A Taste of Ireland

American food shelves
This is the "American food" section at the local grocery store. Should I be offended?

By Caitlin Yeggy*

Last August when I first arrived in Cork, I was full of anticipation for all the experiences to come in the year ahead. So many sights to see, things to do, and--of course--food to eat! While my mind filled with visions of interesting people and beautiful places, my mouth filled with saliva at the prospect of trying all the Irish cuisine. As an avid lover of eating, I could not wait to “taste the place.” Although the food in Ireland is not especially fancy or exotic, its simplicity does not detract from its completely mouthwatering yumminess. I have since tried a myriad of Irish specialties with much delight: lamb stew, fish and chips, bacon and cabbage, banoffee pie, the great and powerful Wispa bar, potato everything! Among this medley of deliciousness, however, a few culinary experiences have stuck out among the others. Here are some of the more interesting and memorable foods on which I have chowed down during my time abroad:

Black pudding:

A staple in the classic Irish breakfast, black pudding can take a naïve American diner like myself by surprise. While it is black, it is most definitely not pudding. Rather, it is a type of blood sausage particularly popular in United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, one of the most famous brands of black pudding, Clonakilty, is made in a nearby town of the same name in County Cork. Only once have I overcome my squeamishness enough to try this sausage, and it was actually quite tasty! Crispy, yet juicy and full of flavor. One serving of black pudding was enough for me, though. The Iowan in me much prefers my native pork sausage.

Fish and chips
These were my very first fish and chips in Ireland. "Genuine" fish and chips are actually less fancy than what you see here, but these were still pretty tasty!

Marmite:

If you have never tried Marmite you can consider yourself lucky, in my opinion. True to its slogan, “love it or hate it,” this spread made of fermented yeast is to some a pleasant toast topping, and to others (like myself) a torturous goop from Satan’s pantry. While its syrupy, amber appearance suggests a warm flavor of caramel or cinnamon, the poor tongue that makes this mistake is in for a shock. Sharp and salty, the first taste of Marmite is reminiscent of a donkey-kick to the mouth. The intensity of horrendous tang that just one mouthful of this repulsive condiment can produce is truly astounding. It’s as though the Dead Sea took the Great Salt Lake on a date, one thing led to another, and nine months later Marmite was born. Really, really awful. But hey, don’t take my word for it! If the opportunity arises, try it for yourself. (Or at least buy a jar to give to your arch nemesis!)

Chocolate digestives:

To counterbalance my deranged Marmite rant, I will discuss the most delicious, heavenly cookie to ever cross my lips. Technically called a “biscuit” by everyone outside the United States, a chocolate digestive is a crunchy, semi-sweet circle of goodness coated in chocolate on one side. There are numerous brands of chocolate digestives, and they are available in both milk and dark chocolate. When I first discovered these biscuits, I could not stop devouring them despite my most determined efforts. Just one bite of the savory scrumptiousness unleashed my inner chocolate digestive monster, and it has yet to be subdued. I eventually had to stop buying chocolate digestives altogether, since I simply could not handle them in moderation. Definitely try them if given the chance, but proceed with caution! Chocolate digestives: the double-edged sword.

Peanut butter:

Peanut butter
Panda, the closet you'll get to American peanut butter in Ireland!
 

Obviously peanut butter is readily available in the United States, and that is partially the reason I have chosen to talk about it now. I am a total peanut butter fiend and, like many Americans, regularly ate it growing up. Until I moved to Europe, I didn’t realize that American peanut butter has a very distinct flavor and texture. It is slightly sweeter, creamier, and lighter than any of the standard peanut butter brands I have tried in Ireland. In my first encounter with European peanut butter, I bought a generic, Tesco brand without putting much thought into the matter. I quickly realized my mistake after the first bite of the peanut butter imposter. It was incredibly salty and gritty. The annoying, less attractive younger brother of American peanut butter. Several other brands were tested before it was decided that an “American style” brand called Panda provided the best peanut butter experience. Still, nothing beats a spoonful of good ol’ Jif.

I still have two more months before I depart Ireland for the U.S., which means a fair amount of time remains for my taste buds to explore and delight. Trying new foods, no matter how suspicious or bizarre they may seem, can significantly elevate a cultural experience. So step out of your comfort zone and try the black pudding or the Marmite (gag!). Hamburgers and pizza aren’t going anywhere. And who knows? You might just discover a new favorite food!

*packs suitcase full of chocolate digestives*

*Caitlin Yeggy, of Kalona, Iowa, is a sophomore studying English at the University of Iowa. She is spending the academic year abroad on the Iowa Regents Semester in Ireland program in Cork.

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