Eat the World Cup is a mission to watch the 2022 World Cup in London restaurants and bars that represent all of the 32 participating countries. It involves experiencing Argentina with a steak, Germany with a stein and Saudi Arabia with a special liver dish. At 10am.
I never really wanted to visit Qatar. I had changed planes in Doha shortly after the World Cup was awarded in 2010. I recall flying over a dusty enclave dotted with sparkling skyscrapers. I love the diversity of travel but, from above, it looked one of the least appealing countries in the world. But, as a football purist, I was divided. This was the last 32 team tournament before the World Cup became bloated in size, area and logistics across most of North America. I looked into going. It would be expensive, but that wasn’t what held me back. It just didn’t look like Qatar would be that much fun.
So it promised to be a sofa World Cup. But I worried about the lack of tournament atmosphere in the lounge. I began to think about other ways to watch the World Cup in my own city, perhaps embracing another football challenge. I had experienced a top division match in 55 UEFA nations over the 2017-18 season. I watched all 24 teams play in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations across just nine Egyptian days. I love London’s cosmopolitan edge, and so does my partner. We dreamt up the idea of watching a World Cup match in all 32 countries’ restaurants, bars or cafes without leaving the city.
Our planning started with a spreadsheet. My eyes were immediately drawn to appetising games involving the football and cuisine of Argentina, Morocco and Portugal. Research led to some early successes: identifying an Ecuadorian eatery for the tournament opener, a Saudi shisha lounge and a Danish taproom. But the schedule caused some headaches. Cameroon’s first two games kick off eight hours before a Cameroonian nightspot in Deptford opened its doors. We would have to visit Maestro Bar Restaurant for their final group match against Brazil. Did I need to reserve a table? ‘Just rock up!’ replied the woman answering their phone.
I would need to stretch the project definitions as well as my stomach. There was no obviously Welsh pub or restaurant. Instead, tickets were secured to the London Welsh Centre’s broadcast of their match against the Americans. A colleague helped me track down a Libyan restaurant with a Tunisian chef in the Arabic streets around Edgware Road. I used Office for National Statistics’ estimates to understand the size of diaspora populations. There are so few Costa Ricans in the country that the ONS’ estimate was suppressed. But I contacted the friendly Costa Ricans in the UK group to find out where Ticos would be watching their games with breakfast burritos.
The group phase would need to be our focus. European powers like Germany, Spain, Portugal, England and France had recently failed to qualify from their groups. We would often need to cover three or four hostelries in a single day, introducing a logistical element that would be reliant on London’s temperamental public transport system. Eat the World Cup promises to be a fun and food-filled football experience, but not without its challenges.