Irish food

I don’t get St. Patrick’s Day. At least, not the way we get on about it. I understand saints’ days, if you’re Catholic. I understand holidays, if St. Patrick’s Day still were one here. I understand that some of our province’s stock came from Ireland, long, long ago.

I just don’t get how that translates to “drink your face off, woooooo!”

Now, I have no problem with drinking one’s face off. I don’t even mind everyone in town drinking their faces off at once. But why bring Ireland into it? Or St. Patrick? St. Patrick, as a child, was captured from his home in Britain and brought to Ireland by slave traders. He eventually escaped, and legend has it that he returned to drive the snakes out of Ireland. Except there never were any snakes in Ireland. By “snakes,” they mean “pagans.” So St. Patrick converted the pagan Irish, who were, no doubt, happily going about their business like most colonized people were before they got colonized, and that’s why everybody wears big green foam hats and puts on fake Irish accents and gets shitfaced every March 17.

Never mind St. Patrick himself for a moment. Let’s look at this big green hat, sparkly shamrock earrings, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, ti-tiddly-tee-tum, pot o’gold, they’re-after-me-lucky-charms business for a second. Now, I haven’t been to Ireland, and I’m no expert, but I have met enough Irish people who are, you know, normal, to suggest that Ireland is not actually inhabited primarily by leprechauns. Or by drunks. Or by drunken leprechauns. “Celebrating” Irishness by painting some shamrocks on your cheeks and upending a series of barstools while listening to frantic tin whistle music before vomiting greenly onto your date’s “My Goodness, My Guinness” T-shirt is not terribly respectful of Ireland as a nation, or of Irish people, is it?

Here’s the thing: every time we Newfoundlanders see an image of a toothless, Cape-Ann-wearing, illiterate, rum-swilling, accordion-playing, seal-clubbing, Newfie-joke-inspiring fisherman as a “celebration” of our culture, we get righteously angry about it. We write letters and boycott products. We go on national programs to speak articulately about our industrial edge, our cultural and artistic achievements, our boutique hotels, our ecological attractions, our ever-changing urban demographic.

And yet, we’re not ashamed to portray Ireland and its people in an equally ignorant fashion for 24 hours (plus hangover lag time) every March. We’ll go so far as to say it’s okay because “we’re Irish.” Well, actually, most of us aren’t Irish, and many of those of us who are (in an ancestral sense) haven’t been Irish (in a practical sense) in a long time.

“I’m sorry,” you may be saying, “your mad rant is very interesting, but what does this have to do with food?” Well, food is an expression of culture, isn’t it? Ireland’s history of food culture is complicated and political; it was the great famine (which was, let’s remember, starvation at the hands of colonial landlords) that resulted in much of the migration of Irish people to North America. The potato isn’t indigenous to Ireland; it is a South American plant, which was introduced to Ireland as a supplementary crop, but which was manipulated into becoming a staple. When the potato blight hit in the 1840s, the Irish people had no other food to turn to (most other crops having been claimed for export to England), and so a great many Irish people came to the Americas to give it a go here. Those immigrants formed communities, integrated into the cities and towns, and that’s why we began to recognize St. Patrick’s Day in the first place.

Surely I’m not the only person who finds this interesting. Surely! Come on, people!

What I’m getting at here, if you’ll indulge me, is this: if you wish to celebrate Irish history—and why wouldn’t you?—how about instead of turning it into a stereotype-fuelled piss-up, why not take some time to honour the Irish experience by thinking about what happens when communities lose the means to grow food for themselves? And while you’re at it, why not raise a glass to the indomitable spirit of Ireland, and of people everywhere who have survived devastating cultural losses. As for St. Patrick and his story, well, I myself side with the snakes.

Irish food

Irish food tastes and Newfoundland ones run along similar lines – our ancestry and climate have much to do with that. Contemporary Irish cuisine (as hip and cool as contemporary cuisine anywhere) combines traditional ingredients like root vegetables, cabbage, potatoes, game, salt meat, and lamb with newer techniques to create dishes that are at once simple and elegant. Kinda like we do here, hey?

Although Ireland is an island, seafood has only played a large role in cooking in certain areas. Modern Irish cooks are taking better and better advantage of local seafood, and salmon, mussels, scallops, lobster and the like appear frequently on restaurant menus.

Irish beer and whiskey are, of course, famous (and for very good reason). Why not try steaming mussels in a mixture of Guinness and half-and-half, with some onion thrown in there, and some appropriately green parsley? Or how about lamb chops brushed with a mixture of honey, whiskey, garlic, and marmalade? There are plenty of sources for contemporary Irish recipes on the web; I found some good-looking ones online at www.tinyurl.com/cb3lbg

Of course, you would always defer to James Joyce on this one, and dine on organ meats in the style of Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce’s Ulysses:

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

If you’re into that sort of thing.

18 comments

Music Thursday, Nov 8

Acoustic Insiders, 10:30pm, Martini Bar Bananarat Thursdays: Cranking the music 6pm-late, Tangled Up In Blue Carl Peters & Kenny Butler, Turkey Joe’s Chris LeDrew & Friends (pop) The Dock D’Arcy Broderick & Ron Kelly, 6pm-9pm, Larry Foley & Patrick Moran (trad) 10:30pm, O’Reilly’s Freddy Jorgensen & Arthur O’Brien (trad) 8pm, no cover, Kelly’s Pub Jeff […]

24 October 2007

  1. IrishPolPhd · October 24, 2007

    Finally! SOmeone who “gets” the mind-boggling contradiction that is St. Patrick’s Day in North America….

