Food for Thought

It was clear to me from the beginning of my time in Ireland that the Irish have a different relationship with food than Americans. The food isn’t much different on the surface, chicken wings, seafood, red meat and similar snacks. While we may share many of the same things there are a lot of small differences that make a large impact on the culture around food.

People here seem to value fresh and clean food more than America does. The majority of food in markets and grocery stores that I have been to are fresh. One store even had only fresh bread crumbs, after searching the entire store for pre-packaged recognizable bread crumbs we asked an employee who directed us to the fresh ones in just a plastic bag with no label or brand name, which is why we missed it. We are used to packaged foods with recognizable brand names that have traveled far to reach our grocery store shelves, and the difference in the taste and quality of the food is obvious. It is a regulation in the EU that the food be labeled with what is in it and allergens printed in bold so that you don’t have to go searching for it, so it’s easier to know exactly what you’re eating. Overall there is a general feeling of respect and attention to the quality of food throughout rural Ireland.

I gained an appreciation for where food comes from when I had the opportunity to see food being grown at the eco-village in Cloughjordan, where one resident in particular, Bruce, grows vegetables and puts them out for other members of the community to take. He told us that he saw a ‘knowledge gap’ in people knowing how to grow their own food and is doing research to try and fill some of that gap. He grows vegetables in multiple plots of land on the eco-village, experimenting with different foods and growing styles, and publishes his work on a youtube channel called Red Gardens.

In places outside of the eco-village, general eating habits have slight differences from what I am used to in America, and these are evident in stores. When in search of breakfast foods and snacks I became excited because I saw many familiar brands, logos, and foods, even finding my favorite cereal, Frosted Flakes, although called Frostys here in Ireland. But when it came to snacks, I found it was difficult to find those brands I love to eat back home, and in general found that there are much less snack selections here. It is overall a cultural difference between what people prefer and are used to eating, and things seem healthier here in Ireland with fresher food, clearer ingredients and more of an appreciation for what is being consumed. 

A Small Snack Aisle in a Grocery Store 

The Universal Brown Bread

A side of brown bread, with butter packets

Brown bread is an important element of the meals in Ireland. A slice of brown bread will be served with nearly every meal, particularly lunch and dinner. We visited several towns and ate at several different restaurants or hostels, and each location incorporated brown bread into the meal. At the Valley House in Achill, slices of brown bread were served as an appetizer before the meal. The bread was put out in bowls along the table, alongside salads, and butter was placed beside them. We also ate lunch at several places where a slice of brown bread would be served alongside a bowl of soup. A vegetable soup could be purchased at the hotel restaurant on Inis Oirr, and this included brown bread and butter. Brown bread would also be used for sandwiches, as O’Brien’s shop in Ennis used brown bread for their turkey sandwiches.

Sandwich with brown bread, purchased in Ennis

When we visited Cnoc Suain, our host Dearbhail demonstrated how brown bread is made. It is different from regular white bread because it is not made with yeast. The ingredients include whole wheat and white flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The baking soda mixing with the buttermilk is what causes the dough to rise. Dearbhail explained the baking technique which causes the bread to be so fluffy and light: you must lift up the flour while it’s the bowl. You mix together the flours, soda, and salt, then create a well to pour in the buttermilk. Dearbhail recommended using your hands to mix the dough together in order to use less dishes, but you have to be sure not to knead or handle the dough too much. You then shape the dough into a circular form and cut a cross into it so the bread bakes all the way through. Other ingredients can also be added to the dough before it is mixed together. For example, Dearbhail explained that pieces of seaweed can be added to the bread in order to increase its nutritious value.

This type of bread is relatively simple to make, and judging by its frequent appearance at multiple pubs and restaurants, brown bread is a very versatile food.

Sugar Tax Already Included

Since the moment I landed in Ireland, I noticed a difference between the food in Ireland and the food in the United States. In Ireland, the food at the market is fresher and healthier than food in America. I first noticed the difference in the food when I went to the grocery store in Cloughjordan. What stood out to me the most was that the eggs were not refrigerated. Instead, they were on a regular shelf just like cereal or chips. The worker told me the eggs were not refrigerated because they do not have added hormones and are treated differently than eggs in the United States. In America, eggs are refrigerated because they are specially washed to prevent Salmonella. After they are washed, they must be chilled until they are eaten. In Europe, chickens are given a vaccination to prevent this so they are not required to be washed like in America. Also in this grocery store, I noticed they only had 2 packets of fresh chicken breasts left. When I asked the worker if they had more she explained, they get a fresh shipment to the store every morning and that the 2 packets were all they had left for the day. At my local Stop and Shop, when the display is low on chicken, they go to the back freezer and restock the chicken. These are just two examples of why food is fresher in Ireland than America. 

