It’s finally happening – the World Cup is kicking off tonight! But am I ready for the challenge to cook or pour a drink from evey nation taking part? We’ll see. An opening match is a bit like an appetiser, preparing you for the feast to come. Let’s hope tonight’s meeting fulfils its role as an amuse gueule, or rather amuse yeux.
Having to play the host nation in the opening match of world cup finals is never an easy task – but the fact that it is Brazil, of all countries, will make it impossible for any Croatians worth their salt to take in any food at all. The only way to prepare your stomach for such an event is probably with a glass or two of sljivovica, the traditional plum brandy of the region.
Slivovitz, or raki, as it is sometimes called, is deeply rooted within Eastern Europe: countries like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia produce it and consume it, often in the comfort of their own back yards, to ensure the 51 or 52 degree volume alcohol that slivovice.org recommends, a Czech website that will explain to you how to turn your backyard into a slivovitz production plant. Do check it out – the lady who is in charge of the distillery looks exactly like the country women of my grandparents’ generation, quietly going about their business in their ‘house dress’ which protects their clothes. Their immense knowledge, handed down from generation to generation, has often been forgotten in recent years as we are far too busy getting started with our careers to take the time to listen and learn.
Strong alcoholic drinks like slivovitz are an acquired taste: at first the alcohol burns away the inside of your mouth, to then leave you with delicate notes of the fruit used in the distillery process, and a warm feeling. If it’s a good one, that is. In a backyard-brew worst-case scenario, instead of discovering undertones of currant you might end up blind. I remember a few years ago when a case made the headlines that a large number of Irish policemen had ended up in hospital after raiding an illegal distillery: they had a law whereby any policeman coming across a suspected illegal plant had to sample the poteen, the local potato-based spirit. Nobody could quite explain, though, why they needed quite so many guards, who had to be drafted in at short notice, to determine whether it was poteen or not.
As for the Croatian football team, they’re in for a tough ride. They beat Australia and Mali in recent friendlies, but drew with Switzerland, a strong team but not quite of the same calibre as Croatia’s group members: besides Brazil, Croatia will have to get past Mexico and Cameroon in order to make it to the next round.
I suggest another glass of slivovitz. Or two.