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Oakes Weekly - December 30, 2004
Beer Snacks of the World
December 30, 2004
Written by Oakes
Aside from a few fundamentalist Muslim countries, every country in this world has beer. All countries in the world have some sort of food. Beer and food combinations have become rather fashionable in beer geek circles, partly as a way of reaching out to foodies and party as a way to explore the relatively unexplored. Yet, long before brewpubs matched their stout with chocolate cake and long before every beer writer under the sun (myself included) pretended to be the first to explore beer & cheese pairings, people ate food with their beer.
Today, in some countries beer is strictly consumed with a meal. These are countries were drinking is simply not done in establishments that make the facilitation of that act their primary business. You won’t find a lot of bars catering to locals in a place like Laos. They drink, but only with dinner. A long, boozy dinner, but dinner nonetheless. It is in parts of the world where drinking can be conducted on its own, without a meal, that we’ve seen a culture of beer snacks evolve. What’s the difference? Well, a snack is something that accentuates the drink – cleaning the palate and invigourating the senses. A meal is something where the drink does the accentuating and invigourating.
In traditional beer-drinking countries, beer snacks can be very regional, and sometimes seem like an art form. One example is leberkäs, a Bavarian specialty which is a sausage stuffing baked into a box-shaped loaf and served by the slice with potato salad or a roll. Bavarians also enjoy mix of camembert, butter and cottage cheese called obatzta. Of course, Bavarians also love their sausage. There are many varieties, but the pale weisswurst on a Sunday morning with weissbier and a pretzel is a tried-and-true classic.
Other regions have sausage traditions, too. For example, in Serbia they enjoy a dried spicy sausage called cabanossy with their beer. In the Czech Republic, pickled sausage called utopenec is served with onion and rye bread. In other countries, the meat is still popular but takes different forms. For example, in South Africa, a jerky called biltong is popular with beer. Brazilians enjoy chorizo, fried with onions. Pork scratchings (deep-fried strips of pig skin) are popular in England. In Central Asia they love to drink beer and eat shashlyk, which is skewers of mutton cooked over fire. This is typically accompanied, especially in Uzbekistan, with pickled onions. Onions are a popular beer snack worldwide, including North America’s ubiquitous onion rings, battered and deep-fried. Onion rings are close kin to french fries, but the potato is not nearly so common overall.
Fries are a Belgian invention, and the dish moules et frites is a beer food classic. Take away the frites, and you have a classic Nova Scotian beer snack – plain mussels, steamed and dipped in melted butter.
Indeed, seafood is a major beer snack around the world. Belgians enjoy whitebait or small fish in oil, or unpeeled North Sea grey shrimp. In East London and surrounding areas, there is a strong tradition of people going around to the pubs selling cockles, whelks and jellied eels. In Vietnam, prawn crackers and dried shrimp are eaten with beer. They, along with the Koreans, are also big fans of dried squid or cuttlefish. (In North Korea, dried cuttlefish is too expensive for many - as is beer, mind you - and they take dried pollack instead). The Russians have imported the dried squid with beer tradition via nearby Vladivostok in a big way, and this is now popular all the way to Moscow and St. Petersburg. They dry local fish for eating in the Volga River area – the Zhiguli brewery in Samara has a huge dried fish stand right next door to the brewery’s pub and off-sale.
Nuts are popular worldwide with beer. Peanuts are common in a lot of places, pistachios in Russia, and in the ancient Uzbekistani city of Samarqand, they enjoy roasted apricot pits, which have inner cores that taste a lot like pistachios when cracked open.
Bread is another near-universal beer snack. In Germany, this is often in the form of a big, moist pretzel. In the Czech Republic, deep-fried sticks of rye bread are called topinky. These are sexed up with garlic. They have the same thing in Latvia and Lithuania, but the Lithuanian ones are without the garlic. Likewise, most beer snack bread is typically dressed up a bit with some sort of condiment or seasoning – perhaps sauerkraut - before use as a beer snack. Not quite bread, but Vietnamese crepes make a good accompaniment to beer.
Cheese is another classic beer snack. The English seem the most gifted when it comes to beer-friendly cheeses – pairing a stout with a stilton or a cheddar with a brown ale just seems natural. Cheshire, Shropshire Blue, and Double Gloucester are also wonderful beer cheeses. Soft cheeses may be used in beer snacks with France or Belgium. Cafés in the latter country will often have cubes of hard cheese available. Cheese is often grated onto German pretzels as well.
Other beer snacks you may find are fresh peas from the vine, during summertime in Lithuania’s beer-rich northern regions; kurut – a dried yoghurt ball that many westerners find completely revolting but which Uzbeks love; pickled cucumber or ginger in Japan; a burnt-tasting cracker mix in Japan and Korea (the same burnt tasting seasoning is applied to pumpkin seeds in China as a beer snack); and spicy noodles or cabbage in Guam (though Guamanians, like a lot of people, eat meals with their beer rather than snacks). In England, pork pies, ham rolls and pickled eggs are also typical beer snacks. Often the butt of jokes in North America, pickled eggs sometimes receive their own stand at English beer festivals, with upwards of 70 varieties available.
This is the tip of the iceberg of course. I haven’t bothered to go into the basic North American-type beer snacks because you’re all probably quite familiar with nachos and cheap pizza. But there are many more local beer snacks out there, and I’d be very interested in hearing about them and if there’s enough I’d love to compile them into a second beer snacks article. Recipes are cool, too, for any of the ones above or any other beer snacks. Hook me up!
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The English seem the most gifted when it comes to beer-friendly cheeses – pairing a stout with a stilton or a cheddar with a brown ale just seems natural.
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