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Entries tagged with “irish food culture”.


tuna salad main

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.

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lambs field The good life: Sheep graze on Ciara’s farm

Being someone who has never lived in the country before, I have a typical urbanite’s image of what a farm is like. The sun is shining, the grass is a deep shade of emerald green and the little lambs and big cows and chubby pigs all play together while being watched over by a talking spider named Charlotte.

Of course the truth is that most animal farms I’ve encountered in the United States are the complete opposite of that fantastical picture I created in my head. The only ones I ever came across were on my drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, but they were more like factories than farms. Thousands of cows kept in a field of mucky dirt and mud, covered in filth and baking in the hot sun – not exactly a good life (the “Happy Cows” ad series by California Cheese has to be the most blatant example of false advertising I’ve ever seen – these cows are miserable). The “farmers” were actually minimum-wage employees of some big corporation, and I imagine none had any real farming experience or much care for the animals.

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sashimiFresh sashimi sushi, one of the foods I miss! 

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, and there are still many days that I’m smacked upside the head with this realization. It’s been nearly three months since I upped sticks and moved from the urban metropolis of Los Angeles to small-town Ireland, but every day still brings a fresh realization of how different life is compared to the way it used to be.

I’ve mentioned before that living here reminds me of just how entitled I, and a lot of Americans, can be. In America, the customer is king. In Ireland, the customer is…well, just like anyone else. I recently went to Brown Thomas, a high-end department store in Dublin, to return a bottle of makeup foundation I had purchased the week before. Though the sales clerk let me try the makeup before I purchased it, the color of the makeup he put in my bag was much darker (I believe he grabbed the wrong color). When I got home and poured a tiny amount into my hand, I realized this, so I boxed it back up and took it – along with the receipt – back to BT.

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pork cooked

Along with vast greenery and the dark goodness that is Guinness, one of Ireland’s most plentiful resources is the beloved and tasty pig. The pork sausage and thick-cut Irish bacon are staples of the Irish fry-up breakfast (which also includes eggs, black and white puddings, toast and sometimes beans), and there are few meals more Irish than a proper bacon and cabbage dinner.

pork brining 1 big pork brining 2

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There’s nothing like a dinner party to make a new apartment truly feel like home. And though it’s been two months since I up and left the bustling city of Los Angeles for the quiet adventure of Drogheda, Ireland, it was only last Saturday that I finally hosted friends for a home-cooked meal.

I will admit that I geeked out a bit on the preparations: out came the cloth napkins and napkin rings, matching dishware and candles. I cleaned the apartment top to bottom. I even created a playlist on my iPod specifically for the dinner (major nerd, I know!). But when it came to the meal, I made food that could be cooked in advanced so I could enjoy my friends’ company versus being stuck in the kitchen all night.

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I’ve never really had a sweet tooth. Much like my mother, I always preferred salty foods like crackers, nuts and cheese. But as if overtaken by some strange force of Irish nature, I’ve practically become a chocoholic since moving here, which would disappoint my dentist back home.

 Everyone here eats chocolate, all… the… time. Whether it’s in the form of a Flake bar sticking out of a soft-serve ice cream cone or covering a digestive biscuit, chocolate is everywhere. And it’s all good chocolate, not like the grainy, oddly-flavored Hershey’s bars back home. Even the cheap stuff at discount shops is rich, creamy and outrageously good. 

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Mark of shame on my beloved blue car…

Just when you think things are going well, Life has a way of giving you a paper cut topped with a handful of salt and vinegar crisps. And if Life is feeling especially frisky, it will also toss your toast on the floor, jam-side down, before dropping a gigantic piano on your head.

