Publish date:

LEAGUE OF NOSHING

Author:

WHICH OF THE 32 COUNTRIES COMPETING IN RUSSIA SERVES THE BEST FARE ON PLANET FOODBALL? WELCOME TO THE WORLD CUP OF CUISINE

TEAMS ARE ORDERED BY STRENGTH OF CUISINE. THE KNOCKOUT STAGE BRACKET IS ON PAGE 62.

GROUP A

RUSSIA

Such a sprawling country is bound to have diverse gastronomic influences, so there's more going on here than borscht (beet and beef soup) and blini. Like all good hosts, the Russians aren't shy about sharing booze—vodka, [Guess Up] of course.

URUGUAY

You've got to like any country whose national dish is a sandwich. Uruguayans are known for chivito. [Down Button] While that translates to "little goat," it's actually a grilled beef sammy with cheese, mayo, hard-boiled eggs, ham and just about anything else you can think of.

EGYPT

Ancient Egyptians subsisted on bread, beer and something archaeologists call, of course, beer bread. Nowadays the fare is largely vegetarian: The national dish is koshari, a mix of lentils, noodles, chickpeas and rice with a spicy tomato sauce.

SAUDI ARABIA

Traditionally, Saudis would roast and grind coffee [Down Button] in front of houseguests, and that love of joe continues to this day. The food leans heavily on earthy spices (cloves, nutmeg, etc.). Due to Islamic restrictions, pork and alcohol are nowhere to be found.

GROUP B

MOROCCO

A culinary dark horse in a tough group, Morocco has some seriously exotic fare. The best is tagine, [Left Pointing Triangle] a stew cooked in an earthenware pot of the same name. A staple since the ninth century, it has staying power.

SPAIN

Tapas—that is all. O.K., O.K., we'll say more. Paella. Now, back to the tapas. The country's cuisine is best sampled in small dishes. It's also the perfect way to have an upscale World Cup party. Olives. [Right Pointing Triangle] Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). Cured meats. The list goes on and deliciously on.

IRAN

Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Iran has a climate conducive to growing delicious ingredients, like fruits and nuts. They come together best in fesenjan, a pomegranate stew served at Persian weddings. You'd do well to get yourself invited to one.

PORTUGAL

Portugal has given the world some unexpected delights—tempura, for example, was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries. Back on the Iberian Peninsula, seafood plays a big role. Bonus points for Madeira, the fortified wine that makes any dessert better.

GAMBAS AL AJILLO

INGREDIENTS

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 guindilla or other small hot dried red peppers, such as chiles de arbol

¼ pound medium shrimp peeled and deveined

1 tablespoon brandy

1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Combine the oil, garlic and peppers in a medium skillet. Set over high heat and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes golden brown, about two minutes. Add the shrimp in a single layer and cook until the undersides color, about 45 seconds. Flip all the pieces quickly.

Add the brandy. Using a long match, or carefully tilting the skillet toward the flame, flambé the brandy. Cook until the flames die out, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. (If you don't feel comfortable flambéing the brandy, boil it for a minute instead.)

Top with the parsley and lemon juice and serve from the skillet.

GROUP C

FRANCE

No one does fancy food—coq au vin, [Down Button] mille-feuille—better, but it's not especially fun to eat or easy to make. A ham sandwich—sorry, a croque monsieur—requires making a mother sauce. Sometimes a guy just wants a ham sandwich.

PERU

Thanks to the Humboldt current off Peru's coast, fish are plentiful. They are best enjoyed in a ceviche, in which acid from a citrus marinade cooks the seafood. Surf and turf lovers would do well to try anticuchos, grilled skewers of marinated beef.

DENMARK

Something is rotten in Denmark, and it's the country's conceptualization of the sandwich. Danes go open-faced (sm⊘rrebr⊘d), [Guess Up] which requires a fork, which makes it not a sandwich. At least the bread (rugbr⊘d, a rye) [Right Pointing Triangle] is quite tasty.

AUSTRALIA

G'day! Not-so-g'food! O.K., so throwing meat on the barbie is a fine pastime, and vegemite is a sneaky good umami bomb (throw some in your next tomato sauce), but Aussie grub is too similar to English fare. And to answer your question: Yes, they sometimes eat kangaroo and emu.

