About the food of Ireland

Collnaharragill Upper, Kerry. Photo by Ian Macnab

Ah, Ireland. You caught me off guard.

You see, this week I knew to expect the trinity… Potatoes. Guinness. Meat.  But, as an Italian-Hungarian-American, the last thing I expected to discover was that my childhood diet often beared a striking resemblance to that of an Irishman.

We ate potatoes mashed with carrots and turnips.

We ate homemade soda bread [recipe], slathered with soft butter.

We even ate roast lamb with mint jelly.

Strange. Strange. Strange. I must be part Irish. There is no other possible conclusion.

Then again, I have a feeling lots of Americans eat Irish food, especially on the East Coast.

Right, Mom….?

DooLough Pass Road. Photo by Patrice.

Truth is, I’d be happy if Ireland was my homeland. She is so pretty. So green and fair. Clearly her nickname, the Emerald Isle, was well earned. Yes. Her beauty is fresh; whenever I think of her I want to frolic and laugh and dance over the vibrant hills.

What can I say – she brings out the child in me.

A word about potatoes

Know for her love of potatoes, colcannon is the obvious Irish treat – a simple blend of mashed potatoes and kale. But there’s more to the Irish love of potatoes. There’s also boxty (potato cakes), also available as crepe-like pancakes  [recipe]; a hearty way to begin the day.

Of course, one of my favorite Irish potato preparations is mashed with turnips and carrots, as I mentioned above. Buttermilk is a common addition, adding both nutrients and addictive tart flavor.

Potatoes are also the traditional accompaniment to Corned Beef and Cabbage – which we (rather ironically) made when we cooked our Fijian Global Table, halfway around the world (except they use curry powder in their version – a nice change of pace) [recipe].

The other stuff

There’s quite a bit of simple Irish food – food you wouldn’t necessarily be able to pinpoint as being Irish. They enjoy roasts – roast chicken, lamb, beef. They even love a good slice of pizza – but a few crumbles of Cashel Blue, an Irish blue cheese makes it their own  [recipe].

Homemade bread is often Brown soda bread. I was surprised to find that they typically do not make it sweet and raisiny – as is so common in America – but more of a dry, wholegrain bread, good for cold winters, sopping up Irish stew.

Old Tea house, photo courtesy of Dalene and Peter Heck, of HeckticTravels | Maps courtesy CIA World Factbook. | Irish landscape (Windmill Hill). Photo by Crispin Purdye.

Oh, my goodness dessert

When it comes to dessert, the Irish have a couple of specialties up their sleeves. Yellowman – a frothy looking piece of brittle. Or why not make a Guinness ice cream float?

Then there’s Guinness Cake – a chocolate cake made with a happy cup of Guinness, often taken over the top by frosting it with Bailey’s buttercream  [recipe]. Oh my goodness.

Nothing can follow a cake like that.

Let’s just call it a day and retreat into blissful cakey daydreams.

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Comments

  1. Boxty is a pretty wonderful use of potatoes, too: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Boxty-1915

    Looking forward to Ireland!

  2. The only thing that can follow a cake like that is another piece of cake!

  3. Jessica Bennett says:

    You found some gorgeous photos! There are very few places I don’t want to go- Ireland is in my top 10. Can’t wait to see your menu.

  4. Just a word about Ireland and Irish food.
    First of all; Ireland is one of the most beautriful places we have EVER been. When they talk about Irish green, there really is a green to Irelands countryside that you definitely don’t see anywhere else in the world. Sounds a bit cliche but it’s true.
    Second; Ireland has had a reputation for simple, even bland food for,…well, forever pretty much! But if you go to the larger cities like Dublin etc. and even the bed and breakfasts around the country the young people there have the same expectations for quality and upscale food as people do anywhere, and we found many really good restaurants with young, up and coming chefs doing creative things with food. It is an awesome place to visit. Don’t miss the chance if you get it!
    Joe
    PS, some of the best Mongolian BBQ I have ever eaten was in Dublin! Go figure!

  5. Lovely piece to start the morning! I believe the fact that Irish cuisine is bland and full of potatoes is because Irish cuisine was a cuisine of necessity. In large part because of British rule, most Irish people had to live on tiny plots of land. (The rest of the land was used by huge landowners to grow fancy crops for export to England.) Potatoes planted on a tiny plot can feed more people than any other crop, though it requires backbreaking labor. So all the Irish land was planted with potatoes. I wonder what Irish immigrants to the U.S. ate once they had enough money to have their choice of food. I read in an article that Jewish immigrants from Russia, who had a similarly poor diet in their old home, shunned the simple food, and there was a period of about 20 years when Jewish immigrants to NYC ate the richest, fattiest meat foods day after day. Meat with fat poured on it. Then after 20 years things got back to normal.

  6. An Irish co-worker wants Guiness Chocolate Cake !!

  7. Sasha Martin says:

    @Megan – You speak the truth!!

    @Joe – I would only add that they also have a vibrant farmer’s market scene – I found several recipes for scape soups and other fabulously fresh dishes for the springtime.

    @Brian – Potatoes not only require little space, they are incredibly easy/rewarding – I grew them once in high school and I’ll always remember the satisfaction of digging up dozens of new potatoes. They tasted so good, it seemed like they already had butter on them!

    @Mom – and she will have it! ;)

    @Jessica and Tracey – thank you!

  8. I was privy to the Champ. I toured Northern Ireland so naturally was drawn and hooked on the Ulster Fry for breakfast or as is commonly called ‘the quickest way to a heart attack.’

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