Irish novelist James Joyce often referenced food in his writings so what would the writer of the book Ulysses have eaten today?
Throughout James Joyce's epic novel of 18 episodes, Joyce makes reference frequently to food but what was the author's relationship with food and just what would Leopold Bloom, his main character, have eaten today?
Joyce's early years reveal his taste in food
In 1902, Joyce left for Paris to study medicine, and letters he penned home reveal enjoyment for food and drink but he had little time for "vegetable philosophy."
In a letter to his father John Stanislaus Joyce, dated December 3, 1902, he writes from his residency at the Grand Hotel Corneille of “a déjeuner of seven courses today," according to The Irish Times.
A few months later, perhaps with finances becoming a bit strained he declared: “so much saved!” appearing to suggest that the effect of one big meal would last a while.
Surely a traditional Sunday Irish roast would tick the right boxes!
In another letter days later, he mentions breakfast costing three pence; déjeuner (soup, meat, dessert, and coffee) for eight or ninepence; and dinner (soup, fish, meat, vegetables, dessert, and coffee) for one shilling.
Black coffee with sugar
He described liking black coffee with sugar, which he suggested helped him cope with the weather.
We think Joyce wouldn’t be one for a Starbucks cold brew frappuccino but might enjoy a good old Americano if he were alive today!
Damn the vegetable philosophy!
Joyce also ranted about the Rev Joseph Darlington, one of his philosophy lecturers at UCD, George Russell, and Joyce’s college pal, the writer Francis Skeffington, the latter two both non-meat eaters.
“So damn Russell,” wrote Joyce giving vent to his own frustrations, “damn Yeats, damn Skeffington, damn Darlington, damn editors, damn free-thinkers, damn vegetable verse, and double damn vegetable philosophy!
Vegetarian or vegan meals we think not!
Food in James Joyce's Ulysses plays an important role
Throughout Ulysses, food plays an important role in revealing characters' personalities. Food and its consumption receive a complex and subtle significance reflecting social class and temperament, and offering opportunities for interaction.
It symbolizes sex, and its rituals are interwoven with culture, customs, and values.
Joyce also uses food to raise questions of self-identity, individual frustration, and alienation, family, love, and behavior, nationalism, and religion.
Food plays a part in explaining one’s daily life, future plans, and fantasies.
Leopold Bloom is introduced as a man of appetite
We are first introduced to Leopold Bloom in Ulysses as he is preparing a simple breakfast of bread and butter on a “humpy tray” for Molly, and his mind wanders to meals that he himself knows and admires.
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.
He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes.
Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
This recipe could be conveyed today as fried liver slices with crust crumbs and bacon as featured in The Joyce of Cooking, by Alison Armstrong.
We're sure Joyce would give it five stars!
There are many variations of an Irish stew from Guinness vegetarian stew (which wouldn't be top of Joyce's list) to Clodagh McKenna’s Irish lamb stew with pearl barley recipe which we think Joyce would really appreciate.
Davy Byrnes Pub’s Gorgonzola Sandwich
Davy Byrnes Pub has been a Dublin landmark since opening in 1889 and a world literature landmark since Leopold Bloom stopped in for lunch on June 16, 1904.
Bloom orders a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy while wandering through the streets of Dublin.
“Mr. Bloom ate his stripes of sandwich, fresh clean bread, with relish of disgust, pungent mustard, the feety savour of green cheese.
Sips of his wine soothed his palate ... After all there’s a lot in that vegetarian fine flavour of things from the earth.”
The Gorgonzola Sandwich is still on the menu and we're sure Joyce would still savor one today.
* Originally published in 2019, updated in 2023.