Sun 1 Aug 2010
I’ve always believed that food is an important reflection of the culture in any country, and as a food and travel journalist this is something I’ve been lucky enough to explore in a good few places. Since moving to Ireland I have learned that the potato is King, beef is a staple in most people’s diets and cabbage is almost always boiled and served with Irish bacon (which is more like ham for us Americans than what we know as bacon).
I’m also starting to get a better understanding of what flavors appeal to the Irish palate. When it comes to potato chips (or crisps, as they say here), the most common flavors are smoky bacon, cheese and onion and salt and vinegar. People especially seem fond of the bacon variety, at least that’s what I gather from my friends. And though a lot of Irish I know have an aversion to seafood, they adore the popular prawn cocktail-flavored crisps – something I’ve never seen in the U.S.
Tayto bacon waffle crisps; Digestive biscuits
When it comes to condiments, it seems the most common here is sweet chili sauce. It is literally everywhere. There are sweet chili crisps, sweet chili kebabs, sweet chili mayo and I’ve yet to go to a single restaurant where there aren’t at least two “sweet chili” items on the menu. For a country of relatively mild palates, it’s surprising that anything with chili would be so widely accepted. The same curry chicken that has my Irish friends sweating buckets leaves my tongue totally unaffected, and with the exception of Indian food I’ve yet to find anything really spicy here. In fact, most restaurants don’t offer Tabasco, something that’s as common as ketchup back home. Usually when I ask a waitress for Tabasco her response is, “We only have sweet chili sauce.”
Black currant isn’t my cup of tea; one of Ireland’s favorite condiments
Black currant is another common flavor here that hasn’t really caught on back in the states. I recently purchased a bottle of Ribena, a hugely popular black currant syrup that’s diluted with water and served as a beverage. I have to say I didn’t enjoy it at all; it was cloyingly sweet and didn’t have enough of a sour/acid angle to balance out the sugariness. But for the most part, it seems the Irish prefer their sweets on the light side and for that reason I actually prefer many of the desserts here to the ones back home. Digestive biscuits, a cookie that’s a staple with tea, has the flavor of graham crackers but with a lovely, crumbly, whole-wheat texture. And most cakes and buns here are topped with fresh cream instead of gloppy, overly-sugared buttercream frosting, a favorite back in the U.S. If the cake itself is sweet, most people won’t add sugar to the whipped cream; instead they may top it with a little jam or fresh fruit.
Salad of beetroot and black and white pudding
While there are many new foods and flavors that I’ve embraced here (I love crumbled ham, even though I have no idea what the crumble part is made of), there are many that I miss, namely sushi. Though my Irish friends eat black pudding, which is a sausage made from pig or cow blood, they and most Irish people I know run screaming for the hills at the mere mention of raw fish. Luckily I can get sushi-grade fish at my local fishmonger, so recently I whipped up a little taste of LA in the form of a seared tuna salad with Asian-style dressing. For my Irish friends, I’m including another salad here – a fresh summer salad of beetroot and black and white puddings. Enjoy!
Seared Tuna Salad with Asian Dressing
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (available at Asian markets)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon caster sugar
2 scallions/spring onions, chopped
Two 4-oz tuna steaks (sushi grade)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
Few drops of sesame oil
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
Salad – this is totally up to you! I use mixed greens, carrots, tomato, spring onions and bell peppers.
In a plastic container, mix together the first 7 ingredients (soy sauce to scallions). Place the tuna steaks into this mixture and let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
While the tuna is marinating, make the dressing by combining all the ingredients into a small jar or container with a lid and shake until combined.
To cook the tuna: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a sauté pan over high heat until very hot, almost smoking. Place the tuna steaks in the pan and let cook for 2 minutes on one side (do not move the steaks around, just let it sear for 2 minutes!). Turn over and cook for 1 minute on the other side. Remove from heat, let rest for 5 minutes and then slice. Place the tuna slices on salad and finish with dressing. Enjoy!
Salad of Beetroot and Black & White Puddings
2 beetroot, cooked and sliced
4 slices black pudding
4 slices white pudding
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
Salad – again, up to you on whatever greens/veg you like!
In a small sauté pan, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Add black and white pudding slices and cook for about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and let cool for a minute, then remove the casings from pudding slices.
To assemble the salad, put greens on a plate, then fan out the beetroot slices and pudding slices. Top with dressing and serve.