Methodology: Let me be clear, I am not a culinary expert. In fact, it would be appropriate to describe my palette as dumb. But I did binge pretty much all of Top Chef during the pandemic so that’s something, right?
I’m going to be relying on incredible sources (the Wikipedia pages for various countries' cuisines) as well as mostly poor logic to make my decisions. In case of a tie/complete lack of knowledge about two cuisines, I will make a final judgment call based on the quality of photos available on the Wikipedia page for that country's cuisine. Basically the same process Michelin uses to award stars. Interpret the results as such.
Two countries from each group advance to the knockout stage.
Okay, so we’re starting out pretty tough. Full disclosure, I do not frequent any Qatari, Ecuadorian, Senegalese or Dutch restaurants. I wish I did, especially now. However, I did do some bad research.
I’m gonna say from the jump, Ecuador is getting through. Looked it up, they’re a big ceviche nation. I’ll mess with any ceviche, welcome to the group stage guys. That leaves Qatar, Senegal, and the Netherlands. Love your bike lanes and cannabis tourism pioneering, but I’m cutting the Netherlands. This is just a brutal showing. For the final spot in this group, I’m just going to judge off of the generic food photos available on Senegal and Qatar’s Wikipedia pages. Pretty easy dub for Senegal and the thiéboudiène boukhonk.
With a ton of personal bias and I’m going to advance the United States here on the strength of Philly cheesesteaks and Popeye’s chicken. England and Wales make this pretty easy: It’s a no from me, dawg. Not culinary destinations. Enjoy your bangers and mash, happy for you. Iran is through to the knockout stage by default, didn’t even have to look up their food on Wikipedia.
In the regular World Cup, El Tri has a lot of question marks, but in this tournament, Mexico is a powerhouse. They rock this group and strike fear into the rest of the tournament. Burritos? These other countries are trying to compete with burritos? Get real. Poland is a sleeper here with kielbasa and pierogies. This roundup didn’t really sell me on Saudi Arabia. Argentinian food is heavy on steak and wine, which is enough to give them the nod for the second spot here.
France dominates this group in soccer as well as culinary tradition. They’re easily through here. Don’t know much about Danish cuisine other than… danishes? They also have Noma there, which keeps getting declared the best restaurant in the world. On the other hand, Australia has vegemite. Also, meat pies if that’s your thing. I think I’m gonna give the nod to Tunisia in this spot because the food there looks the most interesting.
Spain and Japan in a route. Paella and sushi? Forget about it. All apologies to schnitzel and the concept of pura vida.
I have a full-blown sweet tooth over here, so Belgium’s getting through on their chocolate and waffles. Canada would crush if this was just a donut and coffee bracket. Have to go to a tiebreaker between Croatia and Morocco, and I give a slight nod to Croatia because they do a lot of risottos. Just love the upside of a well-made risotto in this spot.
Have you ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse? It’s incredible. It’s like an amusement park just of cooked meat. Definitely want to make sure there’s a quality threshold met, lest you have the Bridesmaids experience. Belgium already met our chocolate quota for the knockout stage, so the Swiss are out. For the last spot, I’m leaning towards Cameroon. On the whole, it looks bomb.
I shouldn’t have worked on this while I was hungry.
If you’re a seafood fiend, can’t do much better than Portugal. They also have these lemon custard tarts that are BOMB. It’s a hazard. Korea is also just a powerhouse here. If there’s a better evening combo than Korean BBQ, heaps of soju and karaoke, I haven’t experienced it yet. Kimchi also just doing yeoman’s work out there in terms of bringing flavor and texture to anything. Excited to see Korea really hit its stride in the knockout stage.
Notes from the Knockout Stage:
No easy choices here, except for most of the first-round matchups. Those were pretty easy for my dumb, uneducated palette.
United States vs. France is a fascinating contrast of styles, both very unhealthy for different reasons. As much as I love McNuggets, I had to give the nod to croque madame when pitted head to head.
Japan and Mexico could face off 10 times and there would be a different winner every time. Two great food nations doing their own thing. This is a fusion restaurant combo I’ll choose every time, no questions asked.
I might get some flack for advancing Korea so far, and I’ll accept that. Did I eat amazing beef bulgogi last night which might have swayed my general opinion? Yes, of course I did.
Like many World Cups, the third-place match-up would have been a more than suitable final. France won’t be happy with the result, but in all likelihood, they aren’t happy that a cultureless swine is judging their food at all.
Just want to give one more shoutout to Mexican food. Thank you for all that you do feeding me 2-7 times a week for the rest of my life.
Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images