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Irish cuisine is a style of cooking originating from Ireland or developed by Irish people. It evolved from centuries of social and political change. The cuisine takes its influence from the crops grown and animals farmed in its temperate climate. The introduction of the potato in the second half of the 16th century heavily influenced Ireland's cuisine thereafter and, as a result, is often closely associated with Ireland. Representative Irish dishes include Irish stew, bacon and cabbage, potato, boxty, coddle, and colcannon.
There are many references to food and drink in Irish mythology and early Irish literature such as the tale of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge The old stories also contain many references to banquets, although these may well be greatly exaggerated and provide little insight into everyday diets. Honey seems to have been widely eaten and used in the making of mead. There are also many references to fulacht fiadh, which may have been sites for cooking deer, consisting of holes in the ground which were filled with water. The meat was placed in the water and cooked by the introduction of hot stones. Many fulacht fiadh sites have been identified across the island of Ireland, and some of them appear to have been in use up to the 17th century.
Excavations at the Viking settlement in the Wood Quay area of Dublin have produced a significant amount of information on the diet of the inhabitants of the town. The main meats eaten were beef, mutton, and pork. Domestic poultry and geese as well as fish and shellfish were also common, as was a wide range of native berries and nuts, especially hazel. The seeds of knotgrass and goosefoot were widely present and may have been used to make a porridge.
From the Middle Ages, until the arrival of the potato in the 16th century, the dominant feature of the rural economy was the herding of cattle. The meat produced was mostly the preserve of the gentry and nobility. The poor generally made do with milk, butter, cheese, and offal, supplemented with oats and barley. The practice of bleeding cattle and mixing the blood with milk and butter (similar to the practice of the Maasai) was not uncommon. Black pudding is made from blood, grain, (usually barley) and seasoning, and remains a breakfast staple food in Ireland.
Potatoes form the basis for many traditional Irish dishes. The potato was introduced into Ireland in the second half of the 16th century, initially as a garden crop. It eventually came to be the main food crop of the poor. As a food source, the potato is extremely valuable in terms of the amount of energy produced per unit area of crop. The potato is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C when fresh.
Potatoes were widely cultivated, but in particular by those at a subsistence level; the diet of this group of this period consisted mainly of potatoes supplemented with buttermilk. Potatoes were also fed to pigs, to fatten them prior to their slaughter at the approach of the cold winter months. Much of the slaughtered pork would have been cured to provide ham and bacon that could be stored over the winter.
Fresh meat was generally considered a luxury except for the most affluent until the late 19th century and chickens were not raised on a large scale until the emergence of town grocers in the 1880s allowed people to exchange surplus goods, like eggs, and for the first time purchase a variety food items to diversify their diet.
The reliance on potatoes as a staple crop meant that the people of Ireland were vulnerable to poor potato harvests. Consequently several famines occurred throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The first Great Famine of 1739 was the result of extreme cold weather but the famine of 1845 to 1849 (see Great Irish Famine) was caused by potato blight which spread throughout the Irish crop which consisted largely of a single variety, the Lumper. During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland.
Life in Ireland
In the 21st century, the usual modern selection of foods common to Western culture has been adopted in Ireland. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some West African dishes and East European (especially Polish) dishes have been making an appearance, as ingredients for these and other cuisines have become more widely available.
In tandem with these developments, and led by Myrtle Allen, the last quarter of the 20th century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish (especially salmon and trout), oysters, mussels and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as Irish stew, coddle, the Irish breakfast, and potato bread have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking.
Fish and chips take-away is popular. The first fish and chips were sold in Dublin in the 1880s by an Italian immigrant from San Donato Val di Comino, Giuseppe Cervi. His wife Palma would ask customers 'Uno di questa, uno di quella?' This phrase (meaning 'one of this, one of the other') entered the vernacular in Dublin as 'one and one', which is still a common way of referring to fish and chips in the city.
The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems, including obesity, where it was reported that as many as 327,000 Irish children are now obese or overweight and in response the Irish Government is now considering introducing a "Fast Food Tax". Government efforts to combat obesity have also included television advertising campaigns and education programmes in schools.
The eating of seafood, particularly shellfish has always been very popular in Ireland, especially in coastal cities like Galway and Dublin. Such is the impact of shellfish in Irish culture that in Dublin the fish seller is celebrated in the traditional folk song Molly Malone and in Galway the international Galway Oyster Festival is held every September. An example of an Irish shellfish dish is Dublin Lawyer (lobster cooked in whiskey and cream). Salmon and cod are perhaps the two most common types of fish eaten. Carrageen moss and Dulse (both types of red algae) are commonly used in Irish seafood dishes.