Despite the fact I can barely boil an egg, I do like to think I appreciate a quality bit of grub, whether it’s fried soup dumplings from Yang’s in Shanghai ($1 for 6) or lunch at Le Bernardin in Manhattan (quite a bit more for 6 courses).

So Mrs Williamson and myself are fairly addicted to many of the cooking-based TV shows out there, from Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares to Top Chef and now Chef Academy, which was just downloaded from iTunes 72 hours ago but is already halfway done.

Perhaps my favourite chef TV show is Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”, where he travels the world finding and eating exotic foods (example: raw seal eyeball).  I’m not in the same league, but travelling with the Tartan Army has given me my fair share of food memories too.  So in no particular order, enjoy.

World Cup 1998: Les Sandwichs Grecs

The overriding memory for me of France 1998 is disappointment.  Not disappointment at the 3-0 defeat to Morocco; nor the disappointment in finding out that even if we’d won, Norway’s victory over Brazil would have knocked us out anyway.  No, it was disappointment that on our last night in St Etienne, they ran out of sandwichs grecs, and we had to walk back to our hotel empty-handed and hungry, as well as defeated.

Sandwichs grecs… Greek sandwiches… yes, kebabs to you and me.  But the ones I ate during the 1998 World Cup were fabulously special and I still remember them 12 years on.  Well, I don’t really, because it was usually 3 or 4 in the morning that we had them, but I remember they were bloody wonderful and didn’t make you feel sick the next morning.  And they had chips in them.  Chips!

Georgia 2007: Khachapuri and Khinkali

Most football people associate Georgia with Kinkladze, but for me it was Khachapuri and Khinkali.  On this trip I was with some foodie friends, one of whom was a trained chef, no less, and she was looking forward to the Georgian specialities.

Before the game the police had clearly not done their homework, because they’d ordered every bar and restaurant within a mile of the ground to shut down.  Luckily we found one local place that ignored this instruction, and ordered some Khinkali – meat dumplings, a little like the famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings) of Shanghai, but bigger and less soupy.  We ordered a plate and I think they gave us about twenty between the three of us; these things are not small.  But the locals were very friendly – one guy bought every table of Scots a bottle of wine – so we felt we had to finish the lot.  They were quite tasty, unlike Scotland’s performance that night, never mind the awful jambo-like strip we were wearing.

Khachapuri would take Scotland by storm, if someone exported it.  It’s a leavened cheese bread – sort of a cross between a pizza and a nan bread, and usually cheesy, though you can put in meat or mushrooms or other veg if you like.  And they’re not small, either; one would easily serve a family of four, as we learned when we ordered one each as an appetiser during lunch.

Sarajevo 1998: Chicken

Not memorable for the food, but for the impersonation of a chicken done in the takeout shop by the legendary Malky.  I think the guy actually spoke English, so there really wasn’t any need.

Busan 2002: Dried Fish

Speaking of the venerable Malky, one of his finest moments came in the aftermath of that horrific 4-1 capitulation in Korea.  A group of locals at the next table were merrily eating and drinking, when our Malky leans over to strike up a conversation.  Opening line: “So why do you eat dugs, then?”

I discovered why they eat dogs later that night, when I tasted the dry fish these locals were chewing.  It was absolutely disgusting, so clearly Koreans will eat *anything*.

Hong Kong 2002: Haggis Pakora

After the dried fish incident and other culinary disasters in Korea – I had the runs on the plane out of Busan – it was a welcome relief to find this beautiful meld of cuisines.  The internet claims it was invented by Aberdeen’s Gourmet Kamasutra restaurant, but I first encountered it in a very different place, the sadly-now-closed Caledonian bar and restaurant, where it sustained me for several days between Scotland’s humbling in Korea and our subsequent humping of Hong Kong’s so-called Select.

Next week, more tales: Horse, and a bollock jacuzzi

South Korea v Scotland, 2002


Photo Credit: Sandwich Grec