with a depth of flavor is incredibly satisfying making for one delicious dish.
Spain: Paella is one of the dishes most commonly associated with Spain, but Saveur states that for a long time, the dish was thought of as a regional specialty from Valencia. A lot of what is considered “traditionally Spanish” is dictated by region, and another dish flourishes throughout: the Tortilla Española (pictured), or Spanish omelette. The best way to take in as many of these dishes is through a Spanish food tradition, tapas.
Netherlands: To go traditionally Dutch in your choice of foods, Frommer’s says you’ll be eating plenty of wholesome, frill-free foods — like hutspot, a potato stew. It is often served alongside klapstuk, which Holland.com explains is a piece of braised meat (think of it as a Dutch meatball.) Hutspot isn’t your only iconic soup option, because the Dutch also have erwtensoep, a thick pea soup. Seafood is common as well, particularly mussels, oysters, and fried sole.
Chile: We’re taking a break from eating to sip a national beverage with Chile. The country is in a battle with Peru over who gets to claim the Pisco Sour, because naturally both countries want this alcoholic beverage to call their own. El Norte Chico provides the muscat grapes that are distilled for the drink’s pisco brandy. Fodor’s describes the drink as containing pisco, lemon juice, and sugar. Bars will sometimes elaborate on this, adding a few drops of bitters or whipped egg whites to their pisco sours.
Australia: Is it possible to talk about Australian food and not mention Vegemite? We certainly don’t think so. This interesting spread has an elevated cultural status because in the 1950s and ’60s, commercials and popular culture brought it into their realm; because of this, the National Museum of Australia says that Vegemite is now looked at nostalgically, and has been used to highlight multiculturalism in Australia. If you can’t stomach this salty, malty paste, you can indulge in a sweeter Aussie treat: Pavlova. Named for Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova, What’s Cooking America associates the meringue with both New Zealand and Australia since both countries claim to named it for the dancer.
Colombia: Visit Colombia and you’ll see advertisements for bandeja paisa, according to Discover Colombia. The dish has an iconic status in Colombia, and is a seriously substantial offering, originally meant to give workers all the energy they needed before heading off to work in the morning. My Colombian Recipes states the dish originated in the Andean region of the country, where the people are referred to as Paisas. Order it, and you’ll end up with a fully loaded plate, often including beans, white rice, chicharrón, carne en polvo, chorizo, fried egg, ripe plantain, avocado, and arepa.
Greece: Moussaka is linked to Greek culture and cuisine, but The Atlantic states this “traditional” dish has a very short history — especially compared to the history of Greece. The eggplant casserole with lamb or beef owes its origins, like many other “traditionally Greek” food, to the 1900s. Specifically to Nikólaos Tselementes’ cookbook, which popularized certain dishes — like moussaka — in the early part of the century. The traditional foods instead are options like chickpea soup, mixed vegetables. If you really want to go traditional, try souvlaki. The History Channel describes the research undertaken by archeologist Julie Hruby of Dartmouth College showing evidence of souvlaki trays and griddles dating back about 3,000 years.
Côte D’Ivoire: To eat like a local in the Ivory Coast, iExplore says you’ll want to sample a few highly popular dishes. First up is alloco, plantains that are fried and served with a vegetable sauce and boiled eggs. Next up is grated yams — which become a grain-like, couscous dish — with fish, also known as l’attiéké. To this, Our Africa adds kedjenou, which is chicken accompanied with braised vegetables. Pan-fried frogs legs are also a specialty of the country, and peanuts are used heavily in cooking and as snacks. You can wash all of this down with palm wine or ginger beer — both are favorites with the locals.
Japan: Although sushi is big in Japan, we had to go with ramen noodles. The country has at least two museums devoted to the dish, and George Solt, a professor at New York University who has dedicated substantial amounts of time to the dish, calls it “one of the most minutely documented foods in Japan.” He explores that documentation and more in his book, The Untold History of Ramen. The Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum points out that ramen originated in China, but throughout history, the Japanese have embraced it, and truly made it their own.
Uruguay: To get a true bite of Uruguay, you’ll want to have chivitos. Welcome to Uruguay calls it “the Uruguayan pride, not only in the country but also abroad,” and travel site South America agrees that it is a traditional Uruguayan sandwich. Lettuce, tomato, and eggs are joined by steak (veal for some), ham, and sometimes a third meat as well — bacon. You can get this combination on a plate or in a sandwich, at high end restaurants and cafés, or from a street vendor. Equally classic are the bizcochos, pastries found at breakfast tables that can be sweet or savory, and mate, a drink made from the yerba mate plant and sugar.
