World Cup Soccer

And World Cup Cooking

FIFA World Cup 2018 logoEveryone loves a good event now and again. That’s why people who don’t even know where Ireland is dress in green every March 17. That’s why people go to Super Bowl parties even if they don’t know which teams are playing. And that’s why I pretend I know how to cook international cuisine when it’s time for the World Cup.

For whatever reason, I like themes. Back in college, I held countdowns on the campus radio station featuring, for instance, the top 31 songs about vegetation and foliage. Now, as the main cook in the household, I also like theme cooking. It’s something to look forward to. Before my wife and I started a family, we used to throw Academy Award parties where I would make one soup to represent a Best Picture nominee, such as a cream of broccoli soup called Erin Broccoli, in honor of Erin Brockovich, or Crouching Chowder, Hidden Soup, where the guests found a pot of Chinese soup behind the door in honor of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Peru Arroz Tapado

Uruguayan bean salad and chicken with chimichurri.

During the 2010 World Cup, I was a part-time stay-at-home dad looking for dinner ideas. I decided to choose my menu based on a winning country for the day. We continued the tradition for the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and the idea has stuck ever since. It gives me something to look forward to in the midst of work stress or depressing newscasts. Plus, I rely heavily on Taco Tuesdays, roasted salmon, and lentil dishes throughout the year, but during this World Cup season, our family has already eaten six dishes that I’ve never made before.

My only rule in selecting which country’s dish will be on the menu is that it must come from a team that wins that day. In the group stages, I try to pick countries that probably won’t advance to the knockout stages. There will be time in the future to make Spanish paella, but I might only have one chance to make arroz tapado from Peru. I don’t invest a lot of time in preparation, but thank goodness for chicken and rice. If I keep those ingredients on hand and do a quick Internet search, then I can represent many countries. So far, I have cooked Russian, Iranian, Swedish, Uruguayan, Saudi Arabian, and Peruvian. And on a day I didn’t cook—and France won—I bought a croissant. The exercise serves not only as a reminder of how much I like to try new things when I force myself, but also that the United States is isolated and small in the grand scheme of things. Case in point: the Super Bowl.

While soccer has yet to catch on stateside as it has worldwide, there are signs that United States is trending toward more acceptance of The Beautiful Game.

The United States’ most popular sporting event draws about 150 million viewers every year, 110 to 115 million of whom watch inside the United States. In contrast, research company GlobalWebIndex expects 3.4 billion people worldwide to tune in to the World Cup at some point this month. While American football fans could argue that the World Cup lasts a month and the Super Bowl an evening (plus eight hours for a pregame show and three hours for commercials), consider that one billion people tuned in to the 2014 World Cup final game when Germany defeated Argentina. In a list of the top 10 most watched sporting events globally, the Super Bowl doesn’t come close to making the list. The Cricket World Cup, the tenth most-watched event, draws in 400 million viewers—a quarter billion more than the Super Bowl.

Even Universal Studios knows the power of the World Cup, as they released Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in some overseas countries two weeks before its United States debut. Universal figured that moviegoers in England, Spain, and France would ignore the film during the World Cup, so the movie company tried to attract fans earlier. Conversely, Disney won’t release Ant-Man and the Wasp in these countries until the conclusion of the World Cup, even though the U.S. release will fall during the World Cup quarterfinals.

While soccer has yet to catch on stateside as it has worldwide, there are signs that the United States is trending toward more acceptance of “the beautiful game.” U.S. television ratings for the first few days of the World Cup were down 40 percent from four years ago, in large part because the United States failed to qualify. Fox Sports and Spanish network Telemundo, however, both recorded large upswings thanks to a strong showing by Mexico and a slew of close and entertaining matches. Conviva, a company that works with streaming services and monitors streaming numbers, reported that 7.7 million concurrent viewers streamed the Argentina-Iceland match, which topped the 5.5 million people who streamed this year’s Super Bowl.

While the World Cup only happens every four years, at least it lasts for a month. And with the Women’s World Cup slated for 2019, we’ll get to celebrate global football and global cuisine two years in a row. So while I can’t say that I’m not going to open a bag of chips at some point during next year’s Super Bowl (if I watch), it’s more interesting to celebrate on a global scale—and tastier too.

Click here for more by Matthew Kauffman Smith.