In addition to the freshness of food in Ireland compared to in America, the food is also healthier in Ireland than in America. One day, I was sitting at a cafe reading the menu and noticed at the bottom a note stating “sugar tax already included in prices.” I had never heard of the sugar tax so I asked our bus driver Des about the tax. Des explained the sugar tax was implemented “to prevent mothers from giving their children drinks with added sugars.” He further explained that since the drinks with added sugars are more expensive, people are more likely to buy the less expensive options which subsequently has less sugar. On the contrary, in America, only certain cities and states have a “soda tax” which is similar to Ireland’s sugar tax, showing Ireland’s better attempt to be healthier. Likewise, in both the small and large grocery stores, I noticed significantly fewer snack aisles than in America. In a small grocery store, they only had half of a snack aisle and in large grocery stores, they had only one aisle. In America, small grocery stores have a whole snack aisle and large grocery stores have 2 to 3 full snack aisles. This also displays Ireland’s healthier eating habits. Through observing these differences between food in Ireland and food in America, it was clear that food in Ireland was more fresh and healthy than food in America. 

A Community in Unity

Every country is made up of various communities. In Ireland, one unpopular style of community I experienced was an ecovillage in Cloughjordan. Our tour guide, Úna, told me that despite their eco-friendly efforts, “A lot of people move here more for the strong sense of community” versus a passion to help the environment. I found this interesting because previously, I assumed everyone who lived here did so because they were passionate about nature. In this community, people decide to not cut the grass excessively and ride a bike instead of driving. They also have community places where people can leave items they no longer had a use for, such as toys, movies, and crafts. This demonstrates a strong sense of closeness because people were comfortable sharing, repurposing, and donating their personal belongings without expecting anything in return.

The ecovillage knows the grass can always be longer on the other side.

Another example of the strong sense of community here was in the Cloughjordan pubs. People would sit in a circle and share their musical abilities by singing and playing instruments freely. They helped one another finish songs by either jumping in to sing a verse or accompanying an instrument. The community was supportive and open-minded, even towards new people. Anyone who wanted to sing or play music was encouraged to and received support afterward.

This farmer is working selflessly. It is his contribution to the community.

Also, the farmers demonstrate an understanding of community because their work is selfless. They work long, stressful hours in strenuous conditions to provide food and resources to the village. They make a low minimum wage pay that does not match the physical labor they exert.

The ecovillage loves and supports Mother Nature. People and animals here can rejoice unified in one community because every creature is respected. Even Pa’s Django Ecohostel composts food in an effort to keep the community in the best condition possible because that will benefit everyone. By the end of my time at the ecovillage, I learned that this population as well as Cloughjordan as a whole, both exhibit a strong and healthy sense of community through their efforts to make their home a prosperous environment for everyone.

Ireland is a complex country that holds many different types of communities, specifically an ecovillage that offers many benefits to the people who live there.

A Valid Salad

American diets feature high sugar, fat, and salt because people are constantly surrounded by overly processed food. People in the States expect their chips to be salty, burgers to be cheesy, and ice cream to be sugary. Even when it comes to salad, Americans find a way to incorporate the cheese, sugar, fat, and salt they crave. In Ireland, I have noticed the sweet treats are less sugary, the burgers are not as loaded with cheese, and the chips are less salty.

What really impressed me was the side salad I ordered at Birr Castle. When I initially ordered my sandwich at the counter, the waitress told me that my sandwich would come with a “fresh side salad.” 

My first experience with side salads in Ireland.

In terms of first acquiring salads, I noticed a difference between Ireland and the States. In America, if a person orders a lunch sandwich, chances are that sandwich comes with a heap of fries. If an American does go out of their way to order a side salad, the salad portion would be much larger than what I experienced at Birr Castle. All of the lunch sandwiches at Birr Castle came with side salads. The portions of the salads were much smaller than portions of side salads in the States. Also, American salads tend to be drenched in a thick ranch dressing but at Birr Castle, the salad was coated with a light, simple oil dressing. In terms of the majority content of the salad, American salads usually include iceberg lettuce which is essentially all water and drastically lacks in nutrients when compared to other collard greens. The content of the salad at Birr Castle consisted of dark nutrient-rich greens, cucumbers, carrots, and onions. The toppings in American salads are often times coated with shredded cheese and garlic croutons. These toppings are obviously not nearly as healthy as the additions of vegetables in the Irish salad.

Even the prawn salad I had for lunch on Inis Oirr was modest and appropriate. It had dark, leafy greens, plump tomatoes, a fresh lemon and a healthy amount of dressing.

My first experience having a Prawn salad as a lunch meal in Ireland.

