Feasting on South African soccer culture

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:29 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG -- Nothing goes better with a good game of football than a biltong, boerewors or bobotie.

If that doesn't get your digestive juices flowing, you may want to try and sneak in something a little more authentic from vendors outside the stadium, like a dish of rice, pap and idombolo.

If you're really lucky, you might find a vendor who is frying up a big plate of chicken feet.

"Chicken feet are good but they have to be fried. Yes, you eat them bones and all," said Mbwala, a local fan attending a game in Bloemfontein. "If they are fried, then you can drink beer with them."

The beer sounds divine but lets hold the chicken feet, watching my cholesteral you know.

Food, drink, colour, costumes, singing and interaction with other fans are all part of the celebration of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It has made this tournament as unique as they come.

"I'm from London (England) but my girlfriend is from here originally," said Neil West. "We've been to four games in different stadiums and the one thing we noticed is the friendship in the stands.

"We were sitting with South African fans in the Portugal-Brazil game. Brazil would get the ball and the fans would cheer for a goal. We thought 'they are cheering for Brazil.' But when Portugal got the ball, they were cheering for Portugal. They didn't care. They just wanted to have a good time."

While the football may not be the best football ever produced, the atmosphere produced around the park rates near the top.

It starts hours before the game and the anticipation always spills over during the national anthems. It is not unusual for players almost screaming the words and some fans crying at the emotion of the moment.

"We were a little worried coming here," said Juan Duque. "But it has been perfect in the stands. The best. The people are nice. I think the food is good, better than I thought."

Duque is quite a story. He epitomizes the fanatical fan that travels the four corners of the earth to follow football. Duque is from Medellin, Colombia. He is travelled with 13 of his friends, all from Colombia, to watch football. They have been in South Africa since June 6. They stay in hostels and drive thousands of miles to different cities to watch their teams play.

Colombia does not have a team at this tournament, but Duque studied in Spain so he sports a Spanish national team jersey.

"My friends, they all support Argentina and Brazil but what do they know," he sayes with a laugh.

It has taken Duque and the group two years to plan this trip. Each individual will spend about $10,000. They will be away from work for more than five weeks. Some of those on the trip are their own bosses. Some have very understanding bosses.

"This is the World Cup. (The bosses) have known for two years and they have been able to prepare," he said.

Duque loves everything about this World Cup, except for the vuvuzelas.

"I hate those things," he said. "You can't even hear the, what do you call it, the chants around the stadium."

Dugue says his group can hear it.

"There are some you can't repeat," he said. "The England fans are good for that. Very funny and very ...'

He rolls his eyes to indicate how risque the chants are. Other nations chant about specific players especially if they are in the news or if they are playing for a particular country but were born in another one.

"But South American fans, it is good atmosphere," he says.

He then proceeds to chant a couple.

"Argentina fans, 'Maradona, Maradona is a champion, better than Pele.' Then Brazil fans say, 'Brazil, Brazil, five-time champions better than Argentina.' (Brazil has won five World Cups, Argentina only two, the last in 1986.)

"So then Argentina says, 'Argentina, Argentina, we're going to win this time like 1986.'"

Hordes of fans wear the colours of the team they support so huge sections of the stadium appear to have been painted one colour. Particularly stunning is the orange of the Dutch, blue of Italy and Argentina and gold of Brazil.

But what's more eye-catching is the array of costumes and plumage worn by fans. The Americans brought out individuals dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Elvis impersonators (we think); Minutemen from the war of independence. Portugal had a group decked out as navigators on Portuguese warring ships; England brought out Templar Knights and Knights of the Round Table; the French were dressed as French aristocracy.

There was body paint, face paint, coloured hair, wigs, funny hats, ridiculous hats, outrageously big hats, more flags than at the United Nations, fans dressed to the hilt and undressed to distraction.

It didn't matter who fought whom in history, they all ate and drank together.

"The only thing I didn't like," said John Drury, a native of Durban who is now an accountant in London, "is that you can't buy local beer in the stadium. You have to buy Budweiser. You never get Budweiser in South Africa. There's no Castle, no Black Label, no Windhoek, that's what we drink here."

There's some disappointment you can't get traditional African food in the stadium either. Chicken feet might not be as big a seller as pap (white corn meal) and idombolo (chicken dumpling) but you can't get any of that unless it is from local vendors who have been pushed outside a certain limit by FIFA-sponsored food vendors.

You can bet a number of spectators would love to try them probably just once.

"The other disappointment is the cost of beer," Drury said. "A lot of people can't afford 30 rand for a beer. You can buy four outside the stadium for that kind of money."

At about seven rand to the dollar, that's more than $3 a beer. Hot dogs are 25 rand as are chili dogs. Mash and gravy is 10 rand; sandwiches 30 (tomato and cheese, meat {unspecified}); crisps (potato chips) 10; and biltong 30 rand a package. Biltong is dried strips of meat like jerky.

In some stadiums boerewors (farmers' sausage) or bobotie (meat pies) are also available.

"But really, all that is minor stuff," Drury said. "This has been wonderful for the country, just wonderful."

Kind of makes you want to hoist a Budweiser. Come to think of it, pass the feet.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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