(Although any country that gives you the choice "rice or chips?" when ordering Chinese food is the country for me.)
While it may not have a world-renowned culinary tradition, it does have a whole slew of Irish-made food products easily found in any grocery store that I have come to love.
In no particular order, here are my top ten:
1. Lifeforce Muesli
I've always been a hot breakfast kind of gal, but this muesli is winning me over.
You don't even have to eat one full bowl to stay completely full until lunchtime. It's packed with nuts (including whole hazelnuts, my favorite) and dried fruit. The dryness of the oats forces me to eat it more slowly than I would eat toast or a bagel, my historical go-to breakfasts, which is probably a healthier way to eat!
2. Wexford Irish Cheddar
In the States, the strength of cheddar is described by its "sharpness," but over here it's based on a "maturity" scale, which for some reason I find kind of funny. I buy mature Wexford Irish Cheddar and it is sooo good.
3. Tayto Crisps
This is a universally loved brand here - a lot of childhood memory and Irish pride seems to be behind people's affection for Tayto.
I don't even know if a "plain" flavor exists; the default is Cheese & Onion. When Lina and Brittany were here they tried them and loved them, saying the flavoring was heavier on the onion than the cheese, the opposite of American versions of the same flavor.
4. McCambridge Bread
There are many Irish bread brands I could rave about, and I could write a whole post about the difference between American and Irish sandwich breads, but it's McCambridge's that makes the cut for this list.
Toast it, and the whole house smells nutty and warm. Hummus, peanut butter, jam, butter, Nutella - anything tastes delicious on these tiny (about 3" x 5") slices.
5. Ballymaloe Relish
Kev brought me a jar of this stuff on one of his visits to the States two years ago, and for some reason I refused to try it. It sat in my fridge until it went bad, and then I tossed it.
This was an abominably poor decision on my part, because it's actually fantastic!
It's sort of like a tomato chutney, and when paired with McCambridge Bread and Wexford Irish Cheddar (see above), it's quite a party. It's made at the famous Ballymaloe cooking school in Co. Cork.
6. Mi Wadi
Mi Wadi comes in lots of different flavors, but Blackcurrant is the most popular.
It's a concentrated syrup that you dilute with water to your own taste.
You can even order pints of this stuff in pubs.
7. Barry's and Bewley's tea
I think Ireland consumes the highest amount of tea per capita than any other country in the world.
Ever since I first visited Ireland, Barry's has been my (and most people's) black tea of choice.
This fall though, Danny brought a box of Bewley's into the house...and I think it might be taking the top spot.
8. Jacob's Cream Crackers
I don't know what makes these so good. They're not salty or flavored in any particular way. It must be a texture thing. And it seems strange to describe a dry cracker as creamy, but they are, somehow!
I've never been a big milk drinker and I come from a pretty soy-heavy household, but I can't resist the milk over here.
It's so tasty, so fresh, and I feel much better drinking it knowing it comes from happy cows rather than from the gross American factory process!
10. Tesco Houmous
So I've left this one for last because it's not actually Irish, sorry sorry!
Tesco is a British supermarket with many outlets in Ireland - my nearest big grocery store is a Tesco, and that's where I buy everything else on this list. And man oh man, this houmous (which I always spell "hummus," but it seems like any vowel combination is allowed for this word) is amazing.
I buy two big tubs of it every week, and I always run out before my next shopping trip. I dip raw veggies in it, I slather it on toast, I sometimes have the sneaky spoonful all by itself. I don't want to look at the nutritional information for fear it's in any way unhealthy, because I consume an astonishing amount of this stuff.
So there you go! It may not compete with the storied cooking traditions of other nations, but as far as snacks and comfort food go, it's hard to beat an Irish grocery store!