“Monsieur, may I suggest the bratwurst with your home run?”
The tradition of eating at live American sporting events is a long one, as is the idea of pairing the food with the occasion. For example, champagne is a suitable wine for a celebration, while red wine suits a formal dinner party better. And hot dogs would go well with a birthday party or a backyard barbecue, but not so well at a business dinner.
Well, pairing food with sports is not all that different. After all, most sports fans would agree that a baseball game has a much different feel than a football or hockey game. And while the NFL prefers Fall and Winter as its seasons, MBL players are known as the boys of Summer. And ice hockey is popular in the northern US, but in, say, Arkansas? Not so much. So why shouldn’t food differ for each event? Let’s take a moment, then, to think about which food pairs best with which sport.
Ah, baseball. The crack of the bat, the subtle nods of the pitcher and the catcher, the long, paced game – what better way to spend a lazy summer afternoon than watching a live MLB game? There is just something about baseball that makes it a thinking man’s game, a game of logistics, intrigue, and planning. It does not share the punctuated battle of the NFL, but is rather a slow but thoughtful game that depends as much on the personalities of its players, as it does its complex rules and statistics.
Baseball then, requires a food that is savored from beginning to end. It also needs more complex flavors – rich, earthy undertones and aftertastes. Nothing in my opinion meets these needs better than a classic bratwurst hot dog with fresh pickled relish, and stone-ground mustard. In fact, it was just such a hot dog that I had while watching the Reds at the old Cincinnati field, that really cemented my love for baseball in my soul. So if you want to have a baseball tailgating event, or a baseball party, be sure to get some rich, flavorful, German sausages, and serve them with hearty mustard, relish, and a strong German beer.
But what about football? It is so different than baseball that it has created its own culture, and has definitively replaced baseball as America’s Game. If baseball is like a group of generals planning a war in a map-covered stateroom, then American football is like the front lines of the war itself. Tough, giant men in ballistic armor, slamming into one another in Herculean feats of masculinity – this sport requires a food that matches its intensity and strength.
Think buffalo wings. What could be more primal and manly, than eating with your bare hands, and sucking spicy meat off of marrow-filled bones? Yes, spicy buffalo wings are the perfect match for football. And just as each play in football is a short, quick, action-filled event, so is eating each tiny chicken wing. Buffalo wings do not constitute a long, drawn out meal. Rather, they are individual, flavor-packed punches of food power, and when paired with a high-quality, bleu cheese dipping sauce, there is enough strong flavor and spice to match the toughness of the game. And as a drink? I suggest a micro-brewed IPA beer, such as that of California’s Bear Republic label: its sharp, pungent, hoppy flavor matches the intensity of the game and of the wings.
Hockey: it is a fast-paced, sometimes-violent sport, but is much more fluid and open than football. Speed is the essential element of hockey, and when paired with killer ice skills and the absence of fear, it can be a stunningly-beautiful sport to watch. But hockey is also played across the US and Canada by local neighborhood kids who find a frozen pond and set up two homemade goals. There is something homemade, organic, local, about hockey. It does not require the flair and polish of some other sports – it is what it is, a simple but skilled game that requires great sportsmanship, great courage, and great skating skills. So, what sort of food is best with a hockey game?
Pasties! In Michigan, Canada, and other parts of the US where hockey is king, pasties are also popular. These tasty little meat and vegetable pies are the perfect metaphor for hockey itself. They are quiet and unassuming, perhaps not on the level of French haute cuisine, but they are homegrown and honest. They are filled with hearty, comforting flavor on a cold, icy day. And when your sport includes slamming into other players and being hit in the teeth with a hard rubber puck, you need something hearty and filling to give you the energy to survive the day. You will find all of this in pasties. And it would be a crime to serve pasties without beer, so the drink of choice for hockey is a traditional lager with a bright, corn flavor, something like a Moosehead.
As you can see, there is much more to eating during sporting events, than simply lighting some charcoal. After all, we sports fans love our games for a reason. They represent to us things like community, loyalty, and local culture. They are best enjoyed with the appropriate foods and drinks. And just like you might pair a dry white wine with fish, you should take the same consideration into pairing the perfect food with your tailgating event, or your sports party.