Yesterday was one of those days. It started off well enough: it was only partly cloudy and relatively temperate, and I had a productive morning sending pitches out to a few magazines. I did the dishes, straightened up the apartment and readied myself for a workout. That’s when things took an ominous turn. As I pulled out of the parking garage to go to the gym, a man pulled his car nose-to-nose with mine, trying to get into the parking garage. Since I was already 90% out of the one-lane driveway, I stood my ground as it was HIS responsibility to back up and let me out. He stayed put, and started honking obnoxiously and waving at me to move back into the garage. Flustered, I threw the car into reverse and heard the most God-awful sound as my car scraped the concrete wall of my parking space.  Feck!

Nothing like a hot meal after a bad day

The guy, in all his douchebaggery, failed to notice and just drove into his space with nary a comment or care in the world. I was too angry to get out of the car; though he pressured me and was all-around f*ckchop, technically it was my fault. I drove to the gym, got out of the car and inspected the damage. Two panels, scraped to sh*t and a nice, big dent near the tire. GREAT.

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I was recently chatting with a girl who works at a Chinese takeaway near my house, and she told me that most Irish who order from her restaurant request “no veg.” For example, they’d order a Kung Po Chicken, “no veg,” which means all they want is chicken, peanuts and sauce. Another interesting observation is that many prefer to get it with chips (French fries) – a common side dish offered by nearly all the Chinese restaurants around here – rather than with white rice. It should also be noted that one can also get onion rings, sausages or chicken nuggets on the side. These are all items you’d find on the menu of a Chinese restaurant in Drogheda and all are wildly popular.

Some Irish cite the over boiled turnips, waterlogged carrots and mushy peas cooked by their mums for their dislike of veg. The memories of such unappetizing dishes as Sopping Broccoli Surprise has been to painful to overcome, but the real victims here are the vegetables. Flagrantly tossed aside in favor of deep-fried starches and processed carbohydrates, the gorgeous mushrooms, onions and bell peppers of Ireland face slow deteoriation and even death on supermarket shelves. So in the interest of vegetables, I’d like to share my recipe for Vegetarian Stuffed Mushrooms, which are savory and delicious and gives vegetables the recognition they deserve. Go on, give vegetables a chance!

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Perhaps the only beverage the Irish drink more often than beer is hot tea. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack break, there will certainly be a teapot filled with the caffeinated elixir nearby.

It’s also what you offer to anyone and everyone when they visit. I think I’ve heard the question, “Would you like a cup of tea?” about a half-million times since I arrived here a month ago. The time of day doesn’t matter; you always ask if your visitors want tea. I’ve also noticed that everyone here has a cabinet (called a “press” here) with dedicated space for a variety of biscuits and cakes that go with tea, and that a good host will typically bring out a plate of sweets for guests. Back home in Los Angeles, I hardly ever kept cookies or cakes in the house, but here I always make sure I have at least two kinds of GOOD biscuits on hand. I suspect there is a hierarchy of biscuits and that if I serve the store-brand kind that’s always on sale, this would be considered a big faux pas. Of course being new here, I have little clue as to what makes a good biscuit so I find myself loitering in front of the cookie aisle at Tesco desperately trying to pick ones that won’t disappoint my friends. My tactic has been to go for the one with the prettiest box, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

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A typical Saturday  night

There’s a reason why the Irish are known for drinking, and it’s because they do, in fact, LOVE to drink alcohol. To say they work hard at earning this world renowned reputation would be the understatement of a lifetime.

Back in Los Angeles, it was typical for my friends and me to go to a bar, have a couple of drinks, and then call it a night. Sure, we would go a bit nuts occasionally, perhaps once every couple of weeks (more during the holiday season). But because in LA you have to drive everywhere, or pay a ridiculous sum for a taxi, we’d often keep it relatively quiet.  

Here, drinking is a commitment and one that is taken very seriously. Most of my friends do not just go out for a few drinks, they go all out. When planning an outing, a typical conversation goes like this:

Me: “So who’s all going?”

Friend: “Well, me and Aoife, who’s drinking cos she’s off work tomorrow. Earnan and Bushman have a match tomorrow so they won’t come. Roisin’s off the drink for Lent. Sinead can drive. I think I’ll be drinking as well since I can have a lie-in tomorrow.”

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