Both the salads I tried in Ireland were much healthier in terms of content and portion size when compared to American salads.

My overall observation in terms of Irish food compared to American food is: Ireland offers more healthy and fresh dietary options than America.

Do You Want Brown Bread With That?

When I first sat down for a meal in the Ecovillage, Una brought out a plate of brown bread in one hand and butter in the other. Whether it was at the dinner table at home or a restaurant, brown bread found their way onto the dinner table each night. Even though brown bread was not the main course of the meal, I treated it as my main dish. Leaving me too full to finish the rest of my meal. Brown bread is easy to make, which is why it has been so popular with the Irish, now and in the past. All you need is, buttermilk, whole wheat flour, white flour, salt and baking soda. However, variations have been made of this recipe. It has even been made into ice cream. The trick to making brown bread is to mix the flour and other ingredients together, lifting it up high and letting it fall into the dish below. This allows the air to get into the ingredients, making it a fluffy and a light bread. Once all your ingredients are mixed in, you have to shape the bread. It is important to move the bread around as little as possible. This is different from making traditional white bread because white bread requires you to play with the dough as much as possible to shape it perfectly. Once your bread is mixed and shaped, a cross is cut into the top of the bread, allowing air to flow throughout the loaf. After it is cooked, your butter is placed on top and it is ready to be enjoyed.

Not only can brown bread be seen alone, before a meal, it can also be seen as a side dish to many main courses. Vegetable soup can be seen on almost every menu in Ireland. Vegetable soup is usually accompanied by a slice of brown bread, unless specified otherwise. The vegetable soup is brought out boiling from the pot straight to the dinner table. Waiting for the soup to cool down, I found myself dunking the brown bread into the vegetable soup. The combination of flavors between the vegetable soup and the brown bread, allowed them to compliment one another perfectly. When all the bread was dunked and eaten, the soup was then cool enough to begin eating with a spoon. Since the Irish love their soup at a boiling hot temperature, the brown bread allowed me to enjoy the warm soup, without burning my throat in the process.

Throughout the trip, I heard my fellow classmates make remarks such as, “Who would have thought brown bread would be so popular.” The reason is that the simple ingredients that are used in brown bread made it an easy meal to make when resources were low during the famine. Since then, brown bread has become an Irish statement food. Everyone has their own unique way to making their own brown bread, making it different each time you eat it. Which is what makes brown bread a unique part of their culture. Every meal you can taste the freshness of each slice of bread. The creamy spread of butter, melting on the surface of the brown bread, makes your mouth water uncontrollably the second the waitress or waiter brings the plate of brown bread over. Recipes are unique to each family, and they have been handed down from generation to generation, each different from one another. Living off the land, allows the people of Ireland to eat healthy, and use their environment to benefit their way of living. 


Eco Friendly Village?

While traveling around Ireland, I took interest into the dynamic of the Eco-Village and how their community worked. The first place we stopped while in Ireland was Cloughjordan. What was interesting about this village was the construction of the eco village and its relive location towards the center of the Cloughjordan. This eco village could have been located outside Cloughjordans main strip, but even though it was created well long after the village of Cloughjordan was founded it looks like it belonged there. Some interesting things I learned while staying at the eco village is that there is no one in charge of the village and that everybody their makes joint decisions. Mary, one of the residents, told us, “You learn love and hate everyone here”. That really stuck with me because in a community where everyone makes decisions instead of just one person being in charge things tend to get done slower. This was something I noticed about this community as they claim to be self-sustainable; however, they have not been able to use their solar panels they as a community purchased due to technical problems dating back 10 years. This is something I thought was interesting because that meant they got their electricity from somewhere else even though their motto is that they are:

  • Building
  • Sustainable
  • Community

When looking at their motto I found that their vision wasn’t being 100% achieved due to relying on outside energy. One thing I picked up on about the community is that everyone was there for a specific reason, and that was that they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. This is something I saw throughout the village as they as a community tried to reduce waste, farm their own food, and reduced water usage. Seeing a community that truly believes that as a whole they could help make a difference was inspirational. While staying in the hostel, we came across apple juice that was for sale and asked about it. Pa, the owner of the hostel we stayed at, told us that they are sold by a member of the community and could also be bought up at the store ran by the hostel’s cook, Johanna and their husband. I thought it was interesting finding out that they tried to shop locally for their food unlike in America where majority of people shop at the supermarket. Overall I believe that if the eco-village wants to grow they need to fix their solar power issue to be fully self sustainable and work towards electing someone to make decisions for the community.



