Drink in the World Cup: The worldwide soccer tournament is a month-long excuse to taste something ne

Argentina and Italy, two teams to watch in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, share two passions: food and soccer. The latter, of course, is football everywhere outside the United States (except for Australia, where soccer is soccer and everything else is backward). When the World Cup begins in Germany June 9, whole industries go into sleep mode across the globe. St. Louis likely will be a little distracted, too.

Soccer’s popularity is matchless in Argentina. “It is bigger than life, huge. It’s almost a religion,” said Mateo Dalla Fontana, a 32-year-old native of Argentina who moved to the United States in 2000. “The country is nearly paralyzed every time the national team is playing, almost literally paralyzed.”

“By far, [soccer] is the most popular and passionate thing in Argentinian sports,” said Dalla Fontana, a tennis pro at Frontenac Racquet Club and Old Warson Country Club, both in West County. “It is the most normal thing in life. Most kids when they are 3 or 4 start kicking the ball, all over the country. Every four years when the national team is in the World Cup, the country is paralyzed with passion close to fundamentalism. It’s huge.”

The tension inherent in every do-or-die kick in the group stages keeps many Argentinians close to home.

“They go to restaurants and bars, but most watch it at home,” Dalla Fontana said. “It’s really the only time that soccer is family time, every four years for the World Cup. Otherwise, it is a huge male thing. There is a huge machismo about the game.”

Dalla Fontana and friends will be watching the games in a domestic setting, not wishing to miss a moment or, perhaps, hear a disparaging word about the boys in sky blue and white, aka the Albicelestes. “We have already established five different houses where we will be watching the World Cup games,” Dalla Fontana said. “There is a very big group of Argentinians living in
St. Louis.”

For those who wish to leave their bosom and bower to watch descendants of Argentine great Diego Maradona play flair football, Tango Argentina Food in St. Peters is the place. Stella Aberastury, who 10 years ago moved to the United States from Argentina, and her husband opened Tango in March. “The economic situation in my country was very bad,” Aberastury said.

Lucky for St. Louis, Aberastury is here and she brought food. Tango’s main dish is empanadas, or small pies, available with five fillings: mild or spicy meat, spinach and cheese, ham and cheese, and creamy corn. “We get the dough from Argentina and deep-fry the pies,” she said.

Tango also offers milanesa, a traditional breaded beef cutlet, and mashed potatoes Argentina-style. “We use Argentinian spices, pepper, Parmesan cheese and something else, but I can’t tell you exactly because it’s my secret,” Aberastury said. “We use oregano, parsley, garlic, but they are from Argentina. They look like the ones here, but they taste different.”

The Aberasturys also recognize the importance of the upcoming tournament to the folks they left behind.

“It is the most important and popular sport in Argentina,” Aberastury said. “Children and old people watch the football. It is very, very popular. Usually, people play football Saturday and Sunday and they get together either at home or at a bar and watch games. When Argentina wins, people go out to the streets singing and celebrating. It is very, very important.”

Of course, one can’t speak of the commingled passions of food and football without bringing up Italy – particularly in St. Louis, where Italian roots run bedrock-deep. Bar Italia in the Central West End will get you closer to Italy via its food and clientele of international soccer enthusiasts.

“Pretty much the bulk of our menu is that way, to keep the flavors and style as close to going to Italy as possible,” owner Mengesha Yohannes said. He cited Bar Italia’s unusual pollo agrodolce, or chicken with a sweet-sour balsamic reduction. “It’s actually a Renaissance recipe adapted for modern tastes. It has clove in it and raisins, a bit
of mint.

“The whole idea is going back to the Italian aesthetic. Not just the recipes, but keeping things simple, having respect for vegetables, using good olive oil, good quality cheeses, fresh ingredients all the time. We make a lot of things on-site.”

The Italian team reflects its national cuisine. Defenders are staunch, substantial like pasta, and the strikers and long-haired midfielders add some individualism and style, like the sauces unique to different restaurants. The players’ penchant for pointless arguing after obvious fouls is as goofy as droopy noodles. This mixture comes together perfectly at Bar Italia. “We are serious about food and about people’s experience here, but we are not solemn about it,” Yohannes said

Bar Italia will be showing the games on a 12-foot projection screen, as it did in 2002. Outdoor seating is a bonus at the eatery, whose total capacity is 400. “A lot of people are enthusiasts, so they would take a couple of hours off work to watch the games,” Yohannes said of his 2002 World Cup audience. “There would always be a large contingent of Europeans and an international crowd. Especially approaching the finals, we had a lot of people and had to set up extra TVs.”

