The following article is from contributing writer Sean Markey, an Ireland-based freelance writer
The Irish fast food industry has changed a lot in the last six months. As Ireland’s more built-up areas become increasingly melting pot-like, it was only inevitable that the emerald isle would become infused with all manner of different cultures. Of course, the most exciting thing about new cultures is the delicious new flavours that they bring with them. One of the biggest populations of ‘new Irish’ people are from China and perhaps the greatest gift the Chinese people have brought to Ireland is the spice bag.
A spice bag is a simple enough recipe containing chicken (usually shredded and lightly battered), chunky fries (known colloquially as ‘chips’) and a mixture of red and green peppers, all jumbled up together in a bag. The ‘magic’ so to speak comes from the special blend of Chinese herbs and spices which is infused liberally on all of the ingredients. While this blend differs slightly from outlet to outlet, the main ingredients are always the same; chili and salt, which gives the dish a spicy and mildly tangy flavour.
As the name implies, the spice bag is served in a paper bag, like most food purchased in Irish takeaways, for the sake of “grab and go” convenience. While generally the spice bag comes with a plastic fork for ease of eating, it is not uncommon to see people eating them with their fingers, much like how somebody would with a bag of chips (fries) – although the food is quite greasy so you’d be best off grabbing some paper towels before doing this.
The foods contained within the spice bag are all a little bit on the crispy side, so add a pleasant bit of bite without being overly crunchy. This makes the bag a popular choice among Ireland’s fast food outlets (referred to locally as ‘takeaways’), particularly on weekends when revellers are looking for something that is quick to serve, inexpensive (depending on size, spice bags costs as little as €3.50 – just under US$4 – the average McDonalds value meal in Ireland costs nearly double that) and filling to snack on post-clubbing.
Having been a relatively obscure dish until quite recently, the spice bag has become immensely popular in Ireland in the last six months and was recently voted as Ireland’s Favourite Dish at the National Takeaway Awards. Spice bags have recently started appearing in takeaways in the UK as well. With any luck, it will only be a matter of time before they cross the Atlantic and find themselves in North American eateries.
As the spice bag grows in popularity, many variations have begun to appear. For starters, many restaurants now offer the spice bag in jumbo sizes, upping it from a snack food to a full sized meal. Others change the ingredients to suit tastes. This can be as simple as exchanging the chips for potato wedges or replacing the red and green peppers with fried onion, while some more up market eateries have added sweet potato fries, squid rings and battered shrimp to the mix.
In 1997 a well-known British pop act told us to spice up our lives. Now, nearly two decades later, the people of the world are finally coming around to their line of thinking.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @soundmarkey