The only thing better than sitting (or, in those rare few countries that still permit it, standing) in the stadium is doing so with a mouthful of hot carbohydrates. How do we know? Because food at football matches is a worldwide phenomenon, and one that we'll see in action as the World Cup qualifiers return this week.
Yes, for as long as there have been spectator sports, there have been foods and drinks to go with them. Football, being truly the world's game, is no exception, and to go with the international character of our beloved pastime are a number of snacks both global and local that fans across the globe enjoy.
Starting with the home of the sport, England, we find a product that, if not universal, is certainly ubiquitous in football. It can only be the meat pie. A throwback to an earlier time, attempts to update this humble but delicious snack include the chicken Balti pie, paying homage to the curry culture that emerged in the UK following widespread immigration (vastly improving the reputation of British cuisine in doing so.) In Scotland a variant known as the Scotch pie is involved; traditionally served with a beef-flavoured hot drink known as Bovril, this pastry snack contains spiced mutton as a filling.
Pies aren't unique to Britain, though. They're available right across the globe, such as in Australia, where they are generally enjoyed with tomato ketchup, or, in the Adelaide area, with pea soup in the form of a 'pie floater', which could politely be described as an acquired taste.
Africa, too, is home of the meat pie, especially out in the west. Samm Audu in Nigeria tells us, "As well as pies, fans here enjoy suya - a skewered, peppered meat dish - and bole, which is a roasted plaintain. To drink there's the usual water and soft drinks but also some locally-made specialties such as kunu, made from cornflour, and zobo, which is made from the Hibiscus plant."
Venturing further afield to Indonesia, our correspondent Bima Said mentions, "It's very rare to find snacks inside the stadiums here - just drinks like orange juice and water. However, outside the stadium you'll find lots. There's plenty of traditional Indonesia food like nasi goreng (fried rice), bubur ayam (chicken porridge), and mie goreng (fried noodles.) Beware once you get inside, though: sometimes fans, with their empty water bottles, will fill a container with urine and throw it towards the pitch if they get angry. Don't get in the way!"
If that's not enough to put you off your food, and if you're thirsty, head for the USA, where "nachos and really, really big plastic cups of beer" are the order of the day, according to Goal.com's Greg Lalas.
The fans there may enjoy an alcoholic drink, but in many other countries it's not allowed. Martin Decaux in South America informs us that beer is banned in some of the countries such as Argentina and Uruguay, so fans will wash down their pancho (hot dog) or choripan (sausage sandwich) with cola instead. In Mexico beer is allowed, where hamburger and, uniquely, cake is on the menu.
In Greece, Michael Paterakis says that beer isn't even in demand. "Here in Greece, sunflower seeds are a must. Surprisingly enough, alcoholic beverages are not popular at all. Instead we have frappe - a kind of coffee. Chips, cola and hot dogs are popular as well, but not as much as the sunflower seeds and frappe."
Those who deem seeds and coffee an odd combination may prefer Germany for honest, rustic food. Torsten Pauly says, "It's all about sausages like Bratwurst, french fries, beer, soft drinks, and in winter, a special hot wine called Gluehwein." Not to be outdone, his colleague Nils Reschke up in Bremen says that bread rolls filled with fish - a snack called Bremer - are a local delicacy. Igot Zelenitsyn tells us that in Russia fish is also on the menu, along with chips. Alcohol isn't on the agenda unless you wish to smuggle it in illegally, which many do.
If you're that desperate for a beer, there's always the Netherlands, but you have to pick your games carefully. Tommy Vaneldik says, "Here in Holland we usually start with a cup of coffee and after that we drink beer and eat a hamburger or a hot dog. However, for some reason you're not allowed to drink beer during every game. For example, when FC Utrecht plays against a big team like Ajax or Feyenoord, beer is forbidden. It's because it could affect the behaviour of some people in a negative way and those matches are always a bit risky anyway."
India shares a lack of alcohol in stadiums, but as Atishay Agarwal tells us, "People eat peanuts, usually salted and spiced, as well as potato chips and popcorn. There's no beer, but everyone seems to smoke cigarettes along with their soft drinks." In the Middle East, too, there's smoking: Feras Saad tells us, "In Bahrain, a game doesn't start without enjoying a good shesha (hookah pipe), chai haleeb (tea with milk), and of course a nice handful of hab shamsi (sunflower seeds.)"
Sandwich products like hotdogs, given their portability, seem to gain currency everywhere, such as in Spain. Juan Lirman says, "If you're ever at a Liga game, don't miss the chance to say, 'Quiero un bocata!' That means, I want a sandwich: a bocata is an abbreviation of bocadillo. There are several different kinds: bocata de tortilla, with a potato/egg filling, de chorizo, with spicy sausage, or de jamon, with ham." Over in Turkey, Ceyhun Bayel says, "Try a Kofte sandwich, complete with a meatball-style filling. There's also Simit, a special kind of pastry, and of course the essential sunflower seeds."
Need more meat? There's always South Africa. Peter Pedroncelli says, "In South Africa it's junk food all the way. Start with chips and biltong (which is a delicious salted dried meat snack - it is a great deal more delicious than it sounds! There's also dried wors (salted dried sausages) and soft drinks, known here as cold drinks."
Over in Italy, Sergio Stanco tells us, "In Italy there is a massive sandwich that has become tradition. Inside the bread there is grilled sausage, pepper, onion, ketchup, mayonnaise or senape, all served at a mobile truck outside the stadium with a nice, cold beer. Inside you can get a cornetto (ice cream) or chips from the 'bibitaro', who wanders the stadium selling his goods. Of course here fans are very attentive to food, so it's not unusual to find supporters visiting restaurants before matches to enjoy traditional Italian dishes."
A common feature unites pretty much all of the countries so far: there's nary a fruit nor a vegetable to be found. Austria provides this, but only as a side dish to - inevitably - a dish of fried meat and bread. "Alongside hot dogs here are other sausages, and salso Schnitzelsemmeln, which is a sandwich containing an escalope and some salad."
Salad? At football? How exotic. If that's not your kind of thing, you're in good company - the rest of the world has made its choice and greenery isn't among it. So, as you settle down to watch international action this weekend, why not raise a glass of zobo and snack on a bit of biltong as you looked ahead to Africa's World Cup next summer? Or, failing that, a pie and a beer will do just fine.
Ewan Macdonald, Goal.com