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20th Dec 2016

How The Humble Spicebag Emerged As A Contender To Become Ireland’s ‘National Dish’


The quality of the produce here in Ireland is some of the very best in the world.

It turns out that everything, from beef through to cheeses and milk, do pretty well on a wet island with loads of grass – and so, unsurprisingly, our exports are flying.

But despite that produce, and that global reputation for fantastic raw materials, I always struggle to tell people what our national dish is. Bacon and cabbage? Irish stew? 

Hmm. Irish, they are. But how often have you eaten them in the last year?

Unlike the French with their wine and cheese, or the Italians with pizza and pasta, we do struggle in terms of international perceptions of our culinary delights. World-class restaurants like Chapter One, Thornton’s and Loam put us on the map for food, but nothing has swept the nation with such furious popularity as… the humble spicebag.

They are our guilty pleasure

People long for them when they’re away

And some just think about them all day every day

The come in all shapes and sizes all over the country

Of course, this will hardly be a revelation for its legions of devoted fans – but it will be a hard one to swallow for those who consider themselves foodies. I mean, spare a thought for Darina Allen – a lifetime spent crafting a foodie legacy only to be usurped by a fried dish thrown together (we hear) in a Cavan takeaway.

So why has the whole nation fallen for deep fried chicken and chips in a bag with spicy seasoning? 

There are a number of factor at play…

  • Taste: Easy-peasy. Everything tastes better deep-fried. 
  • Cost: A full meal for about €6?
  • Social media: And Snapchat in particular. Clean-eats and the #fitfam may be in on Insta, but the under-25s have been living their best decadent lives on Snapchat – where the spicebag is king.
  • Alcohol: Fatty, salty, tasty. The perfect cure for a hangover, or a post-pints feed.
  • Delivery Apps. Deliveroo and JustEat basically allow you to push one button and have it delivered to your house in minutes.

None of these factors are necessarily new in their own right, but they’ve come together like a culinary tsunami here. As a result, takeaways are furiously rolling their own versions out to try and outdo each other. 

That need to connect and “break bread” as a group hasn’t gone away, but in Ireland – amongst a generation that struggles to afford accommodation where you could throw a dinner party – it’s just been replaced by a glorious takeaway dish and a “bag of cans”.

Italians mingle over espresso, the Aussies light up a BBQ and we talk shite while eating deep fried chicken. 

Wise words

Everybody has their own local favourite

Whether you turn your nose up at the dish and laugh of the notion of it being our national dish – or whether you’re the sort of person who tries to limit yourself to two portions of spicebag a week – one thing for sure is that they’re here for the foreseeable.

Opinion is sure to be harsh and divided but the spicebag has come out of nowhere on the bend to make a potential race to the finish line as Ireland’s national dish.

Who’d a thunk it?