Travel to Ireland on a plate – Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at home with a traditional Full Irish Breakfast
[Editor’s note: I have had two incredible opportunities for extended stays in Ireland: first, in 2002 with a work visa, and again from 2003-2004 as a student at University College Dublin. This week I thought it would be fun to change gears a little with a few stories from my time on the Emerald Isle. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!]
I grew up in a family that strongly identified as Irish-American. In fact it took me years to puzzle out how we could be both fresh off the boat and long time residents of the neighborhood we lived in. I am pretty sure that my maternal grandfather spent his free time imagining himself to be John Wayne’s character in The Quiet Man. It didn’t take much encouragement to get him going on the subject (even less now) and when he talked about thatched roofs and stone walls I hung on every word. On St. Patrick’s Day we adorned ourselves in green, and ate corned beef, while listening to James Galway and The Chieftains sing A Nation Once Again.
I arrived in Dublin for the first time a few months before my twentieth birthday. The hostel I booked turned out to be just slightly off the beaten path. It was housed in a brick building that shared walls with two more brick buildings and so on along a wide street that ran north and south. The building may have been older than any I had spend a night in before, certainly older than the 1920’s home I grew up in. A few steps up from an uneven sidewalk, its entrance was marked with a iconic lacquered door. I heaved my over-packed luggage through the heavy door and checked in at the desk.
The hostel was clean and modestly furnished. Its hallways had a mild but distinctive chemical odor though they didn’t seem to be newly repainted. I was the sole resident of a room that slept four and had an attached bathroom. I didn’t realize it at the time but, in the hosteling world, this was fairly luxurious accommodation. The room had all stone walls and was mostly below street level, despite the bright white paint it was dim and slightly damp. It was utterly perfect.
Despite a head foggy with jet lag and feeling completely disoriented in my new surroundings I was eager to get back out on the street and explore. Stepping on to O’ Connell Street for the first time, even before learning about the events of the past, I could feel history emanating from the buildings.
Among the first things I noticed was the distinct change that happens when crossing from the North side to the South side over the O’ Connell Street Bridge. The North side is a little rougher around the edges, not quite as polished. The South side seems a little brighter and the shops look a little newer. I later learned that there are social and political layers to living on either the north or south side of the city. Traveling south from the O’ Connell Street Bridge I passed the picturesque College Green entrance to Trinity College bustling with students much more focused on academics than I was at the time. A bit further I encountered the statue of Miss Molly Malone. One of Dublin’s most forlorn folk characters made famous by her woeful song she is affectionately known as The Tart with the Cart. – I can’t imagine why…
I was pretty hungry by the time I reached the bottom of Grafton Street where the road becomes pedestrian only and the pavement fashionably transitions to brick. Grafton Street is traditionally home to Dublin’s higher end shopping – though this was changing at that time. I strolled past shops with mannequins wearing Spring fashions that had not yet arrived in my corner of the U.S. At the top of Grafton Street is St. Stephen’s Green Shopping Center – a mall. It was a familiar oasis in my new surroundings.
I wandered around inside the shopping center looking for a place to eat a late lunch. I don’t think it is still there but on the top floor I stepped into Bewley’s Cafe. Perhaps best known for their tea I was happy to find their cafe was still serving breakfast food at around two in the afternoon. The food was served cafeteria style by quick tongued men in chef’s whites. It wasn’t the accent that threw me, though it did ring funny in my jet-lagged ears, I simply didn’t recognize the words for the food.
Did I want rashers? What in the world is a rasher? It looks like a thin wrinkled pork chop.
Pudding? I’m pretty sure that is not what Bill Cosby endorsed.
Tomatoes? Beans? For breakfast? Umm…
Tea? maybe but… oh you mean there is only one choice? yes…?
I was hungry and exhausted. So, I went down the line with a plastic tray and took whatever was offered. I wanted to blend in and act natural even though I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I managed to navigate myself and my tray over to a table by the large windows. Spring sunlight pooled down onto my plate as I took my first bites of food in my new city. From three floors above the street I watched as people went about their day. They meandered up and down the street, in and out of shops and loaded their children and shopping onto buses. I wondered if I would meet any of them in the days and weeks to come.
As I ate I learned many new things. Irish sausages are mushy, rashers are super thick cuts of bacon and utterly AMAZING, beans in a tomato based sauce are not my favorite, and pudding is an even mushier sausage and really best pushed to the side of the plate. I also discovered that I take my tea white with no sugar – because I am sweet enough already.
Lightened Full Irish Breakfast
Traditionally a very meat-centric offering this slimmed down version highlights my favorite components. Skipping most of the meat in a traditional Full Irish Breakfast also cut most of the calories. The flavors and textures remain as does the stomach filling volume but the threat of an immediate coronary attack is significantly reduced.
Bacon Rashers are fantastically amazing but sadly I have not even found them in my little corner of the universe. To make an Irish breakfast at home in the U.S. I used Canadian Bacon. Though not quite the same an ounce of Canadian Bacon is around 60 calories and under 3 grams of fat. Read the labels to be sure. The variety I grabbed came in at 60 calories, 1.5 g of fat, 10 g of protein, and 1 g. carbs.
Adjust the quantity of food for the number of people to be served.
- Halve several medium sized tomatoes and place flat side down on a hot grill or griddle prepped with a little non-stick cooking spray.
- Wash and halve a whole mess of white mushrooms – I used 1/3 of a pound per person then add to the same hot pan.
- Season the mushrooms with salt and your favorite to-go herb blend – like McCormick Perfect Pinch Italian
- Let the tomatoes cook on the grill until they are warmed through and stir the mushrooms to get nice and browned.
- When the tomatoes are warmed remove from pan and keep them warm in a low oven until ready to serve. Cook the Canadian Bacon slices where the tomatoes were cooking – the mushrooms will continue cooking.
- In a separate pan cook desired number of eggs – scrambled, sunny, or poached eggs are all appropriate.
- Toast some of your favorite bread and once everything is all cooked serve it up hot