To me, March should be dedicated to the Irish. The start of the month is about the countdown to St. Paddy’s Day, then there’s the big day itself and afterward its about recovering from all the festivities. An entire month just for us wild & crazy Paddies. But this year, St. Patrick’s Day is not only Ireland’s National Holiday its also the day the All-Ireland Club Finals (the Gaelic football and hurling senior club championships) are being played. For some this will be the highlight of their sporting year. The fact that it’s the 125th year anniversary of the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) is just an added bonus making the celebrations more meaningful. Talk about March Madness! Don’t fancy that headache the next morning!
Sticking to tradition of the countdown, I thought I’d highlight an article I saw when I was home last from the Sunday Tribune magazine aptly titled, Food That Only The Irish Eat (Apparently). Thank you Derek O’Conner for such an enlightening & amusing read. Read on to see O’Conner’s take as he explores the nation’s dining habits to find the food that only “we” can stomach. Not so much me in that we, though it seems we Irish do eat more than potatoes & cabbage, lamb & Guinness. But spiceburgers and boxty? I’m asking my fellow Irishmen here–am I the only one who has never eaten those?
Coddle – Ah Jaysus! C’mere and give us a coddle, love! Namechecked by Jonathan Swift and Sean O’Casey as their favourite dish, coddle couldn’t be more synonymous with the nation’s capital; the fact that Dubliners have rejected it in favour of kebabs and takeaway pizza is a searing indictment of their moral and spiritual decay. That said, coddle ain’t for sissies, consisting as it does of a pungent melée of bacon produce swimming in a swamp of spuds ‘n’ onions; its origins date back to Famine times, when anything to hand, save your nearest and dearest, got thrown into the pot. It’s the fuel of the proletariat, the lifeblood of the common man – and a heart attack in a bowl. Less a meal than a veritable Proustian dining reverie, there’s eating AND drinking to be had in a bowl of coddle, especially if – as recommended – you flavour it with an auld drop or two of Guinness.
As a naïve young vegetarian, the author once had an extended and sincere conversation with a local chip shop owner, whereupon he was assured, beyond a doubt, that there was no meat whatsoever in spiceburgers; thusly, he spent his formative years unwittingly betraying everything that his idol Morrissey believed in. Ah, well. We bet Morrissey eats them, too. If Meat Is Murder, then a spiceburger is a slow, pleasurable death, an exotic, enigmatic creation revered and reviled in equal quantities by hardcore takeaway connoisseurs. What is a spiceburger? It’s a pivotal question that has already provoked spurious debate on the interweb, offering little by way of concrete conclusion. Even the people who make them don’t know what’s in them. These two simple things we hold as self-evident truths: (a) shop-bought spiceburgers never, ever taste as good as ones from the chipper. As WB Yeats once said, there’s nothing quite as tragic as a soggy spiceburger. No, wait, it was our Dad that said that. And (b) you can’t get spiceburgers in Donegal. We’ve tried. NB: Don’t attempt a spiceburger without a scoop of chips. Seriously. Really.
Lemonade you can get anywhere in the world, but red lemonade….Now that’s a different kettle of coddle altogether. One of the many great mysteries surrounding Irish culture is how and when we decided, en masse, to refer to the most artificial beverages imaginable as ‘minerals’ – as in “and a mineral and a packet of Tayto for the little fella, cheers.” Indeed, a long-standing urban myth suggests that the only reason red lemonade is only available in this country is due to its innumerable side-effects, which can include rampant giddiness, an ongoing sense of ennui and the ability to talk shite for days on end. This is a lie. Red lemonade is the greatest Irish invention ever, with the possible exception of hurling. Frequently mentioned in top-10 lists of things that Irish ex-pats miss about The Auld Sod, the current government has drawn up plans to convert 50% of Irish motorcars to run on red lemonade within the next decade. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is already kicking up a fuss. He’s more of a Cream Soda man, see.
Seriously? The only people we know who’ve ever actually eaten boxty were punters at Dublin’s ever-popular Irish theme restaurant Gallagher’s Boxty House, a place where Actual Irish People dine for solely ironic purposes. In essence, boxty is a seriously hardcore starchfest, a potato pancake much loved in and around the border counties – the word boxty is a derivative of ‘bacstai’, referring to the traditional method of grilling the absolute shite out of anything that couldn’t be boiled over an open fire. No matter how much we might try to suggest otherwise, what with our finely-honed Celtic Tiger palettes and everything, the Irish have always been about the spuds, and considering that the country’s going to/gone to hell, and we’re all broke-assed losers again, it’s time to re-embrace the auld práta. Or fata, if you’re from Connemara. A traditional rhyme goes thusly: Boxty on the griddle/Boxty in the pan/If you can’t make boxty/ You’ll never get a man. Truer words never spoken; several female friends of our acquaintance are destined to die alone and unloved, due to their stubborn refusal to master the fine art of boxty making. There’s a band called Boxty, too. They’re from France. Don’t ask.
Spuds. Cabbage (or kale, if you can score some). Butter. Salt. Pepper. A dash of milk. And a bit of bacon if you’re feeling fruity. Mash it all up and voila – there’s a colcannon goin’ on! Colcannon is possibly the most idiot-proof recipe imaginable; at the same time, get it wrong and you’re stuck with a large pot of Republican wallpaper paste. One of our many cherished childhood memories (disregarding the Morrissey spiceburger one, which can officially be filed under ‘The End Of Innocence’) is of the colcannon our mammy used to whip this up every Halloween – what is it with we Irish and the crazy Halloween-related foodstuffs? Round our way, Mammy used to go to pains to ensure that every sibling in our family received exactly the same amount of money in each serving of colcannon, to avoid accusations of favouritism; even today, it’s nigh-upon-impossible to convey the delight experienced at finding a one pound note, lovingly wrapped in tin foil, buried in the middle of your dinner. And yes, you guessed it – there’s a band called Colcannon. No, wait, there are TWO bands called Colcannon, one of them Australian. We’re forming a free jazz group called Spiceburger.
Now there’s a discussion that’s had the country on a knife-edge for decades – barn brack or barmbrack? The latter is the traditional name, the former an easy shorthand for anyone who isn’t that bothered. The consumption of barmbrack, a yeasted breadstuff loaded with sultanas and raisins, is an essential element of the ancient Irish Halloween tradition, along with dressing up as a sexy nurse and giving children packets of Mikado biscuits because you haven’t been arsed to get any monkey nuts in. According to our extensive research (that’s right, we don’t spend all our internet time checking our Facebook account and watching Morrissey videos) the Halloween Brack originally contained a variety of objects baked into the bread – a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a silver sixpence and a ring. Each object conveyed a particular meaning, transforming the dish into a veritable culinary Magic 8-Ball; the stick, for example, ‘to beat one’s wife with’, meant that the person would have an unhappy marriage or constantly be involved in disputes. See, you think we’re making this up. But we’re not. There’s a band called Barnbrack, too. They’re named after the dish, as opposed to vice versa. You must remember them. ‘Mickey Marley’s Roundabout’? ‘The Fly Song’? No? They’re only massive in the midlands.