GROUP D

ARGENTINA

As Guy Fieri might say, you could put chimichurri [Down Button] on a shoe and it would rock. But don't! Slather the vinegary sauce on a steak instead, then wash away the acidity with a hit of dulce de leche. ¿Cómo se dice Flavortown?

NIGERIA

In a country where more than 500 languages are spoken, the cuisine is similarly diverse. Stews and one-pot dishes are common, including jollof. The national meal—there's an ongoing beef between Nigeria and Ghana over who does it better—features spicy chicken and rice.

ICELAND

In a tiny, remote country you can expect a lot of curing, smoking and fermenting. The last is what gives us skyr, an omnipresent yogurtlike fat-free cheese. It's so beloved (and versatile) that protesting Icelanders pelted parliament with it in 2016.

CROATIA

The cuisine inland reveals Turkish and Hungarian influences, but on the coast there's a distinct Mediterranean flair. It's most apparent in crni rižoto, [Guess Up] a risotto dish with cuttlefish or squid ink. Keep a toothbrush handy, though: The ink will turn your mouth black.

ACCOUNTING FOR TASTES

COMPARING CUISINES isn't easy. It's not apples to oranges; it's more like hamburgers to snails. In other words, there's a lot of stuff out there that could seem strange to someone half a world away. Oh, a few hearty American souls might eat lamb fries (sheep testicles), but fewer will also eat the animal's head, as is common in Norway at Christmastime. Tuna eyes [Left Pointing Triangle] might not sound like a delicacy, but they're packaged and sold in grocery stores in Japan, which is also the home of fugu. The pufferfish sashimi [Right Pointing Triangle] is reputedly tasty as heck—but, as any fan of The Simpsons well knows, it can be lethal if prepared improperly. Then there's hákarl, [Down Button] an Icelandic "treat" of fermented Greenland shark meat, buried in the sand to let the toxins ooze out and then hung to cure for several months. The late Anthony Bourdain called it the worst thing he'd ever eaten—and he once ate a beating cobra heart. It made Gordon Ramsey barf.

That's not to say these foods shouldn't be eaten. On the contrary, there's joy to be derived from embracing another culture's food, especially during a global event like the World Cup. So be adventurous.

Except the hákarl. That's a hard pass.

GROUP E

BRAZIL

With its variety of regional cuisines, Brazilian food can mean anything from rice and beans to pasta to an endless parade of grilled meats in a churrascaria. [Left Pointing Triangle] Brazil has mastered the beautiful game, and it's got the beautiful grub to match.

SWITZERLAND

Sitting amid Italy, France and Germany, Switzerland has some serious gastronomic influences. But the one dish that is definitely the country's own is cheese fondue. This isn't just nuking a block of Swiss; ideally it includes garlic, wine and cherry brandy.

SERBIA

Burgers-and-dogs types will feel right at home here. Cevapi is a grilled sausagelike hunk of minced meat, while pljeskavica is shaped into a patty, making it akin to a spicy hamburger. In other words, if some Serbs ask you over for a cookout, take them up on the offer.

COSTA RICA

If this were the World Cup of Condiments, Costa Rica's lizano salsa [Right Pointing Triangle] would beat England's brown sauce (on penalties, knowing England). The spicy, Worcestershire-esque lizano livens up the Ticos' otherwise traditional Latin fare.

GROUP F

SOUTH KOREA

With the U.S. out, skip Buffalo wings and go with their sweet, spicy and superior Korean cousins. The gochujang chili paste that's the base of the sauce is also a key ingredient in bibimbap, which comes served in a scorching hot bowl and is the most delicious way on Earth to get your veggies.

MEXICO

Our neighbors have given us so much: molé, tacos, enchiladas, [Guess Up] pozole, the cheesy gordita crunch (just making sure you're still paying attention). Whether haute cuisine or street cart grub, Mexican is satisfying no matter what mood you and your stomach are in.

GERMANY

Their wursts (not to mention their beer) are among the best. The Germans also have an elite side dish: spaetzle, [Down Button] minidumplings sauteed in butter. But that's not enough to get Deutschland out of this culinary Group of Death.

SWEDEN

Hate vegetables and love meatballs? Have we got a place for you! Sweden's long winters make growing food difficult; luckily, lingonberries, which go into the traditional jam that accompanies the meatballs, thrive in the cold.