The heartbeat of St. Louis soccer is The Hill, where filmmakers shot “The Game of Their Lives,” the story of the U.S. National Team that in 1950 upset England 1-0. “It’s a very unique neighborhood,” said Joe Vollmer, co-owner of Milo’s on The Hill. “Soccer is very big, especially since they filmed that movie here a couple of years ago. Five members of the 1950 World Cup team grew up in this neighborhood.

“If you go to houses around here, there are a lot of people watching the English Premier League, whatever we can get on satellite or cable. There is a lot of conversation about that, more than even baseball. It’s a big part of this community, and the soccer teams over at St. Ambrose [School] are still
really big.”

The quintessential St. Louis Italian experience can be had at Milo’s, where the most popular item is salsiccia, or Italian sausage. “It is made fresh here in the neighborhood for us, and we do it with green peppers, onions, a toasted roll,” Vollmer said. “That’s what you get if you really want to get a taste of the neighborhood.

Milo’s will have plenty of screens showing the big games – four televisions were just added – and plenty of patrons hoping Italy’s boys in blue, the Azzurri, can bring home the coveted Jules Rimet Trophy July 9. “Soccer in general up here is a lot of fun. We try to get a lot of people to come out of their houses and get together.”

International Flavor: Keep up with the cup in your kitchen

If you’re watching the World Cup games at home, consider spicing up your viewing experience with favorite dishes from some of the participating nations.

Group A
Costa Rica – Gallo pinto (fried rice and black beans)
Ecuador – Fanesca (soup of vegetables, peanuts, salt cod and spices)
Germany – Currywurst (sliced sausage dipped in curry-seasoned ketchup)
Poland – Bigos (sauerkraut with meat and sausage)

Group B
England – English breakfast (plate of meat, eggs, broiled tomatoes and baked goods)
Paraguay – Sopa Paraguaya (cornbread rich with cheese)
Sweden – Meatballs (especially as part of a smorgasbord)
Trinidad and Tobago – Crab and callaloo (spicy dish of taro leaves cooked with okra and coconut)

Group C
Argentina – Empanadas (baked pastries with savory or sweet fillings)
Netherlands – Stamppot (a hash of mashed potatoes, pork and cabbage)
Ivory Coast – Attiéké (cassava couscous)
Serbia and Montenegro – Cevapi (spiced, grilled ground-meat patties)

Group D
Angola – Muamba de galinha (chicken in tomato-based palm-oil sauce)
Iran – Chelo kabob (skewered meats with rice)
Mexico – Mole poblano de Guajolote (thick, chocolate-flavored sauce served over turkey or chicken)
Portugal – Cozido à Portuguesa (stew of meats, cabbage and beans)

Group E
Czech Republic – Svícková (roast beef with root vegetables and sour cream sauce)
Ghana – Foofoo (porridge of ground cassava, corn, rice and yams)
Italy – Spaghetti Bolognese (pasta with meat sauce)
United States – Hamburgers (preferably on the grill or served with fries)

Group F
Australia – Pavlova (meringue topped with fruit and whipped cream)
Brazil – Feijoada (stewlike dish of black beans and smoked meats)
Croatia –Pasticada (pot roast served with gnocchi)
Japan – Ramen (wheat-noodle soup seasoned with soy sauce, pork, fish paste and vegetables)

Group G
France – Cassoulet (stew of white beans, sausages, meats, onion and spices)
South Korea – Kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage)
Switzerland – Rösti (fried grated-potato patties)
Togo – Pâtes with sauce (corn-flour porridge served with thick vegetable or meat stew)

Group H
Saudi Arabia – Mufallaq (wheat-based pilaf with meat, onion and tomato)
Spain – Paella (rice, vegetables sausage, poultry and fish seasoned with saffron)
Tunisia – Couscous (small spheres of semolina served with meat or vegetable stew)
Ukraine – Borscht (hot or cold beet soup served with sour cream)

World Cup History

Year – Host – Finals

1930 – Uruguay – Uruguay 4, Argentina 2
1934 – Italy – Italy 2, Czechoslovakia 1
1938 – France – Italy 4, Hungary 2
1950 – Brazil – Uruguay 2, Brazil 1
1954 – Switzerland – West Germany 3, Hungary 2
1958 – Sweden – Brazil 5, Sweden 2
1962 – Chile – Brazil 3, Czechoslovakia 1
1966 – England – England 4, West Germany 2
1970 – Mexico – Brazil 4, Italy 1
1974 – Germany – West Germany 2, Netherlands 1
1978 – Argentina – Argentina 3, Netherlands 1
1982 – Spain – Italy 3, West Germany 1
1986 – Mexico – Argentina 3, West Germany 2
1990 – Italy – West Germany 1, Argentina 0
1994 – United States – Brazil 0, Italy 0
(Brazil wins penalty-kick shootout 3-2)
1998 – France – France 3, Brazil 0
2002 – Korea and Japan – Brazil 2, Germany 0