As I begin to think about packing to return to America on Monday, my thoughts are turning to things I’ll miss about Ireland. My fabulous in-laws, of course. The wonderful hospitality and Irish spirit. The gorgeously green scenery. And, yes, the food.
Here’s a short list of the Emerald Isle foods I’ve grown to know and love:
Taytos. Taytos is Ireland’s answer to Lay’s potato chips, and like the latter, you can never eat just one. You see the little red and blue bags everywhere – in gas stations, quick-stops, bars and homes. The standard flavor is cheese/onion, which even my husband scarfs down. Now THAT’S saying something.
Bulmers. Even though I’ve tried, I can’t seem to develop a taste for Guinness. And while you can easily find American lagers like Budweiser and Coors in Ireland, it seems silly to me to order them here. Whiskey is a little hardcore for a relatively light drinker like myself. This leaves me with Bulmers hard cider, a choice I am more than happy to make when visiting the pub. It’s light and easy to drink, it’s slightly sweet but not too much, and it’s yummy. I’ve been told they now make Bulmers in pear and berry flavors, but I haven’t had opportunity to ask for them. A goal for my next visit, I suppose.
Cadbury chocolate. Cadbury Snack. Cadbury Dairy Bar. Cadbury Buttons. Cadbury anything. Yes, please.
Jaffa cakes. Part cookie, part cake, all good. Jaffa cakes are to Ireland what Little Debbies are to America. Start with a flat little spongey cake the size of a cookie, put a spoonful of orange marmalade in the center, then coat the whole thing with chocolate. Enough said.
The Irish fry. Anyone who’s ever stayed in Ireland has been asked two inevitable questions: “Will ye have a drop?” in the evening and “Will ye have a fry?” in the morning. The “drop” of whiskey is never just a drop, and for the uninitiated, a “fry” might bring to mind an order of crispy shoestring potatoes or a greasy Friday night fish extravaganza. Au contraire, mon frere.
For those who believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, the Irish fry is like brunch on steroids – a gluttonous and manly amalgamation of a fried egg, sausage, rashers (thick Irish bacon), black and white pudding, half of a tomato (fried, of course), and classic Irish brown bread or toast. Sometimes you’ll see other mix-and-match additions like baked beans and mushrooms. The whole thing is washed down with lashings of scalding hot tea, although coffee is gaining more favor in some circles. Somewhat surprisingly, potatoes usually aren’t included in a traditional fry; those are saved for roasting at supper later in the day. (More on this later…)
It’s not the kind of breakfast you could eat everyday, but as a once-in-a-while treat, it’s fantastic.
Potatoes. I would be remiss not to include the humble spud in this list. You can’t get away from potatoes here. Even meals like lasagna, curry and pizza come with chips. And let me clarify: here, “chips” are what we call fries, usually the thick steak-cut variety. What we call chips are known as “crisps” here, and that include Taytos and all other varieties. So when I say chips, I really mean fries. Got it?
The younger generations sometimes get away with a potato-free meal, but for traditionalists like my dear mother-in-law, a dinner without potatoes is unfathomable. I’ve tried and tried and tried to replicate her delicious homemade roasted potatoes at home in Indiana, and never gotten it just right. Something about the potatoes themselves, I believe, or perhaps my preparation technique. Who knows. I’ve given up trying to compete and accepted that when it comes to roasts and potatoes, she is and will always be the reigning champion.
Brown bread. While we’re on the subject of my mother-in-law, let me just say that her brown bread is delicious. Found in every restaurant and home in the country, Irish brown soda bread is not like the wheat bread you find in America. It’s a flat, dense, chewy disk of whole grain goodness that’s cut into thin slices and served for breakfast or lunch.
Again, I’ve tried to make it at home without the same success, although hubby has experimented enough to come up with a very tasty version of his own. I once asked my mother-in-law for a brown bread-making lesson, taking copious notes the entire time as she casually threw handfuls of flour into a bowl saying things like “use about this much and then add the buttermilk until it looks right.” She usually apologizes after making it, saying that it doesn’t seem quite right when, of course, it’s always perfect.
I know there is more I’m leaving out, but these are the biggies, the go-to items I seek out when we’re here. Two more days until we leave. I wonder how many last taste blasts I can cram into my diet before we go.