Food Blog

Spar and Centra, two names I’m not truly familiar with but will have to get used to if I want to buy my own food while in Ireland. These are two of the more popular markets you will find in Ireland. These stores remind me a lot of IGA’s in America; they are small but have essentially everything you need without the variation of brands. One type of food in particular caught my eye, the eggs. They were on the shelves! My first thought was that they accidentally put them there while the workers were making room for them in the fridges. There was so many boxes of them though and they were organized so I really had to think about it to myself. Suddenly a worker walks by so I decide to ask, “excuse me MS, are these eggs still good to eat, they are warm and on the shelve?” She looked at me with a more puzzled look than I was probably giving off and said, “the eggs do not go in the fridge, they go on the shelves” and then she just walked away. It was then I realized that common food storage in America is not the same everywhere in the world.

I decided to buy the eggs regardless of how they were stored because I love to have my two over easy in the morning; however, it prompted me to do some research when I got back to the Hostel. I did not realize how Irish eggs were mostly farmed locally while eggs in supermarkets in America were farmed on bigger corporate farms, with upwards of 3,000 chickens laying eggs each and every day. After reading this fun fact I decided to look at the box holding my eggs I just purchased for 2 euro. It read “freshly laid by hens with freedom to roam freely on organic pastures”

Local Eggs in Ireland

This made me think about egg cartons I see in stop & shop and how I tend to buy the 30 pack of eggs each week, it made me realize that there was no way the farmers in America let their chickens roam free each and every day to feed the United States population. I began to realize that the eggs I buy in America aren’t the same quality I’d be able to get in Ireland because the chickens in America weren’t treated the same. This made me think about where else I could buy eggs from that the animals were treated better and it made me think about the Farmers Market on Metacom Ave in Bristol, RI. When I get back to America, I’m only getting locally farmed eggs!


“Is Math an t-anlann an t-ocras”

I work in a restaurant back at home, so cooking is something that I know how to do, so imagine me, cooking various irish meats for around 20 people, it’s a pretty image right? I was right back into my element in the kitchen of Django’s Hostel, Pa, the owner and my Sous-chef for the night was giving me pointers “not too long on those sausages, you don’t need them burning” “the bacon will never be crispy, when it sizzles it’s finished.” I was back in my domain even if I was an ocean away from my normal stomping grounds. The heat from the oven and stovetop may have been unbearably hot to others, but felt like nothing to me, I was a man on a mission, and my mission was to cook over 100 individual pieces of meat for everyone, ranging from irish bacon to the ispíní (sausages) I couldn’t afford to mess up even a single piece of food. I was cooking foreign food in a foreign kitchen using a oven that I had no clue how to control, yet the whole group was relying on me, and my amazing skills at cooking sausages.

The food in question

One pan after another went into the oven I had to remember all the small things, my mind was racing. In the end everything went off without a hitch, even after cooking the black pudding, something that surprisingly has nothing to do with what we would call pudding, but would be much more akin to sausage patties, and surprisingly didn’t taste half bad, but then again, to quote a irish proverb “Is maith an t-anlann an t-ocras.” (Hunger is a good sauce)

Freshly caught fish

After a long day in the Irish sun, hunger can cloud the vision of many beautiful sights. But, food in Ireland is not eaten simply just to get rid of hunger. When eating breakfast, lunch and dinner the meals are cooked to be enjoyed. For every meal, groups of people are eating together and enjoying each others company through conversation.  A strong commonality between all of these meals is that they are locally grown and cooked.

A type of food that is very prominent in Ireland is fish. This is because the country is surrounded by water. A group of us were able to go to the Killary Farm one afternoon, which is located in a bay area. We had a special lunch this day, different from the most common lunch being sandwiches and vegetable soup. The Killary farm grows mussels in the bay right in front of the farm. Simon, harvests the mussels while his wife occasionally cooks them. The mussels grow on ropes for 2 years then get washed and harvested to ship out to local restaurants. Simon told us the mussels come off the ropes “the moment you touch them”. The mussels go through extensive washing to wash off the possibility of e-coli being on them and to make it safe to send to restaurants. Simon’s wife boiled a large plate of fresh mussels for us after we went out on the boat with Simon. She served us mussels with lemon with a side of soda bread she home made. The mussels had a little bit of salt, white wine, onions, and garlic on them to add flavor. Like many other foods we tried in Ireland, the seasonings were not heavy. They eat their food more naturally, and it tastes just as good because they use fresh products.

To eat the mussels, we used the dark colored shells from a previously eaten one to scoop out the fish. Oysters, are also a type of fish they caught in the bay. These were also prepared by Simons wife. She explained to us you eat oysters by the whole and without chewing them. The plain but salty taste of oysters is what makes them so appealing to eat. With fish, there is usually a side served with them because the taste is so strong. One example would be brown bread, freshly made from natural resources. No matter what the meal is in Ireland the plate being served is fresh, balanced, and locally made.