Culinary Crossroads: Exploring Irish and Dutch Cuisine

Introduction

When exploring Ireland as an exchange student, trying out Irish food might not be the first thing on your radar. Irish cuisine is often dismissed as simplistic and dull, much like the cooking in my native Netherlands. After all, don’t Irish and Dutch people eat nothing but bland potato dishes? Having put it to the test, I can assure you there is more to these cuisines than you might expect at first glance. Join me on a journey through the unexpected richness of Irish and Dutch cuisine to discover the surprising stories behind our most iconic dishes.

An Insider’s View of Irish Cuisine

To gain an insider’s view of Irish cuisine, I sat down with Robert, a final-year student of international business and geography at Maynooth University. He was born and raised in Lucan, county Dublin, but lived in Barcelona for a year during his Erasmus exchange. We are both on the committee of the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) of Maynooth. “While we don’t have many traditional dishes, the way we eat is different from most of the world. For example, our breakfast is very heavy,” Robert explains. “But, to be fully honest, people are correct when they say that Irish people love potatoes.”

A Taste from Home

While Robert loves Mediterranean cuisine, he longed for some of his go-to Irish dishes during his studies abroad. “I really missed Irish bacon and sausages, spice bags, and battered fish with chips,” he says. “I also missed Irish-Chinese takeaways. The food sold at Chinese restaurants in Ireland is a unique blend of Asian and Western cuisine, and all dishes are served with chips.” Robert even brought some bags of his favourite King crisps with him to Spain. “You should absolutely try crisps with cheese and onion flavour,” he recommends international students in Ireland.

The Spice Bag: a Contemporary Culinary Fusion

Robert’s favourite Irish dish is a spice bag. “A spice bag is a takeaway meal consisting of chips, vegetables, and chicken, seasoned with spices and usually served with a curry sauce to dip. It comes in a brown bag, hence the name.” The spice bag was invented in 2010 by The Sunflower Chinese takeaway in Templeogue, Dublin. It quickly gained popularity and was voted ‘Ireland’s Favourite Takeaway Dish’ in the 2020 Just Eat National Takeaway Awards. Eager to partake in this culinary craze, Robert and I ordered two spice bags from Famous, a Chinese restaurant in Lucan. Although my vegetarian version paled in comparison to Robert’s classic spice bag with chicken, the spiced chips were the perfect meal while watching a movie. Despite its unassuming appearance, the humble brown bag holds a testament to Ireland’s ever-evolving cuisine, mixing global flavours with local tradition.

The Fry-Up: a Timeless Breakfast

The fry-up or ‘full Irish’ is a large, cooked breakfast typically consisting of meat, eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, and potatoes, all fried in Irish butter. It is served with Irish soda bread or toast and a beverage like tea or coffee. The full breakfast became popular in the Victorian era and remains common as an occasional or celebratory breakfast across Ireland and the United Kingdom, with each region having its unique variant. I ordered a vegetarian fry-up at Moorland Café in Drogheda during a trip to Newgrange. It consisted of hashbrowns, two eggs, beans in tomato sauce, mushrooms, and toast, and was served with tea. While at first glance, this heavy meal didn’t resemble a breakfast to me, the warm fry-up turned out to be delicious. This timeless breakfast gave me a much-needed energy boost for our trip on a cold December day.

Poffertjes: a Centuries-Old Dutch Delicacy

My favourite Dutch treat is poffertjes. Poffertjes are a traditional sweet treat resembling small, fluffy pancakes, served with powdered sugar and butter. They are sold on markets all year round. Poffertjes presumably originated in the south of the Netherlands, which is predominantly Catholic. It is said that, centuries ago, monks were dissatisfied with the sacramental hosts eaten during the communion ceremony in the church. In an attempt to make a more tasteful version, they accidentally invented poffertjes. This delicious treat quickly grew popular across the country and came to be known as a typical Dutch snack.

From Amsterdam to Belfast

In the past decade, poffertjes took over the world. You can now find them in every corner of the globe – from Dubai to New York. To my surprise, I even stumbled across a poffertjes stand at St George’s Market in Belfast. Unable to withstand a little taste of home, I got a portion. The salesman – a Northern Irish native – told me he first came across the Dutch treat during a visit to Amsterdam and wanted to bring it home to Ireland. He even gave me some Dutch liquorice. Whether you’re a homesick Dutchie or an Irish foodie, I can wholeheartedly recommend you try the poffertjes at St George’s. They’re absolutely lekker: tasty, enjoyable, and blissful.

Baking Poffertjes with an Irishman

Only once before had Robert eaten Dutch food. “While I lived in Spain, I ate bitterballen.” These are deep-fried, bite-sized balls of meat ragout, served with mustard and typically eaten in pubs alongside a beer. “They were very tasty,” Robert says. Eager to introduce him to the pleasure of poffertjes, we set out to create this Dutch classic at my temporary home in Ireland. We used a poffertjespan that I had brought with me from the Netherlands. It is a special cast iron pan with little wells for the batter, to make beautifully round poffertjes. “It was a lot of fun to make poffertjes because they’re so tiny compared to a regular pancake,” Robert tells me. While they didn’t turn out perfect as we had added a little too much flour to the batter, they were still delicious. “The poffertjes were very tasty, I love them,” Robert says.

Conclusion

Exploring the national cuisine is a great way to learn more about a culture. As I tried typical Irish meals and swapped culinary secrets with my Irish friends, I discovered the unexpected stories behind the most iconic Irish and Dutch dishes. And if all this talk about food has your stomach growling, don’t worry; I have included my poffertjes recipe for you to try at home. Eet smakelijk! (Enjoy your meal)

Recipe for Traditional Dutch Poffertjes

Ingredients for six portions

  • 250 grams of flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 2 medium-sized eggs
  • Melted butter (for greasing the pan)
  • Powdered sugar (as a topping)

Preparation (30 minutes)

  1. Place flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk together briefly.
  2. Add the milk and eggs and mix until it forms a smooth batter.
  3. Heat your pan (medium heat) and grease it with butter. If available, use a special poffertjespan. If not, you can use a large frying pan.
  4. Once the pan is warmed, use a spoon or spray bottle to transfer the batter into the wells in the poffertjespan. Be careful not to scoop too much batter. If you are using a frying pan, add small scoops of batter into the pan and make sure to leave enough space in between.
  5. When bubbles appear at the top, turn the poffertjes around with a fork or skewer. If they don’t let go easily, wait a few seconds until you can easily turn them.
  6. Repeat the process until your batter is finished. Make sure to grease the pan again in between each round of poffertjes.
  7. Serve the poffertjes immediately after removing them from the pan. Top them with some powdered sugar and a knob of butter. Consider adding some strawberries, bananas, or ice cream.

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