Irish Food History and St. Patrick’s Day

Happy March!  In our half-Irish household, St. Patrick’s Day is kind of a big deal, so I was interested to read Tom McLaughlin’s article “A Taste of Irish History.”  We all know about the Irish food staples of potatoes, cabbage, corned beef and soda bread, but there are historical, political and economic forces at work behind these historic food choices.  In the case of traditional Irish cuisine, the staple food items have one thing in common:  they are cheap, and have historically been known as the food of the poor.  This extends to preparation methods, which tend to be primitive (i.e. boiling meat and potatoes).

As the Irish migrated to America, traditional Irish peasant foods became Americanized in the larger East Coast cities, mainly New York.  Most Irish ate pork and lamb in their homeland, but beef would have been beyond their means.  When they arrived in mid-19th century America, beef would have been more plentiful.  Picking up the practice of salt-curing, or “corning,” their beef from neighbors such as Jews, the Irish could then substitute the corned beef in place of pork in dishes with cabbage or potatoes.

Here in Richmond, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with traditional Irish food and, hopefully, a pint or two of Guinness:

*  Church Hill Irish Festival – The city’s oldest and most traditional Irish festival, celebrated in Church Hill, where Richmond’s Irish have lived and worshipped for over a century.  March 22 and 23.

*  Shamrock the Block – Long-running festival with food, music and beer.  This year’s festival will feature expanded entertainment options for families and children.  Sat., March 15.

*  Shockoe Fest – The new kid on the block, Shockoe Fest was formed to offer a St. Patrick’s celebration in the traditional Shockoe Bottom neighborhood.  Bands, beer, food and a Kid Zone promise a fun-filled day.  Sat., March 15.

Also, if you’ve never checked out the city’s plethora of Irish restaurants, be sure to stop by one of these:

*  Sine Irish Pub & Restaurant – Located in historic Shockoe Slip, Sine is a mainstay for quick business lunches, casual dinners out and a traditional pub atmosphere after dark.  On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, guests enjoy complimentary entertainment.  The interior is reminiscent of a Dublin pub, and the food is delicious, especially the Fish n’ Chips, Shepherd’s Pie and Bangers & Mash.

*  McCormack’s Irish Pub – This Shockoe Bottom pub has live music many nights of the week, pub food and brews on tap.  Stop in on a Sunday evening for HorrorSundays and watch vintage horror movies on the pub’s tv’s.

*  Rare Olde Times Public House – A West End pub started by a chef and Dublin native who relocated to Virginia, Rare Olde Times opened in 1994.  Traditional Irish musical entertainment, great food and a wide variety of beers make for a fun and friendly pub experience.

*  Keagan’s Irish Pub & Restaurant – Upscale Irish food and brews in Short Pump.  Keagan’s has creative menu options, like their award-winning Wicklow Wings with your choice of sauce, Donegal Bay Mussels and Irish Chicken Boxty.  Both local and imported beers are available at Keagan’s.

*  O’Toole’s Restaurant & Pub – Richmond’s oldest Irish restaurant and pub, O’Toole’s has been in operation for over 47 years.  From traditional pub fare to pasta and American bar standby’s, as well as brunch, O’Toole’s has repeatedly been voted Richmond’s best Irish restaurant.

Wherever and however you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, don’t forget to say “Slainte!”

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