For the World Cup, restaurants in and around Los Angeles will be serving… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)
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).