Costa Rica: Simple but traditional in Costa Rica are plates of gallo pinto – black beans and rice. Viva Costa Rica says that this combination is a way to generalize Costa Rican food, and is a staple for many meals in the country. It is often rounded out with meat, fish, fried plantains, or other ingredients to form a casado. During the breakfast hour, Costa Rica Guides says you can expect to find black beans and rice alongside sour cream, scrambled eggs, and fried plantains. In addition to being a part of meals, plantains are also a popular snack in the country.
England: In England, the Sunday roast (pictured) isn’t just a dish, it is an occasion. Go for an English, a site dedicated to highlighting English cuisine and culture, says the Sunday roast can be any meat cooked in its own juices and served with a side of vegetables and potatoes. In addition to households making this meal on Sundays, restaurants cater to those who don’t feel like cooking by serving Sunday roasts, too. Beef, lamb, pork, and chicken are the four most common meats, but roast beef is considered the most famous.
Italy: According to The Guardian, the yearly averages for pasta consumption declined in the past decade — falling by approximately 9 kilograms (a little under 20 pounds) per Italian family. Mind you, the Italians are still twirling about 31 kilograms (around 68 pounds) of the noodles per family, each year, so it isn’t like the dish has disappeared. But it also isn’t the only dish with a strong national heritage either. Marcella Hazan explains in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking that until about two generations ago, entire regions of Italy would have paid homage to polenta as the national dish, disregarding pasta entirely.
Switzerland: If your mind jumped to cheese for Switzerland, you are certainly on the right track. In addition to the deli slices bearing the Swiss name, fondue is the national dish of the country, according to Frommer’s. To enjoy this tradition, guests place chunks of bread on long forks and dip them into melted cheese — often Emmentaler, Gruyère, a combination of the two, or other local cheeses. Other dunking choices include apples, pears, shrimp, small boiled potatoes, and grapes. Cheese making on its own is also important to the region, and has been associated with the area for about 2,000 years.
Ecuador: Ecuadorean food uses potatoes, rice, and beans to form the backbone of its dishes according to Frommer’s. Spices used in kitchens change as you travel throughout the country, and along the coastline the ceviche is not to be missed. Cuy – roasted guinea pig — is a delicacy, and something that Go Backpacking believes is the most well-known dish from the country because of television and the buzz surrounding it. However, it is a delicacy, expensive, and a dish Ecuadorians do not consume on a regular basis. Everyday options include a mix of simple dishes like arroz con pollo (rice with chicken) a variety of street foods like choclo (roasted corn), or try the pan de yuca, a bread made from yuca root flour, cheese, butter, and eggs that is popular throughout Latin American countries.
France: Is it possible to pick just one food from a country that has been the source of countless chefs, pastries, dishes, and put an iconic stamp on food throughout the ages? National Geographic tried and came up with pot-au-feu (pot-in-the-fire.) This stew is made with steak, root vegetables, and a blend of spices. Many chefs opt to separate the meat from the broth before serving this dish that will warm anyone up on a cold day. Others are less definitive; Time Out has an entire slide show for just Parisian classic French eats, filled with delicious dishes like steak tartare, croissants, escargot, and the croque-monsieur.
Honduras: Frommer’s didn’t beat around the bush in its introduction of Hondouran food, stating bluntly that the country isn’t known as a culinary heavy weight. The dish of the nation, the guide explains, is plato típico, described as “a heaping, carb overload of beef, plantains, beans, marinated cabbage, fresh cream, and tortillas.” This is Honduras expands on this concept ever so slightly stating that plato típico means, literally, typical dish. It will vary to some degree based on where you are located, with restaurants having their favored methods of preparation and ways to combine the ingredients.
Argentina: Asado transcends being just a food and is part of the fabric of Argentinian life. “Asado is the Argentine culture. Every Argentine in any place in the world eats asado,” Martin Puebla, Argentine native and a chef in Spain, told Boston.com. His girlfriend agreed, saying of Argentinians living in Spain that “they don’t dance tango, but they do eat asado.” So just what is asado? In pure food terms, it is a cookout where large quantities of meat are the mainstay of the meal, but a great deal of importance is also placed on who is gathered around the food. As the meat slowly cook, people snack on things like olives, cured meats, and cheeses.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Discover Bosnia tells travelers that if they plan on enjoying the nightlife in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they should definitely the country’s fast food — an institution of the country for over 400 years. What is the dish with this longevity? The “Bosnian ćevap” of course. You might also know it as ćevapi; order one and you’ll be served a pita bread filled with small sausages and chopped onions. Of course, if you’re out late, you’ll need something well-rounded the next morning, and the large Bosnian breakfast, kwizija, will offer just that. It is a multitude of small courses, all very simple and traditional like scrambled eggs, toast with jam, and black tea or strong coffee.
