Friday, 11 June 2010

World Cup - The Excluded

The World Cup starts today and to celebrate, Eat Noodles Love Noodles will be hosting an alternative Foodie World Cup. This promises to be a hopelessly biased affair where only my opinions and prejudices count. I'm sure many of you will disagree with how the tournament will unfold so I’m looking forward to your comments.

To keep things simple, the same 32 teams from the real World Cup will compete in my parallel competition. However, strength in football doesn't always equate to strength in food. There is some crossover with countries such as France, Italy and Spain but the small Asian presence (just Japan and the two Koreas) means that whoever wins my Foodie World Cup can't really be considered true champions.

So in this post, I'll be running the rule over those countries that haven't made the real World Cup but would make the Foodie World Cup. As you've probably have worked out by now, most of these teams hail from Asia.

Dim Sum (China)
Greater China
Any discussion of the best food in the world has to include China. I'm not sure how FIFA rules work but this cuisine could be represented by as many as four teams if you include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In fact, there's a strong argument that Taiwan represents the best of Chinese cuisine given that there was a mass exodus of chefs to the island following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

China has strength in depth and a varied playing style e.g. the subtle midfield promptings of the Cantonese combine well with the powerful Sichuan attack. Whilst they can keep it simple with steaming and stir-frying, there is also creativity in abundance with dim sum and banquet dishes giving the team that extra quality.

In fact the squad is so strong, there are entire regions that would struggle to get in the starting line-up and have to make do with a place on the subs bench. I'm thinking spicy Hunanese and exotic Yunnanese could prove handy if a late winner is required. Like Brazil in the real World Cup, China is the team to beat in any Foodie World Cup.

Masala Dosa (India)
Indian Sub-continent
India also benefits from a vast population and regional diversity. They would certainly be nailed-on semi-finalists and potential champions. I can see seafood and vegetarian dishes from the south combining with heavyweight dishes from the north to win most battles. Of course, this is a gross over-simplification and in common with China there will be many regional cuisines ready to come on as a sub to win vital games.

Of the other teams, I fear an overreliance on grills and breads may mean that Pakistan lack the subtlety and variety to reach the latter stages. On the other hand, Bangladesh may surprise a few with their fish dishes although of course their Bengali style is one that India are also very familiar with.

The dark horse is surely Sri Lanka, which being an island nation has resulted in it developing a more individual cuisine. Super spicy curries, a way with seafood and imaginative street snacks mark this team out as one that that could upset more fancied contenders. 

Beef Rendang (Malaysia)
Straits Cuisine
Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia benefit from multiculturalism. On paper, teams that synergise elements of Chinese and Indian cuisines with their own indigenous food culture have to be genuine contenders. However, how well the various cuisines combine is open to question and there is a suspicion that the sum could well be less than its parts.

There's a healthy rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore. From my own experiences, the former probably has greater strength in depth although the latter may feel that their high-end dining scene gives them an edge. I don't know as much about Indonesia except that the Indian influence is less pronounced. However, this is more than compensated by the many regional cuisines from different islands like Bali and Java.

I think all three teams are capable of reaching the latter stages with my favourite being Malaysia. However, I have my doubts as to whether any of the three countries has quite enough class to lift the crown.

Goi Cuon (Vietnam)
South East Asia
I'm sure Burma, Cambodia and Laos have what it takes to qualify for the Foodie World Cup proper but I'm going to focus on the two regional behemoths, Thailand and Vietnam. Personally I prefer the latter but both are definite contenders for the title and on their day capable of beating any cuisine in the world.

To use a football analogy, I see these cuisines as being imbued with the spirit of teams like the contemporary Barcelona or the vintage Brazil i.e. aesthetically pleasing, technically superior and with an abundance of creativity. But as we all know by now, the best teams don't always win trophies.

And so I fear more robust teams may knock them about and rough up their mix of street food and traditional Imperial cuisines. But win, lose or draw I doubt whether any cuisine will give as much joy and pleasure to the tastebuds as these two during this World Cup.

Kebabs (Lebanon)
Eastern Mediterranean
I don't know much about the food from the Eastern Mediterranean but far too many foodies adore this cuisine for me to ignore it. This region is poorly represented in the real World Cup with only Greece making it to the finals.

In particular, the powerhouses of Lebanon and Turkey are conspicuous by their absence. Both have a winning mix of subtlety, grace and power – think hummus, baklava and kebab – to overcome most cuisines. I favour the Lebanese and whilst I may not have these teams at the top of the pile, I can appreciate why other pundits believe otherwise.

The Rest
Off the top of my head, I can think of a few other cuisines that should be in the tournament like Caribbean, Moroccan and Persian. I'd love to hear from you if you think there is a country worthy of inclusion in the Foodie World Cup that isn't in the real competition (see here for a list of the 32 actual World Cup teams).

Next Time
Every Friday is World Cup day on Eat Noodles Love Noodles. Next week sees the tournament proper commence and there'll either be heartache or joy as only 16 of the 32 teams will advance to the knockout stages.


  1. lol nice write up. Malaysian FC (Foodie Club) to win of course (possibly slightly biased here..)

  2. Looking forward to this one! I have a feeling Japan's going to do well, though Mexico, France, and Spain look good too.

  3. WB - good to see you supporting your native cuisine but to quote Arsene Wenger, "Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home."

    Kake - it'll be interesting to see how your tips perform over the coming weeks. BTW - aren't you going to state the case for the inclusion of Wales?

  4. Loving this idea! I might have to take exception with your assertion that Thai and Vietnamese might lack a good attack though. Throw in a combo of Southern and Imperial Thai curries and you have a searing attack to rival the Sichuan strikers, with the potential to knock most defenses into numbed and sweaty submission.

    How about the USA as a bit of a dark horse. Not subtle, but with a combo of many adopted styles being melded into a strong-flavoured whole, these guys could be contenders. With Southern cajun, creole and tex-mex combining the less subtle aspects of Spain, France, West Africa with a local flavour, they could be dangerous. And then theres the raw talent on display in terms of East Coast seafood (lobster and crab), midwest USDA beef and west coast wine.

  5. Gworm - thanks! RE: Thai & Vietnamese, I have no fears about the attack. It's actually the defence that I think may be a problem.

    We'll see if USA can prevail on Friday. They're probably the favourites in Group C but it's a tough pool with England and Algeria in the mix.

  6. I fear that someone who actually likes eating lamb would be better-placed than I to argue for Wales. I'm not sure laverbread, Caerphilly cheese, and Welshcakes are really enough.