International Soccer Scran
So this is new.
Come one, come all to the first of a special, and most likely infrequent, series focusing on matchday scran across the globe, or more pertinently at the games I’ve attended during my travels. I’d thought about this a lot and in some respects this seems the perfect subject matter (outside of pie of course) for me. It entails three things I love wrapped up in one glorious experience: travel, food and football. I was still on the fence up until about a week ago as to whether to follow this path after all it would be a total deviation from the world of pie that has treated me so well until now as evidenced by my invite to judge Scottish Baker of the Year next month more of which will be covered in the next pie blog. However as much as I love a good pie it’s important for me to continue the evolution of this site, to have regular content and find new ways to hopefully one day make a penny or two from it.
I haven’t made this decision alone either, I went to you, my readers and supporters to see what kind of appetite there was for this new arm of the MFP Empire and it was the vast majority who wanted to see what I could come up with outside my comfort zone of pastry, meat and gravy. So here it is, the first edition, from the Portuguese capital Lisbon and one of European football’s oft romanticised clubs, SL Benfica.
Before starting it’s pertinent for me to highlight that I’ve not planned this out in any great depth so as always with anything new this first effort will be more about finding my feet in this format. But without much further ado let’s get elbow deep in a world of Bifanas, Cachorros, and questionable beer.
The new(ish) Estadio da Luz in Lisbon has been Benfica’s home since 2003 and can be found towards the north of the city surprisingly close to their main rivals Sporting Club (Sporting Lisbon). We had come from their rivals home to get to the game and I’m pleased to report there is a plethora of bus and metro options. If you like a walk, the walk to the city centre is about an hour and 15 minutes and surprisingly, for a city that seems to have been built on a never-ending up slope irrespective of what angle you come at it from, has almost zero hills for you to climb. It’s fair to say that from the outside the stadium is somewhat underwhelming, a bare structure of grey and red but once inside the party really begins.
Let’s get the obvious out the way, it is basically a Portuguese Emirates in both colour and shape but it’s at this point the similarities end. Whilst Arsenal’s home is dubbed The Library and often mocked for it’s almost haunted feel, Estadio da Luz is a hive of noise and colour even for a fairly run of the mill game against a middle table side like Rio Ave. The Ultras are split in two opposite corners of the ground and as often the case in Europe generate the majority of the noise. The fans are typically Iberian, delighted when a goal is scored but are equally prone to revelry when one of their players is fouled and the referee has the audacity to not immediately send off the culprit.
Before moving onto the food there’s one part of the matchday experience that, as far as I am aware, is totally unique to Benfica, and that is the appearance of Aguia the Eagle. A club mascot that about 10 minutes before kick off descends from the stands and circles the pitch (to his own sing-a-long-able with words on the big screen theme tune) before perching himself on the centre circle. It’s kind of mental but kind of great at the same time. I’m sure the novelty would wear off after a while if you regularly went to the game but when planning your visit you must ensure to give yourself enough time to get in the ground for this spectacle.
Eating Outside the Ground
Estadio de Luz is located right next to the large Colombo Shopping Centre which has a wide range of easily recognisable restaurants. There are also very few bars in the surrounding area so finding an interesting pre-match eating experience requires heading closer to the ground.
As you walk towards the stadium you are initially greeted with a swathe of brightly coloured (predominantly red) merchandise stalls selling everything from the traditional scarves and pins to the slightly more unusual cuddly toys and dog coats all proudly displaying the Benfica club crest. It’s a worrying moment when you’ve worked up a hunger and still no scran is in sight but make your way through these and you start to experience the sights and smells of a pre-match feed. In a unsurprisng revelation I research my food before going on holiday and I already knew what I wanted so I was delighted to see that “Bifana” was on the menu and was only 2,50€. What a bargain! But what is it?
It’s bloody awesome, that’s what it is. Pork slapped (and I literally mean slapped) between a bread roll and accompanied traditionally with either mustard, mayo or when feeling fancy some peri peri sauce. It truly is glorious but let’s break it down a bit. A pork cutlet marinated in a ever changing concoction usually involving at least some vinegar, paprika, peppercorns and garlic, bashed within an inch of its life so that as much of the surface area as possible is kissed by the flat top. It then goes in a bread roll, but don’t overlook this roll. it is wonderfully crisp and flaky on the outside but then super soft within allowing the bread to soak up all the juices without turning into a runny mess in your hand. I went rogue and topped my Bifana with mayo and peri peri sauce and that mixture with the pork and bread is what that convoluted phrase foodgasm was made for. The fact that I could wash it down with a full size glass of Super Bock really made this one of my favourite things I think I’ve ever eaten. Although it’s worth noting that the “Portuguese Bifana” from the BDO Cafe near Mercado de Ribeira may have topped it a couple of days later by adding a fried egg and bacon to the mix. Either way Bifana’s are right good.
Eating Inside the Ground
Eating in the ground was a very similar experience to that you would experience at any top level football stadium, everything is that bit more expensive and not quite as good. Where my Bifana was a mere 2,50€ my Cachorro was roughly double the price.
This wasn’t my first Cahorro. A few years ago I was one of the unfortunate few to have put my faith in Scotland’s ability to not blow it and had booked for what was shaping up to be a must win trip to Faro to see Scotland play Gibraltar. Alas Ireland somehow beat Germany and Lewandowski prodded home a Polish equaliser ar Hampden to end our hopes. The trip turned into a reason to sesh and it’s funny how even under that drunken haze the memories of the Cachorro I had then came rushing back to me as my bit into my present day hot dog with crisps. And a hot dog with crisps is exactly what this is. A substantial sized scran no doubt but the addition of the salty potato chipsticks contrived to make this one of the driest things you can eat. It wasn’t bad, and the option to add ketchup and mustard certainly helps to moisten things up a bit but compared to the Bifana I had just annihilated outside it paled in comparison. With it being rather dry your natural instinct is to grasp for some libations and I can safely say that the Portuguese no alcohol beer is fairly rotten. Think of a bottled eggy pint and you’re getting close. I have no doubt that when suitably inebriated a Cachorro hits the spot but if you’re asking for me to choose then the Bifana wins hands, arms, feet and legs down. Just writing about it has got me looking out some recipe recommendations.
Benfica Soccer Scran Top Tips
- Eat outside and get elbow deep in a Bifana
- I don’t mind non-alcoholic beer but this stuff was rotten. Grab a Coke.
- Get there early enough to see the eagle
- Seriously, eat a Bifana!
This turned into a food review/matchday experience hybrid by the end there but I’d love to hear your feedback. I have a Madrid version in the works covering my three months living in Spain’s capital and I also have a new non-football based pie review to write-up so hopefully the content will keep coming.
Hope you enjoyed this but it wouldn’t be Meat FIilled Pastries if I didn’t sign off in the standard manner…so until next time, go forth and eat pie (or Bifana!).
Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.