Monday, June 4, 2012

The Irish and their food

When asked about Irish food, almost every response will include two things – Irish Stew and Corned Beef with Cabbage. And almost every visitor to Ireland is surprised to find that neither is featured all that commonly on restaurant menus!
In fact, corned beef is not traditionally Irish at all – but Bacon and Cabbage is. This is also true for Irish stew, which has been recognized as the national dish for at least two centuries. A poem from the early 1800s praised Irish stew for satisfying the hunger of anyone who ate it:
Then hurrah for an Irish Stew 
That will stick to your belly like glue.
That isn’t to say that such dishes are no longer eaten, they are, but they are homely dishes, served to family, rather than ones which would be chosen on an evening out. And so their appearance on a restaurant menu is a rarity.
Most traditional Irish foods use simple, basic and fresh ingredients. Many have been given a modern twist by a new generation of chefs or incorporated into dishes that better suit the tastes of a more widely travelled population.

Irish traditional cuisine is a peasant cuisine and food in a poor household is never wasted. There is nothing that illustrates this so well as the pig. Few ordinary Irish households in the past would have eaten beef – this was a food for the rich – but many kept a pig and it is said that they ate every part of it except for the grunt. Crubeens or pig trotters, tripe (pigs stomach) and drisheen (a blood sausage) were all popular dishes and are still eaten in parts of the country, notably Cork.
Irish people are still extremely fond of their fried breakfast, which always includes pork sausages, bacon rashers and black pudding (another type of blood sausage). In addition to that, breakfast is rather elaborate and typically includes orange juice, porridge, cereals, eggs, the traditional soda brown bread, toast, as well as tea.
When talking about Irish food, it is impossible to go without mentioning the potato. They are eaten boiled, mashed, fried, chipped and baked, mixed with cabbage or scallions to make colcannon or champ, made into potato cakes and used to top pies and thicken soups or stews. It’s common to find potatoes cooked two ways on the same dinner plate. It’s not all about dinner either. The food that Irish people miss most when they are overseas is Tayto, an Irish brand of potato crisps. Irish people are very fussy about their potatoes. Typically a supermarket will stock at least 5 or 6 different varieties, often many more, with the varieties changing depending on the season and each suited to a particular method of cooking.
Of all foods, the humble spud is certainly the most traditional. The Irish may not be dependent on them in the way they were in the past but there are a lot of Irish people for whom a dinner without potatoes is not a dinner at all.

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