What better way to celebrate Eurovision than by eating your way through the cuisines of some of the competing nations, including the host city’s favourite dish.
Sam Pang

24 Apr 2012 - 1:38 PM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2015 - 11:45 AM

SBS co-host Sam Pang sets the scene for the glitz, glamour and cringe factor we love. Now all you need to do is dig up those ABBA records.

For me, the Eurovision Song Contest started in Moscow, in 2009. Apparently, it had been going on for much longer. Since 1956, actually. And it’s been broadcast every year since, making it one of the longest-running TV shows in the world – right alongside World News Australia and Inspector Rex.

Eurovision was started with the aim of bringing war-ravaged Europe together. I’m not sure that pitting countries against each other in a battle of song, and having the winner decided by a cut-throat voting process was the best unification strategy, but Eurovision has clearly made for some memorable entertainment ever since.

From the early days of sparkly costumes, cartoonish choreography, curious song selection, awkward sleazy hosts, controversial voting blocs and surprise winners to"¦ well, it’s still like that! You know exactly what to expect, but that’s the thrill of it. It’s a little like an episode of
Man vs Wild (but with two semi-finals and a final).

So what’s the appeal of this fabulous event here in Australia? Is it because of our multiculturalism? Is it thanks to our culture of barracking that makes the voting (all five hours of it) thrilling? Or is it simply the parties?

I especially appreciate the fans of Eurovision in Australia who take the Monday off work (that’s commitment), and then drag themselves in on Tuesday, remnants of glitter on their weary faces, the memory of debauched drinking games making them useless for the rest of the day. (Although, I have to say, I thought the Estonian man who took two weeks off one year due to his home country’s second-last place finish may have taken the Eurovision spirit a bit too far.)

When we go over there, Julia [Zemiro] and I have a bit of a routine. For one thing, we always go on a crash diet before the contest because we’re afraid we won’t be able to fit in the miniature commentary box. Once, Julia wore a fascinator in the box and almost had my eye out... actually, maybe she wore it on purpose.

Backstage, you really don’t know where to look. One year, I had to help an Eastern European man get into a golden corset. I had only ever done it once before, so tears were shed. Julia seems to feel right at home though. I often lose sight of her, only to find her cuddling or sitting in the lap of one of the acts, while simultaneously interviewing a giant dancing swan.

As for picking favourites, I like to keep an eye out for back-up dancers dressed as gladiators. There’s always one country that decides to go with them, and they usually win a place in my heart.

I love sampling food from different countries, too, and I’m always excited to see what Eurovision has in store for its Australian guests. Although, after three years of vending machine snacks and warm bottles of water, you’d think I would have learned my lesson.

Sam Pang and Julia Zemiro reprise their roles as hosts of Eurovision on SBS ONE this year. Visit the SBS Eurovision website to have your say and access exclusive behind-the-scenes video interviews and updates from Vienna. sbs.com.au/Eurovision.

See all our Eurovision party recipes or view our selection below