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Eat Like the Fans Do

Along with clever new commercials, good grub is an essential part of the viewing experience

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As ecstatic as my husband would be if I were, I am not a die-hard fan of any one team, be it football, baseball, basketball or hockey. So when he asked me the other night whether I'd be rooting for the Green Bay Packers or the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, I had to chew it over a bit.

He filled me in on statistics that others might normally take into consideration, like the fact that the Steelers have won more Super Bowl titles (six) than any other team. But my thoughts quickly veered from the teams' talents to the places from which they hail. Then, soon enough, it was on to the cities' food offerings.

Food is always on my mind, but I would be willing to bet that, for most people, it's not that great a leap to make when talking about the Super Bowl. Along with clever new commercials, good grub is an essential part of the viewing experience.

Last year, in honor of the New Orleans Saints making it to the Super Bowl, fellow F&T blogger Lisa Bramen paid due homage to gumbo, suggesting that readers incorporate the stew into their game-day menus. Maybe Pittsburgh and Green Bay aren't as revered for their cuisine as New Orleans is, but, with a little research, I found a few interesting food traditions.

Pittsburgh Delicacies

To eat "locally," so to speak, a Pittsburgh native might suggest you try one of these "Steel City" dishes:

City Chicken. Despite its name, this meal contains absolutely no chicken. The Pittsburgh favorite is basically cubes of veal and pork on skewers, rolled in flour or breadcrumbs and then baked or fried. The recipe took root during the Great Depression, when veal and pork were cheaper than chicken. The 1936 version of The Joy of Cooking refers to them as "Mock Chicken Drumsticks (City Chicken)" because the idea was to assemble a drumstick-shaped kebab out of scraps of other meat. Apparently, some grocery store butchers in Pittsburgh sell packages of cubed pork or veal with a handful of skewers labeled "city chicken."

Chipped Ham. Most people who grew up in Pittsburgh “Remember Isaly’s,” as the dairy-turned-deli-meat-brand’s slogan harps. The establishment’s chipped chopped ham, a Spam-like loaf of ground ham that’s “chipped” into razor thin slices at the deli counter, became popular after World War II and has stuck around ever since. (According to Isaly's Web site, Steelers fans across the country have it shipped in for big games.)  Traditionally, the ham is fried in a skillet, doused in Isaly’s own barbecue sauce, and then piled high on a bun. But there are many spinoffs: chipped chopped ham scramble, creamed chipped chopped ham over biscuits, chipped chopped ham, rice and spinach casserole….

Pittsburgh-Style Steak. Actually, in Pittsburgh, it’s just called “black and blue.” The steak is cooked so that it is charred on the outside but rare on the inside. Lore has it that Pittsburgh steelworkers used to bring slabs of meat to work and slap them on exposed metal, like a hot furnace, to cook them in this way.

And when it comes to dessert, especially at wedding receptions, Pittsburghers are all about cookie tables.

Snacks for a Packer Backer

For some insider knowledge, I consulted Ray Py of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, whose daughter Beth Py-Lieberman is an editor here at Smithsonian. When it comes to the Super Bowl, he says, it's mainly beers and brats. But, throughout the year, the Green Bay area offers some of these specialties:

German Beer Spread with Wisconsin Swiss and Cheddar Cheese. Among the usual suspects—chicken wings, chili and nachos—that Mr. Py found listed on the menus of some of his local Super Bowl buffets was something I hadn't heard of before: German beer spread. I found a recipe from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, a nonprofit funded by dairy farmers that promotes more than 600 kinds of Wisconsin cheese. (Green Bay fans are cheeseheads, remember.) The spread is made by mixing shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, garlic and a dark German beer in a food processor and then served on crackers or rye bread.

Pan-Fried Walleye. The Friday night fish fry is a Wisconsin tradition, which began when German Catholic immigrants populated the area and observed meatless Fridays during Lent. Sometimes cod and perch are served, but a staple freshwater fish is the walleye, plucked from the Great Lakes. The fish is often battered or pan-fried with a lemon butter sauce, though there are countless ways to prepare it.

Booyah. "People will argue until the Holsteins come home about what the proper ingredients are," Terese Allen, a food columnist for Madison's Isthmus newspaper, has said. But booyah is a stew of meats, usually chicken and beef, and vegatables, such as onions, celery, carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage, corn and green peas, often cooked in large kettles for church picnics and county fairs. From what I've read, it originated in Belgium, and its name is thought to be derived from "bouillon," the French word  for broth. One local, in an article in the Green Bay Post-Gazette on October 29, 1976, claimed his father had something to do with the naming of the dish. He said that his father had approached the paper about advertising a "bouillon" supper he was hosting at the school where he taught, but the reporter instead heard "booyah" and published it as such.

Ultimately, I've decided to rally behind the Steeler Nation. I was born in Pittsburgh, and although I only lived there for my first six weeks and for about a year when I was four, I have to go with my roots.

If you haven't drawn your allegiance, though, I say go with your gut.

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