KOREAN WINGS

INGREDIENTS

3 lbs. chicken wings

2 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup potato starch

FOR THE SAUCE

6 chopped garlic cloves

1 2" piece fresh ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped

1 cup plus 1½ tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

¼ cup gochujang

¼ cup light brown sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons honey

2 tablespoons rice wine

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS

Season chicken wings with salt. Cover and chill at least eight hours.

Bring sauce ingredients to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about five minutes, then strain.

Pat chicken wings dry; add to potato starch and toss.

Fry wings in batches in a cast-iron skillet in 325° vegetable or peanut oil until golden, about five minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet. Increase oil to 375° and fry again, until golden brown and crisp, about five minutes. Brush liberally with reserved sauce, and top with sesame seeds.

Read about Edward Lee, his restaurants and his new book, Buttermilk Graffiti, at CHEFEDWARDLEE.COM.

GROUP G

BELGIUM

What makes Liege waffles [Down Button] so incredible? Yeast. That means an overnight rise, which is time-consuming. But the result—something akin to fried brioche with giant lumps of pearl sugar embedded—is worth the effort. Add pomme frites, and Belgium is a real threat.

PANAMA

The national drink is Seco Herrerano, an alcohol distilled from sugar cane and sometimes served with milk. It packs a wallop—but fear not. Panama's most famed dish, a thick, hearty chicken soup called sancocho, is reputed to be a terrific hangover cure.

TUNISIA

Blame the harissa. Or don't, if you're a sensible person who likes spicy food. Harissa, the red pepper paste that gives Tunisian food its kick, is found in almost everything, including brik, a fried pastry usually filled with an egg—the yolk of which remains luxuriously runny.

ENGLAND

In 2005, French president Jacques Chirac said of the fish-and-chippers, [Down Button] "One cannot trust people whose cuisine is so bad." English food isn't terrible—no land that gave us Mary Berry and the Great British Bake Off can be all bad—but reputations are earned for a reason.

GROUP H

COLOMBIA

Utensils are optional when dining on the best Colombia has to offer: empanadas (fried meat pies) and arepas (maize dough sandwiches stuffed with meats and cheeses). The plantain—aka the banana's more flavorful cousin—features prominently.

JAPAN

No culture better bridges lowbrow and highbrow fare than Japan's. Bad gyoza dumplings are still gyoza dumplings—and, therefore, awesome—and $5 sushi [Guess Up] is a fantastic lunch. Plus, Japan now has the most Michelin three-star restaurants in the world. Sorry, France.

POLAND

The eternal question with dumplings is "boiled or fried?" The answer, when the dumpling is a pierogi, [Down Button] is both. These potato-filled delights wonderfully accompany kielbasa (Polish sausage), the best of which are smoky and garlicky.

SENEGAL

Many Senegalese meals are meant to be eaten by a group of people sitting around one shared dish, digging in when the order comes. (In French: mangez!). Prepare to sweat; a habanero dipping sauce, sosu kaani, is applied to just about everything.

KNOCKOUT DISHES

The elimination stage features some massive munchie matchups: Tacos over sushi in the quarters, while French haute cuisine drops a tough Continental showdown. At the end, one nation's flavorful fare overwhelmed the field: South Korea takes home the Jules Flambé trophy.

ROUND OF 16

RUSSIA VS. SPAIN

QUARTERFINALS

SPAIN VS. FRANCE

ROUND OF 16

FRANCE VS. NIGERIA

ROUND OF 16

BRAZIL VS. MEXICO

QUARTERFINALS

MEXICO VS. JAPAN

ROUND OF 16

BELGIUM VS. JAPAN

SEMIFINALS

SPAIN VS. MEXICO

FINAL

SOUTH KOREA

over

SPAIN

SEMIFINALS

MOROCCO VS. SOUTH KOREA

MOROCCO VS. ARGENTINA

QUARTERFINALS

ROUND OF 16

MOROCCOVS.URUGUAY

ROUND OF 16

ARGENTINA VS. PERU

SOUTH KOREA VS. COLOMBIA

ROUND OF 16

QUARTERFINALS

S. KOREA VS. SWITZERLAND

ROUND OF 16

COLOMBIA VS. TUNISIA