Snacking through Euro 2016

by Food Urchin 16 June 2016

To celebrate the 2016 Euros, Danny Kingston kicks off his series of perfect European football snacks – with beers and ciders to match – and discusses some of the weird and wonderful nibbles enjoyed by our European cousins on the terraces.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin. When Danny is not busy digging holes to pit-roast lamb or hanging marrows in tights to make rum or foraging for snails in his garden to throw into paella, he is often left in charge of a pair of cheeky twins; with sometimes disastrous results in the kitchen. A former nominee for Best Food Writer at The YBFs Danny has decided that one day, he might just write a book about food.

At the risk of alluding to some of the more unsavoury elements of the beautiful game, Euro 2016 has well and truly kicked off in France. Hundreds of thousands of pairs of eyes will be glued to screens, large and small and I suppose that I too will get caught up in the clamour and emotion of it all. I am actually not a massive football fan. I support West Ham but my indifference serves me well. We are used to dreaming big and watching bubbles burst. It sort of goes with the territory.

But hey, England seem to be in with a chance this time around. Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford and that other one, all seem to have the skill, drive and minerals to propel us towards a semi-final at least. Which really would be cause for celebration. Otherwise, I may be faced once again with the prospect of consoling my neighbour, who is footie mad and was very upset when England got dumped out of Euro 2012 on penalties, by Italy. I still remember spotting him over the fence on his patio, slumped in a chair, with the faintest trail of a tear on his cheek. I tried to offer him a mini pork pie to cheer him up, but it didn’t work. To be fair, it wasn’t really that nice. It had been a hot day, if I recall rightly, and the pie had been lounging on a platter in the front room for far too long whilst the game was on. The pie was, how to describe it, moist and fairly mushy.

Thinking then about food and football, I am going to stick my neck out here and say that ordinarily, never the twain shall meet. However, I am thinking back to rare trips down Upton Park here, where a ‘dog burger’ from a dustcart and a few of pints of watery cooking lager were prerequisite fodder before kick off. Things must have certainly improved when The Rib Man showed up though and perhaps I am being a little bit harsh anyway. A lot of footballing countries have strong ties and traditions when it comes to food and what spectators like to eat during the game, normally at half time.

Turning straight back to France for instance, the galette-saucisse, a sausage wrapped in a buckwheat pancake, is a very popular snack on the terraces in the north of the country, washed down with Breton cider. Which sounds delicious to me. There is even a website devoted to them (albeit in French, as you might expect). Pretzels smothered with melted cheese should also get an honourable mention, as they are the go-to for football fans in Hungary and Belgium. And of course, there really is something quite appealing about the homely combination of a proper mince pie and mug of beef tea, staples in England, Scotland and Wales.

There are some exceptions. I am not entirely bowled over by the prospect of carving up and eating slices of salo, or raw pig fat, like the Russians do to keep their internal organs heated (and clogged up) during winter games. A match day diet of constantly scoffing sunflower seeds doesn’t appeal to my teeth either, even if the Romanians do swear by them for energy. And the thought of fermented shark or hákarl as it’s known in Iceland makes me want to hákarl all over the place. This isn’t a typical snack eaten during football in Reykjavik by the way, I just wanted to include it here.

OK, now none of these suggestions are going to score goals in the healthy eating department. More like own goals really. But by and large, these snacks all serve one common purpose and that is to provide stodge to soak up beer, that wonderful nectar that's usually consumed whilst watching the beautiful game live or at home in front of the telly. A beverage that ironically both binds and often unravels our appreciation of the sport.

So by way of neat introduction, I shall be exploring in a series of posts some international recipes and beer pairing suggestions for you to try during the championship. To help soak up the flavour and atmosphere and to hopefully encourage something new.

First up are 'Spice bags' and an Irish craft beer. The Republic of Ireland’s second game is on 18 June, so you’ll have plenty of time to perfect this very complicated recipe and to source some brown paper bags. Bags that serve to keep your carpet clean, should you leap up, all excited like.

Just watch that beer though.