Iran: The Iran Chamber Society, a non-profit devoted to promoting and preserving Iranian heritage, believes the chelo kebab to be Iran’s national dish, and the most iconic food in the country. The Iranian Review agrees, noting that it is served throughout the country, but historically associated with the North. So what is this kebab captivating Iranians? It is a simple meal, consisting of skewered meat, generally beef or lamb, served with steamed saffron rice, and a side of grilled tomatoes.
Nigeria: For a popular, standard Nigerian dish, East Bay Express says it has to be the slow-cooked spinach-tomato stew known as egusi. Come to Nigeria explains that soup and stew is important to African food in general, and egusi in particular is important to Nigerian cuisine in the country and around the world. Seeds ground from African melons are used to thicken the soup, and are the source of the stew’s name. With or without fish, vegetables or no vegetables, how each household prepares its egusi depends on what it has at the time, and what the family feels like including. It can also be eaten with bread, which gets broken into pieces and used in place of a spoon.
Germany: Beer and brats earn top marks from us as quintessentially German dishes. The two have been tied to the country for centuries, and The Washington Post states that food historians even look for the earliest known regulations of the two in German laws and codes. Additionally, there is the German Bratwurst Museum, which is of course dedicated to all sausage-related facts, findings, and trivia. According to the German Food Guide, since the technique changes geographically, there are over 50 types of bratwurst citizens and visitors can sample across Germany.
Portugal: You’re probably used to associating pastries with Paris, but Portugal and pastries go hand-in-hand too. The BBC calls the pastelaria or confeitaria “a mainstay of the Portuguese” neighborhood. In these pastry shops, a bustling business is done throughout the day, with locals popping in for a flaky baked good or cup of coffee. The dominant item on the scene is a custard tart called pastel de nata (pictured), which looks like a mini pie. Quickly eaten and flavored with vanilla, lemon, and cinnamon, there are competitions to see who can create the best pastel de nata, and a thriving debate exists over just where the best place to buy this little pastry is located.
Ghana: Fufu, the BBC informed readers, is a traditional Ghanian soup that can take hours to make, and can be a grab bag of ingredients. Filled with dried fish and various vegetables, Ghanaians put a lot of stock in the labor of love that goes into preparing it. Although dried powders are now enabling this to be done much more quickly — which not everyone agrees should be the case — fufu is now readily available in a quick to make format around the world thanks to the instant pre-packaged mixes.
United States: Where does one even begin with foods that define the USA? You can be as American as apple pie while eating a hamburger, or sample one of the nation’s many regional types of barbecue. But in the midst of all this, one meal does stand out as incredibly American: Thanksgiving. NPR has discussed reporters continuing the tradition while living abroad, and occasionally, other countries capitalize on its iconic status of the turkey-filled holiday with events of their own.
Belgium: Forget French fries, it is all about Belgium’s fries in the country’s iconic moules-frites, or mussels and fries. Saveur explains that just as Americans happily pair their fries with burgers, Belgians gobble up their mussels with a side of fries, and chefs and cooks prepare their version with little dashes of personality. Fry shops, or friteries became increasingly popular, along with moules-frites following World War I in Belgium, and although the French have a version of the dish too, the Belgians are believed to have done it first.
Algeria: Lori McManus’ Algeria explains that the khabz forms the base for all Algerian meals. It is a flatbread, like pita, and is a staple for the country. Spices play a large role in the cuisine as well, flavoring the meats, vegetables, fish, and rice commonly consumed. Couscous has strong ties to the region, and according to Dean & Deluca, when people order couscous in a restaurant, it is often prepared in the Algerian, or Turkish style. Flavored with spices in their recipe for couscous, it is the heat in the dish that is suggestive of Algeria.
Russia: The food called “a quintessentially Russian dish” by The Guardian was the humble borscht, a stew of beetroot and cabbage that dominated the Soviet-era kitchen. But, it goes on to explain, that to some, like late historian William Pokhlebkin, the stew is actually Ukrainian, and not Russian — which meant for him, it could not be the national dish of the country. If you, like Pokhlebkin, believe this nullifies the iconic dish from being truly linked with Russia, there is another option, the blini. This very, very thin pancake (think more crêpe than anything) even gets a weeklong celebration. ABC states that Maslenitsa is one of the oldest holidays in Russia, and at celebrations across the country, Russians enjoy blinis will a variety of sweet and savory fillings in a carnival-like atmosphere.
South Korea: Bulgogi (pictured) means “fire meat,” according to National Geographic, and is made from prime cuts of meat that have been sliced thinly and steeped in a marinade of onions, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and wine before being grilled. It can come wrapped in a lettuce leaf, or served with kimchi. Recently, NPR covered how an ad placed in The New York Times was trying to sway Americans to order the famous dish at their local Korean restaurant by featuring Texas Rangers outfielder and South Korean, Shin-Soo Choo, holding a plate filled with bulgogi.