Football fever is about to grip the world, and I for one am ready to come down with a case of the flu. The World Cup kicks off in Russia next Thursday, commencing an entire month of wall to wall football, and more importantly, wall to wall opportunities to get pissed and scream at televisions.
While there are plenty of distasteful things about what FIFA has turned the tournament into, at the heart of it the World Cup is about different cultures coming together to celebrate, something we could do with more of in an increasingly divided world.
So in that spirit, I present to you our World Cup of food and drink.
Using a highly scientific formula (including multiple algorithms) we’ve picked the top teams from each group based on their representation in Vietnam.
So forget Messi and Neymar, mash and noodles are what matters in this competition!
Group A: Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay
This group is somewhat of a two horse race, with Saudi Arabian and Uruguayan food pretty tricky to come by in Vietnam, though judging by Luis Suarez’s taste for human flesh, I’m not sure how bad a thing that is.
Egyptian food is also a bit of a rarity, though Al Sultan did open recently in Hanoi, offering authentic Egyptian and halal cuisine to all. Apart from Sergio Ramos. Probably.
While they may struggle to get out of this group on the pitch, Russia is the clear winner of this group in our World Cup.
Even though they have a few spots in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Putin’s boys take this group by dominating Nha Trang and Mui Ne, where there are so many Russian eateries and businesses that it’s not uncommon to see signs in Cyrillic script.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Iran
This one is a contender for this year’s group of death on the pitch, but not quite in Vietnam’s kitchens.
There may not be any dedicated Iranian or Moroccan restaurants, but Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern food is well represented in Vietnam, including Hanoi’s Chaouen Lounge and Ho Chi Minh City’s Zetyun.
Cristiano Ronaldo owns property in Vietnam, but the superstar striker will have to go without a cheeky Nando’s in Vietnam, as only The Piri Piri House in Mui Ne flies the flag for Portuguese grub.
Portugal’s Iberian neighbours Spain are our Group B winners, with tapas restaurants aplenty in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, including the capital’s El Loco Tapas Bar and Octo Tapas down south.
Group C: France, Australia, Peru and Denmark
No prizes for guessing the winner of this group.
While Australia (2 Sisters, Hanoi), Peru (Picante, Hanoi) and Denmark (Storm P, Ho Chi Minh City) all have representation in Vietnam, there is simply a hell of a lot more French food on offer.
From fine dining at Hanoi’s La Badiane, to the baguettes used for banh mis up and down the country, there’s an embarrassment of riches in Vietnam when it comes to French cuisine.
Group D: Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria
Sadly, there are no Icelandic eateries in Vietnam, however Croatia is represented by fast food chain Surf’n’Fries. The franchise has locations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, but the chips and burgers on offer are about as traditionally Croatian as Brazil-born striker Eduardo is.
Nigeria have received plenty of plaudits for their eye-catching kit, and the Super Eagles’ cuisine is also grabbing attention in Vietnam, with delivery service African Cuisine becoming a staple for Hanoi expats.
Unfortunately, in food, as in football, Goliath sometimes wins. Argentina have Maradona, Messi and three El Gaucho steakhouses in Vietnam, with weight of numbers putting them atop the group.
The Albiceleste will also hope to finish on top at the World Cup proper, though whether that’s on the pitch or in the bedroom is unclear, as the players were recently given a guide on picking up Russian women.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia
This group looks like it could be a walkover in Russia and our contest, with Brazil heavy favourites to triumph over minnows Costa Rica and Serbia, and forget the Swiss, they never seem to get out of neutral at the World Cup.
Unsurprisingly there are no Costa Rican or Serbian restaurants in Vietnam, while La Casserole in Nha Trang is the sole Swiss representative in the country.
With Vietnam’s passionate love affair for meat, it’s only natural that the country has a couple of Brazilian steakhouses, namely Au Lac Do Brazil (with locations in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City) and Rio Churrascaria in Ho Chi Minh City.
Group F: Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea
A real murderer’s row of a group in our World Cup, with every team bar Sweden contenders for top spot. Maybe Zlatan Ibrahimovic should use his time off this summer to open a Swedish restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, though considering the man’s ego he may only agree to do so if the city changes its name to Zlatan City.
Germany has links with Vietnam going back decades, as the multiple German eateries in the country’s major cities attest to, with Hanoi’s Kaiser Kaffe a kitschy delight.
Meanwhile Mexican food has truly conquered the world, and Vietnam is no exception. Whether it’s Tex-Mex at Anita’s Cantina in Hanoi or Saigon’s District Federal, who cleaned up at the recent city-wide taco festival.
Really though, there could only be one winner of this group. Vietnam is in love with Korean culture, including the food. Korean fried chicken, bibimbap and barbeque are easy to find in the major cities. Hell, even North Korean cuisine is represented in Hanoi!
Group G: Belgium, Panama, Tunisia and England
Slim pickings in Group G for our World Cup, to the point where England actually win this culinary battle!
The tiny nation of Panama has no representation in Vietnam to speak of and neither does Tunisia, though as mentioned above there are a few Mediterranean joints knocking about.
Belgian beer is easier to find in Vietnam than the food – Hanoi plays host to Belgian style beer C-Brewmaster and even held a Belgian Beer festival back in March, but Le Petit Bruxelles (Hanoi) and Belgo The Belgian Brewery (Ho Chi Minh City) are your best bets for some chips with mayo.
That leaves England alone atop the summit of the group then, thanks to the ample options for a fry up in Hanoi and the fact that Ho Chi Minh City has an actual fish and chips shop in Union Jack’s.
As if that weren’t enough, almost every hostel in backpacker parts of the big cities serve English grub, as you can’t start a day without eating something starchy and fried, perhaps explaining Wayne Rooney has always looked a bit fat despite being a world class athlete.
Group H: Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan
Rounding things off is Group H, with a strange mix of cuisines that would certainly make for an interesting potluck dinner.
The closest thing to Senegalese representation is Evans Osinga’s African Cuisine – although Vietnamese spring rolls are oddly popular in Senegal. Meanwhile Hanoi’s only Polish restaurant Pyza Polish House appears to have closed down.
Ho Chi Minh City has one Colombian joint in Don Patacon, though sadly if you live in Hanoi there are no Colombian restaurants. Hanoians will just have to wait for a sight of James Rodriguez on TV, as he is a snack and a half.
Japan of course takes the victory here, as there are more sushi joints than you can shake a chopstick at in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Izakaya bars are also growing in popularity in Vietnam, and places where they stock enough sake to sink a ship seem like the perfect place to watch some footie.
To the Winner, the Spoils
So, with Russia, Spain, France, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, England and Japan through to our HOT TABLE World Cup knock-out stages, who should take home the trophy?
Personally, I think the final would see South Korea just pipping France to glory, in what would be a culinary battle for the ages. Luckily though, living in Vietnam means you don’t have to choose between these great cuisines, you get to enjoy them all. Get in my son!