|Go North for the Best in Irish Food and
By James Bartlett
Across the world, St. Patrick's Day usually means one thing: putting
on leprechaun hats and downing pints of the black stuff to celebrate the
saintly snake-charmer. There are more choices than the finest of St. James'
Gate, and as for the food, it's certainly more than potatoes, boiled cabbage
and soda bread.
The small Whitewater micro-brewery in the Mourne Mountains has a special
St. Patrick's Day brew - it's pale in color and has a good malty flavor
- while those who want to raise a glass to the man himself can pick one
of the three honorary St. Patrick's ales brewed by the Strangford Lough
Brewing Company, also based in Co. Down in the North of Ireland.
On a recent visit to Belfast I tried the gut-busting "Ulster Fry," a
breakfast feast of eggs, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, mushrooms,
tomatoes and soda farls (a wedge of griddled soda bread - the "Ulster"
bit). Soda bread is an Irish favorite of course, though in Northern Ireland
it's also made from whole meal flour and buttermilk and called "wheaten",
and goes with everything from jam to cheese.
I also saw grocery stores selling something dry, wrinkly and reddish-purple:
dulse, a seaweed that has a sour, bitter taste. People here either love
or hate it - and those that loved it ate it as if it was a bag of chips.
The Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, has been the original
source of dulse for centuries, and aside from its highly-valued vitamin
and mineral content there have even been suggestions that it could solve
the fuel crisis.
You can also find the sticky, spongy toffee called "yellowman" at the
Auld Lammas, and other local sweet treats here include yellow honeycomb
and the tart "apple drops", boiled sweets flavored by apples from Armagh,
the "orchard of Ireland". The legendary Tayto crisps are based here in
Tandragee, Co. Armagh, and many kids enjoy a pack of Taytos with a bottle
of brown lemonade.
A soft drink that's unique to Northern Ireland, it's just regular "white"
lemonade colored brown because - legend says - workers at the Harland and
Wolff shipyard (where they built the Titanic) didn't like "feminine"
soft drinks and wanted something that looked more like a pint of beer.
Finally, most Irish men and women are mad for tea. Two companies - Punjana
and Nambarrie - are based in Belfast, though the independent Suki Tea company
offers "Belfast Brew," which they say is a "true ship builder's tea." Suki
export their organic and fair trade teas to the USA, and you can order
many of these products too, though many of them are already here.