Say ‘St Patrick’s Day’ and what do you think? A very hungry man chasing snakes into the sea (a somewhat abbreviated version of the legend of St Patrick, admittedly)? The death of the author of Letter to Coroticus? No, didn’t think so. In all likelihood, the mention of St Patrick’s Day conjures images of people wearing silly green hats and drinking plentiful pints.
It’s perhaps owing to the latter pastime that Irish food doesn’t get much of a look in these days – while we’ve all heard of (and most likely been to) an Irish pub, when was the last time you went to an Irish restaurant? ‘I think this is due to the fact that our cuisine has only really evolved over the last 50 years or so to an international par,’ concedes Irish chef Gavin Gleeson of Terra Firma at InterContinental Festival City.
The relatively late evolution of Irish cuisine isn’t because the Irish had an aversion to cooking or good food, but a product of the country’s complex past – it’s arguable that the development of Irish culinary culture has been hampered over the centuries by a number of external variables, from British occupation to famine to civil war.
‘Being a poor country in the past, [Irish] people only cooked with very basic ingredients – usually what they grew for themselves, which would then be cooked in one pot. The Irish palate has taken time to evolve and appreciate [the country’s] superior produce – even now, local dairy farmers such as Ardrahan Cheese will tell you that when it started its mainstream production, the Irish market was not interested and the only way to survive was to export the cheese to France,’ explains Gavin.
Things are changing, however, and it seems that the Irish are finally enjoying the benefits of the country’s wealth of produce; the staples (in Gavin’s opinion) are pork, potatoes and butter. ‘In my opinion, anyway – others will argue trout, salmon and jams, others cheese and lamb.’
Chef Gavin points out that Irish restaurant culture follows that of Britain since the countries share the same seasons, produce and even the same cooking shows that have fuelled the public’s appetite for quality food over the past decade. Indeed, there are number of renowned Michelin-starred restaurants in Ireland, as well as a fair share of talented chefs, such as Conrad Gallagher, Kevin Thornton, Derry Clarke, Dillin McGragh and Graham Nevin.
All in all, it would seem that Ireland’s gastronomic scene is healthier (and tastier) than ever before. But for the most traditional of Irish days what traditional Irish dishes should we be eating? ‘There’s a very famous dish, called tripe and drisheen,’ ’ says Liam Crotty of Hyatt Regency Hotel Dubai. That’d be cow’s stomach and dried blood, in case you were wondering.
In many respects, this dish is the long lost Celtic brother of haggis, which consists of minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs wrapped in stomach lining. However, if Liam was forced to choose a national dish, it would have to be Irish stew and soda bread (often made with buttermilk and oats). ‘It’s a lamb stew, with white vegetables and barley – hearty ingredients, which would traditionally help fend off the cold.’
Not that this is necessary in Dubai’s warm climes, but a hearty stew never goes amiss, especially in the wake of heady St Paddy’s day celebrations.
With this in mind, Time Out thought it only right to ask Gavin and Liam to share a couple of their favourite Irish recipes to celebrate.