It’s time to pull out your greenest wear and stockpile Advil and water for that inevitable next-day hangover. Green beer and shamrock shakes may be American rites of passage for an over-the-top St. Patrick's Day blowout, but if you want to get real, try some more authentic Irish eats and drinks. From how Guinness became the beverage of choice to the history behind corned beef and cabbage, here’s the lowdown on some Irish food traditions.
1. Drink, Drink, Drink!
While cities around the world—from Dublin and London to Chicago and New York—now have parades to honor this annual Irish celebration, it wasn’t a big deal until the 1970s. In fact, National Geographic reported that up until then, pubs closed on St. Patrick’s Day in observance of the holiday, instead of opening their doors to green-clad party-goers. Who made St. Patty’s a drinking kind of day? The United States, naturally, or more specifically, Boston. Immigrants there decided to make the holiday less religious and focus more on celebrating their heritage. As word spread, more and more pints were ordered, and the tradition of getting hammered caught on in other cities and countries. But here's a fun fact: It took a long time for the widespread boozing to begin; reportedly, Boston started the tradition of drinking on St. Pat's Day as early as the 1800s.
2. Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned beef and cabbage is on most Irish menus year-round, but it's traditionally served at pubs around the world on St. Patrick’s Day as a culinary tribute to Irish heritage. This dish dates back to when the Irish first immigrated to America and were short on cash. They wanted something that reminded them of their home country, but couldn’t afford the boiled bacon that was usually served. Beef brisket happened to be the least expensive meat at the time, so they salt-cured it and opted for a cheap vegetable, cabbage, and called it a meal.
3. Irish Soda Bread
If you’ve never had Irish soda bread, you might be surprised to find there’s actually no pop in this traditional bread. Instead, it contains baking soda. Why? When poor Irish families couldn’t afford to have ovens in their kitchens, they needed an ingredient that could make the bread rise in a round pot over an open fire. Today, it’s still baked in a circular fashion, with fruit sometimes added for additional flavor.
A thick, rich Guinness drinks like a meal, and on St. Patrick’s Day, pints of this famous Irish stout are overflowing at most pubs. While Ireland and England haven’t always gotten along, it was Great Britain that inspired this alcoholic staple. Guinness was created in the style of a porter brew popular in 18th century England, where Arthur Guinness fell in love with the taste. He brought the idea over to St. James’s Gate in Dublin in 1759 and began brewing his own version. Once he had the formula down, he began exporting it, first to England, and then New York City...71 years later.
Unless you’re very familiar with traditional Irish food, you might not have heard of colcannon, which is a fancy name for mashed potatoes that are mixed with a leafy green (like cabbage or kale), onions, and of course, butter. The word itself—colcannon—is a Gaelic mash-up, literally meaning white-headed cabbage and garlic. It's a hearty, filling dish originally intended to feed the working class inexpensively.
6. Irish Coffee
If you need a pick-me-up the morning after your St. Pat's celebrations, consider taking the hair-of-the-dog strategy by ordering an Irish coffee. This drink was created by bartender Joe Sheridan, who worked with the first passenger commercial flights in the 1940s in Ireland. During a weather delay, he came up with this brew—a mix of coffee and whiskey topped with cream—to keep patrons happy. They loved it, and the drink began to catch on. Several years later, an American journalist who had sampled the spiked coffee in Ireland brought the recipe back to San Francisco. Thanks to their efforts, you can now order an Irish coffee at pretty much any pub in the country.
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