I'm on a streak of writing about food and after listing my newly acquired Irish eating habits, and letting you know about some relatively unkown facts about Venezuelan food, I started to think about the many ingredients that we share and I realized that there are lots of Latin American ingredients that are iconic in Irish food.
Some of them are probably no surprise, but you'll see a few unexpected apperances...
1. Tomatoes: A must-have of the irish breakfast, this fruit (yes fruit) was once thought to be poisonous. Grown first in Central America and western South America, it was already in the Aztecs' diet around 500 BC. It arrived to Europe around the XVI century and slowly grew on the local palates.
The Irish way: As mentioned, rosted in the Irhish breakfast, but also in salads (everyone seems to love the cherry tomatoes) and rolls.
2. Turkey: This bird, native to forest of the north of Mexico and the United States is one of the most popular poultry options (I'd say the second best seller, after chicken) and also, one of the most awkwardly named creatures you can eat: Europeans who discovered tought it was some sort of guineafowl, which they usually got from Turkey (the country). Then they started calling it "Turkey fowl" and then just "Turkey". By the way, in Turkey (the country), this bird is called "Indian" (perhaps in relation to its original French name coq d'Inde or rooster of India, which makes sense as Europeans kind of though America was India when they first arrived), and Indians (the people) call Turkey (the bird) "Peru". In Peru (the country), the bird is called "Pavo".
The Irish way: The ultimate diet meat, as it's lean and has lower calories than other meats. Have it in wraps and multigrain sambos, or go classic, and serve it Thanksgiving-style (more American than Irish but relatively popular here anyway) with stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Serve it differently:
3. Cocoa: Despite popular belief, cocoa -which as you know is the main ingredient of chocolate- wasn't originated in Mexico (although you have to give it to the Aztecs, they were the ones that made it a big deal for the first time), but in the Amazon region in South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil). It made its way to what's now Mexico and then Spanish conquistadors took it back home where, unlike the tangy and bushy tomato, it became an instant hit.
The Irish way: The Irish are obsessed with chocolate. Every occasion has its own shape to eat it: Valentines's Day (red heart shaped), then Easter (egg shaped), then Mothers' Day (pink heart shaped), Halloween (spooky themes shaped) and of course, Christmas (rose shaped for some reason). Besides that, it's used for all types of sweets and confectionery such as chocolate digestive biscuits, rocky roads, brownies, etc.
4. Corn: a.k.a. Maize, this grain was domesticated in Mesoamerica during prehistoric times, it is kown to have been eaten at least 7000 ago in Mexico. It was so important that it became part of people's identity in many Mesoamerican cultures. The Mayans even believed that they were literally made from corn.
The Irish way: Almost exclusively two varieties: sweetcorn and popcorn. It is enjoyed mixed with tuna (really?) and in sandwiches and rolls (no self-respecting deli is complete without this ingredient). The popcorn type is commonly eaten not just in the movies, but as a prepacked snack in several flavours (lovely!), seen as a lighter alternative to chips.
Which takes me to...
5. Potatoes: I can't imagine Irish food without the potato. Which makes it easy to imagine it has a legendary Celtic origin or that ancient tribes harvested it and discovered its many uses. But in reality, the spud is Peruvian (and from the north of Bolivia) and it was cultivated at least 2.500 years ago (some say 10.000) by native peoples. It arrived to Europe through Spain in the XVI century and a few decades after it was growing in Ireland.
Its lower spoilage rate compared to other foods, its cheapness and its filling quality made it one of the main produces in the island. With millions of people eventually becoming dependent on the potato for food, and due to economic and socio-political circunstances unable to feed from anything else, the mid XIX century potato blight was devastating in the country.
More than a hundred years have passed and even though it will never be forgotten, things have change, happily for the best. And even though today, you can find food from all over the world in Ireland, the simple potato is still the most popular ingredient around.
The Irish way: Crisps, chips, smashed, baked, roasted, stuffed, in wedges, just the skins with bacon and cheese... (I'm starting to feel like Bubba from Forest Gump when he talks about shrimps)... It's only a matter of time to have potato ice cream and smoothies.
6. Vanilla: You hear things like "French Vanilla", "Madagascar Vanilla" and "Tahitian Vanilla", so you might think that it's original from some of these places. But nop. It's Mexican, and its name means "small pod" ("vaina" is Spanish for "pod"). By the way, normally you see it as an extract or with luck, as thin black sticks, but it comes from an orchid (V. Planifolia). By now you won't be surprised if I tell you it was cultivated by the Aztecs and briught to Europe by the Spanish, but it might shock you that the majority of the vanilla-things you eat are actually flavour with artificial substitutes, as real vanilla is the third most expensive spice in the world (topped by cardamom and saffron). So if you want the real vanilla, check your ingredient list carefully and be prepared to pay.
The Irish way: A touch of vanilla syrup in coffee, or as flavour in custards, ice creams and sweet creams... Prety much the standard global way to use vanilla, though.
7. Peanuts: The most popular nut in the world, which is actually a legume, was domesticated and cultivated first in North Western Argentina (some say Bolivia, proably both as there were no borders in prehistory but that is not of my business).
The Irish way: Peanuth butter bonanza! Smooth, crunchy, organic, with chocolate... in here, people literally buy it in buckets for home consumprtion (well, not everyone, but I see them in shops not meant for wholesaling so). Also salted or cevered in flavours.
8. Pecans: These tasty nuts come from the North of Mexico and the South of the United States. Both countries are still the biggest producers nowadays.
The Irish way: You'll find it on plenty of confectionery (commonly mixed with maple syrup) and salads. Sometimes if you're fancy, with turkey (the bird) or chicken.
The next two are not as traditionally popular in Ireland, but they are very trendy, widely available and I decided to include them in the list because they are tasty, healty and becoming bigger as I write.
8. Avocados: With the scientific name of Persea americana, it is clear that this green fruit (yup, just like the tomato, so basically guacamole = fruit salad) comes from the "new world", more especifically, from East-Central Mexico. Oldest evidence of avocados in the area are up to 10.000 years old.
The Irish way: Try to find a brunch menu in Dublin without Avocado on Toast, come on, I dare you. Besides that, lots of burrito places have it as guacamole, and some healthy delis offer it as well. It's becoming more and more popular by the day.
10 Quinoa: This grain that is actually a pseudo-cereal (what's with this deceiving food pretending to be vegetables and nuts and grains?) which originated in the Andean region (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia). Depending on who you ask, it's been known between 3.000 and 7.000 years ago. Since it's filled with most nutrients than other grains (or psuedo-grains), and it's very versatile (kind of like couscous), it is becoming a very popular ingredient, especially for the health and nutrition oriented foodies.
The Irish way: Find it at an absurdly expensive price in health shops and healthy restaurants. Commonly served in salads.
Again, some of them come as no surprise, but I find really cool that lots of Latin American ingredients have become part of the Irish diet and tradition, some recently, some centuries ago.
And they are all so tasty and good for you! Yummy :D