A few weeks ago, I married an Englishman. So, along with the new last name, I had a new country to cheer on in the World Cup, not to mention new foods to add to my culinary repertoire.
My husband and I were invited to a viewing party in San Francisco for last Saturday's match between England and Italy. I followed a traditional recipe for English meat pies, or "Cornish pasties." Our hostess, Nancy Lynch, remembers them well from her childhood in England.
They’re not just popular soccer snacks, she explains. The pies also served as cheap and convenient meals for tin miners in the western county of Cornwall.
“So, when they had been working all day and their hands were all dirty, they were able to take the pastry off the meat and eat the inside," Lynch says.
The version I made contained sausage, onions, carrots, celery and mashed potatoes. They joined a spread that included sausage rolls, a famous British chutney called Branston Pickle and Twiglets, which are savory wheat sticks that resemble – as the name suggests -- tiny twigs.
"The last time I ate a Twiglet was twenty-odd years ago,” says Lynch, who says she found the snacks at a British specialty shop in San Francisco.
This type of nostalgia for an old, familiar menu seems to be universal as people tune into the World Cup.
The two restaurants have become magnets for West Africans, especially during soccer matches. Senghor says food is an essential part every gathering.
"Eating is a celebration every day,” Senghor says. “What you put in your body, what you share with your friends, brings joy. What you're eating is what you are, basically.”
Senghor says for the World Cup, he's getting lots of orders for fried plantains. It’s a favorite dish in all of the African countries playing in this year’s tournament.
"We love the plantain. It’s very good with some spicy sauce,” he says with a grin, picking up a jar of tamarind sauce. “Unbelievable!”
Senghor sends me home with a jar of the sauce. It’s bright, fruity and very, very hot. “So, watch out!” he laughs.
Back in San Francisco, Brazil fans hungry for a taste of home are devouring Claudio Souza's traditional soccer treats. He works at Sunstream Coffee, a Brazilian lunch shop in San Francisco.
"During the game, it’s quiet,” says Souza. “But before the game? Ugh! It’s crazy!”
Souza serves me a savory fried pastry called a coxinha. It's filled with bubbly, hot cream cheese and tender chunks of chicken. Just one crunchy bite and I’m hooked.
The concept (and the calories) reminds me a bit of Cornish pasties. I begin wondering aloud whether mine can compete. My husband David says, frankly, he thinks my pies taste a bit too English. “Stodgy,” he calls them. In other words, doughy -- and kind of bland.
So, he fries the pies in salted olive oil.
“Very un-English,” he says.
And a clear concession to our Italian opponents, I think.
In the end, Italy beat England, 2 to 1, and then the team was eliminated altogether in the next round by Uruguay. But our pies won lots of compliments, and our friends gobbled them up.
My husband cheekily says it was his touch that made all the difference. But I credit one key ingredient that I brought into the mix: spicy tamarind sauce, from the West African restaurant in Oakland.