Super Bowl Food And How It Got That Way

Every year at about Super Bowl time, I have this nagging feeling that I’m missing something. Oh, I don’t care about the dull old football game, but those Super Bowl parties seem intriguing. I’m fantasizing about a giant spread of unhealthy and extremely gender-typed food. And that tailgating stuff—I admit, it makes me jealous. I want to pack up all my most show-offy food, then drive to a parking lot for explosive and dangerous cooking.

That Super Bowl food! It’s so wonderful, a bit kitschy in all its he-man vigor. Those ribs and chili and chicken wings and pizza are like drunk food amped up on Viagra. I suspect that the Super Bowl menu takes it aesthetics from the fare at sports bars, which are a relatively recent restaurant world phenomenon linked to the 1980s popularity of cable and satellite television.

Gary Allen, an editor at food blog Leite Culinaria, looked into that foundation of the Super Bowl menu, chips and dip. His findings were interesting, given that many Americans believe Lipton onion soup dip was served at the first Thanksgiving. Turns out that the first potato chip was fried back in 1853 in the Adirondack resort town of Sarotoga Springs, New York. It took the genius of Herman Lay (of Frito-Lay) to market the greasy snacks in bags, and, by1944, Lay’s bagged chips were available all over the country. In 1952, some idiot savant stirred undiluted onion soup powder into sour cream. A collective groan was heard nationwide as we eased into our La-Z-Boy recliners.

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And what about those La-Z-Boys? They came along in 1929, when a pair of Monroe, Michigan, furniture salesmen named Knabusch and Shoemaker invented their first recliner. Their original, slatted mock-up was made with orange crates, and was just a rough idea for porch furniture. The name La-Z-Boy barely edged out other expressive contenders, like Sit-N-Snooze and Slack-Back (which sounds like the resulting buttock-texture rather than the chair).

Buffalo chicken wings we all know about (Anchor Bar, Buffalo, New York, 1964 yadda, yadda)—but what about that other Super Bowl stalwart, nachos? Their invention myth is very similar to that of Buffalo wings. It varies from telling to telling, but the basic outline goes like this. In about 1943, in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Maître d’ Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya was hard-pressed to entertain some US Army officers’ wives from over the border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Finding the Victory Club’s cupboards bare, he slapped together some crap he had on hand—and presto, Nacho’s “Especial” was born. I love this story because of its subtext: “The gringos, they’ll eat just about anything.”

Most people know that the first Super Bowl was played in 1967, but I had to actually look it up. At that point, cable television was a rural rumor, and the future of half-time nipple slips was simply inconceivable. The 1967 menu of a San Francisco bar/grill/pizza joint called The Front Room included Chinese char siu pork on a pizza, getting a twenty-year jump on Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Peking duck pie. Maybe Puck took to heart the Front Room’s frank assessment that its Chinese Pie was a “taste sensation.”

After decades of fits and starts, television was seriously proposed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, though it took until well after World War II for the novel device to become widely available. At first, its nearly round screens were only about five inches wide, and some had to be viewed reflected in a tipped-up mirror. In 1967, Motorola boasted this fetching color TV (with furniture console designed by Drexel. I love that it’s modeled by an apparent refugee from a Hammer horror flick: O, how I wish my loungewear included a floor-length, ruby cape, but I want to know how many women died when their nylon deathtraps caught fire as they fried up eggs.

And beer? Well, it was different world—not much in the way of microbrews, and regional beers were still king. Names like Blatt’s, Olympia, Genesee, and New York’s own Rheingold were still holding ground against big nationals like Budweiser, Miller, and Michelob. Rheingold (headquartered in Bushwick, Brooklyn) accounted for one-third of New York’s beer. Sadly, 1967 marked the debut of low-carb beer, Gablinger’s Diet Beer (later marketed by Meister Brau).

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Well, I don’t know about you, but this Super Bowl Sunday, I’m slithering into my nylon negligee and cracking a Meister Brau.

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