    You might be interested to know that in Dublin, St. Pat’s festivities have been based off those in Boston, Chicago, and New York – not the other way around. Or that in recent St. Pat’s celebrations in Belfast, it was prohibited to wear Irish (Republic) flags, Irish/Northern Irish sporting jerseys, or….green, in order to downplay the contentiousness of the “holiday”.

    “Celebrating” anything, in ignorance of its origins and cultural or political connotations, only serves to devalue the event and reinforce stereotypes.

  2. JA · October 24, 2007

    Well I have been in Ireland and observed several St. Patrick’s Days (it’s St. Paddy’s week there actually). I’d have to say that “‘Celebrating’ Irishness by painting some shamrocks on your cheeks and upending a series of barstools while listening to frantic tin whistle music before vomiting greenly onto your date’s “My Goodness, My Guinness” T-shirt” pretty much sums up what happens in Dublin and Cork and a lot of other cities as well. It was certainly never about the food!!!

  3. Ryan · October 24, 2007

    your writing sucks.

    you aren’t funny.

  4. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    Oh, that’s interesting! It really is such a weird mish-mash of a celebration, isn’t it? I lived in Montreal for years and the city goes crazy for it – the Irish population there, as you know, has deep roots going back to the 1840s. But it seems like nobody actually has a clue why – or what – they’re celebrating, and everybody ends up looking like a jackass.

  5. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    Oh, I didn’t mean to suggest that it ever was about the food – aside from in the larger sense that being deprived of food is what spurred the waves of immigration to Boston, New York, Chicago, Montreal and other cities (Newfoundland’s Irish population, incidentally, had settled long before that, so it *really* isn’t our holiday in a historic sense). There are plenty of events here in Newfoundland that reinforce negative stereotypes of Newfoundlanders, and in which people participate without taking the time to learn about historical or social context, and I don’t really get that either.

  6. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    I’m sorry you feel that way, Ryan. I, for one, have always found your writing heartfelt and compelling, with a fine balance of existential wit and an almost slapstick quality.

  7. GM · October 24, 2007

    Well done, Andreae. Best troll stop I’ve seen in a while. And for the record, I agree with you about SPD.

  8. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    Cheers, G!

  9. Noah · October 24, 2007

    I have to wholeheartedly NOT recommend going the Leopold Bloom route. On a typical whim I bought a kidney a while back, thinking “Oh, I’ll have a lovely Joycean breakfast one of these days.” I fried it up (making sure to burn it on one side). The smell precluded my tasting it. I tried to feed it to the dog. She took one sniff and walked away. Eventually I left it out on the beach for the ravens. They took their time cleaning it up.

  10. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    I’m not one for the organ meats, either. The very though makes me shudder, actually. To each his own… and I guess the “own” of fictional characters allows for a little more kidney-eating than you might find among the general population.

  11. Andreae · October 24, 2007

    “the very thought,” that is. Typing with toddler makes stoopidness.

  12. Noah · October 24, 2007

    I can do some organ meats. Just not the pee ones.

  13. Fatima · October 24, 2007

    The trick to making kidneys delish is boiling them in vinegar water. takes the rank smell down several notches and then after you have cut the kidney into bite size pieces, let them sit in a soya sauce, vinegar combo for an hour, then they will be ready to eat

  14. unclerodsknife · October 24, 2007

    Troll Stop FTW. I laughed so hard I almost inhaled a straw.

  15. Julie Ridiculous · October 24, 2007

    I know I’m so late on this but I’ve been out of Newfoundland for far too long and I’m just after re-discovering the scope and this article caught my attention…
    I’ll have to agree with ‘JA’ on this having lived in Ireland myself and as the proud wife of an Irishman I picked up over there, not only is St. Patrick’s day celebrated that way -big green hats, sparkly shamrock earrings, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish”, the works- in Newfoundland but it’s like that all over the world including the entire republic of eire itself (I’ve never spent a st. patrick’s day in the north but honestly I wouldn’t say it’s any different, not for the republicans anyway) they live for that shit, the Irish that is. I spent paddy’s day 2010 in Bangkok and it was same same (not different). And no Ireland is not an entire population of drunks but the majority sure do like to drink and definitely use paddy’s day as just another excuse to get shitfaced, it is their national day after all, I mean what do we do when July 1st rolls around? I know my husband always looks forward to March 17th no matter where he is in the world, he’s a proud Irishman.

  16. Michael Kors purses outlet · October 24, 2007

    I for all time emailed this web site post page to all my contacts, for the reason that if like to read it after that my contacts will too.
    Michael Kors purses outlet http://www.elderserviceplan.org/services/Michael-Kors/Michael-Kors-purses-outlet.html

  17. Replica louis vuitton canvas tote · October 24, 2007

    Very energetic blog, I liked that bit. Will there be a part 2?
    Replica louis vuitton canvas tote http://b222.tennisphotographers.co.uk