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All Things Irish

Friday, March 13, 2015

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, we think it’s a great idea to get acquainted with Ireland’s food and drink culture. Yamini Walia & Sara Shah give you the lowdown on traditional Irish cuisine

Ireland is known for its pub culture and its simple cooking. Whether it’s whiskey, tea or Irish stew, their food and drinks offer something for everyone. Their ingredients are simple, and yet, they manage to serve some of the most exceptional meals in the world. So, if you’re planning to visit Ireland any time in the future or just want to cook up an Irish storm, our food and drink suggestions will come in handy.

The native food
If you’ve heard about Irish cuisine, then you must be familiar with their preference for beef, cabbage, bacon and potatoes. Traditional Irish food plays with simple ingredients because of Ireland’s less affluent past. Take a look at a few of their staple dishes, which you must try if you’re heading to the land of the Irish.

Irish Stew
For the past two centuries, this has carried the tag of Ireland’s national dish. The most celebrated Irish dish, this stew is made from lamb or mutton and also includes potatoes, onions and parsley. It can even be prepared with kid goat, but adding carrots or turnips, according to purists, spoils the true flavour of this dish.

Bacon & Cabbage
Include bacon in any recipe and it’s bound to be appetising! This dish is made of unsliced back bacon, which is boiled with cabbage and potatoes. Historically, the dish has been common fare in Irish homes, because families grew their own vegetables and reared their own pigs.

While the name of this dish may not make it seem tempting, your mouth will water when you read about how it is prepared. The dish is a blend of finely grated raw and mashed potatoes, which is mixed with flour, baking soda, buttermilk and, occasionally, egg. The mixture is then cooked in the shape of a pancake on a griddle pan.

Spiced beef
You shouldn’t lose all hope just because beef is banned in our state. If you ever visit Ireland, you can treat yourself to their spiced beef, which is traditionally served on New Year’s Eve or Christmas. It’s a preparation of a cured and salted joint of either rump steak or silverside beef.

This dish is associated with Dublin, the capital of Ireland. It was supposedly a favourite of notable Irish writers, Seán O’Casey and Jonathan Swift, and is commonly referred to in Irish literature. The dish usually consists of layers of roughly sliced pork sausages and rashers with sliced potatoes and onions. It can also include barley.

The name itself signifies what the dish contains — white headed cabbage. This dish is prepared from a mixture of mashed potatoes, kale or cabbage, milk, butter, salt and pepper. There’s also a song by the same name, which is dedicated to the dish!

Irish Drinks
We’re sure that by now you have a clear idea of  how St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated and you probably know that much of this Irish holiday  is spent in drunken merriment. So, when in Ireland, don’t hesitate to try out some of the local drinks that are not just  popular in this country, but the world over. Take a  look.

Irish whiskey
Irish whiskey, first distilled by monks a thousand years ago, is known to be one of the  finest whiskeys in the world. And for good reason! Most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times instead of the conventional two. You may even have heard the names of some popular Irish whiskeys such as Old Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, Paddy’s and Jameson whiskey.

Stout beers
Brewed with barley or oatmeal, hops, brewer’s yeast and a variety of malts,  stout beers are a much-loved drink in Ireland. In fact, stout beers are so popular in Ireland that in addition to the mass producers, there are numerous tiny breweries, which churn out small amounts of the alcohol. Some popular stout beers are Guinness, Murphy’s Irish Stout and Beamish Stout, with Guinness being the most popular.

Irish cider
Made from unfiltered apple juice, the tradition of brewing cider came about seven decades ago and continues to be popular even today. The Irish drink is available by the pint, just like beer, but has a higher alcohol content than most beers. Bulmer’s is the most popular cider in Ireland. However, it is known as Magners in Northern Ireland.

Irish coffee
The yummiest of the lot, Irish coffee is truly coffee with a kick! Invented shortly after World War II, Irish coffee comprises of Irish whiskey, strong, piping-hot black coffee, sugar and a thick layer of double cream. And, if you ever decide to try this traditional Irish beverage, be sure to sip it through the top layer of cream and avoid stirring it in for a delicious kick.

This traditional Irish drink is for the daring. Meant to be drunk neat, it was initially distilled using whatever was at hand — usually potatoes. For centuries, it was produced in moonshine stills around the country by tax-conscious enthusiasts and was once deemed illegal due to several health hazards. A hard drink, many people have died and several have gone blind from consuming poitín.

Food History

  • You probably know that potatoes mean a lot to the Irish. But, have you wondered what they ate before the potato arrived? It is believed that before the potato arrived in Ireland, a standard Irish diet comprised of meat, bread, milk, cheese, corn, butter and alcohol.
  • In the mid-nineteenth century, the Irish experienced a potato famine that was believed to be a dark and tragic period in its history, which lead to the deaths of over a million people and caused several more to leave Ireland, never to return. Since the potatoes’ arrival, a significant part of the Irish population was believed to eat nothing other than this root, which led to an overdependence on the spud. In 1845, most potato crops were damaged by a fungal infestation, obliterating the main source of food for millions of Irish citizens.
  • Back in the day, food was usually cooked in an underground pit called Fulacht Fia, which was filled with water. Hot stones were heated by fire were dropped into this pit to cook the food.
  • Believe it or not, the tradition of eating outside was fairly uncommon in Ireland and was only introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before this, people ate at home and ate outside only during occasions such as weddings. Restaurants were only located in big cities and they closed before 6pm.

The Irish Morning
The Irish truly live by the saying, ‘Breakfast like a king’. Wonder why? It’s because of their large breakfast. If anything is as popular as the traditional Irish stew, it’s their breakfast. The meal includes bacon, sausages, black and white puddings, eggs, vegetables and potato, all fried in creamery butter. It’s served with a generous helping of homemade Irish soda or brown bread and is washed down with a strong cup of breakfast tea such as Barry or Lyons tea and a glass of orange juice. If you’re visiting the country, your trip will be incomplete if you don’t try their traditional breakfast.

Fun facts about the Irish

  • You may think that St. Patrick’s Day is just another silly day like Valentine’s Day. But, it is officially Ireland’s national holiday!
  • Since as early as the 1920s, couples in Ireland could get married on St. Brigid’s Day on the 1st of February in Teltown, County Meath by simply walking towards each other. Ireland also allowed couples to divorce on the same day the following year. Talk about an easy marriage!
  • An old Irish legend claims that while Jesus Christ will judge all nations on Judgement Day, Saint Patrick will judge the Irish.
  • The Irish love their alcohol so much that the city of Dublin boasts of one pub for every 100 people.
  • Ireland is the biggest consumer of tea in the world with a total of 1,184 cups of tea being drunk by the average Irish person each year.

Love thy Potato
While the potato is widely used in Indian cuisine, Irish food is incomplete without it. Potatoes in Ireland are eaten in all forms — boiled, mashed, fried, chipped and baked. They are mixed with cabbage or scallions to make Colcannon or champ, made into potato cakes and used to top pies and are used to thicken soups or stews. By the 1800s, the potato became the staple crop in the poorest Irish regions. More than three million Irish peasants subsisted solely on the potato, which is rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. In fact, it is possible to have a healthy diet by only eating potatoes.

At an Irish dinner, don’t be surprised if you discover potatoes cooked in two — sometimes, even three — different ways. The potato is not restricted just to their dinner or other important meals — the Irish also have a staple potato snack called Tayto — an Irish brand of potato crisps. Still not convinced about Ireland’s  love for the potato? The country  even has a Tayto theme park!

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