You know when a cliché is so overused that you end up being quite sure that not only it isn’t true at all but possibly it never was?
Chances are, you’re wrong.
The Great Irish Potato Famine sounds a bit funny to our modern, potato-sated ears. For some reason, the potato has a comical element to it, even in the rare cases* when it has not grown into a rude and amusing shape. Mister Potato Head is a perfect example of the exploitation of this poor unsuspecting tuber for comical devices. And yet, the great famine was a terrible terrible thing and it seems to have left quite a mark, not just on the population – even with the years of Celtic Tiger immigration, the national population of Ireland is still lower than before the famine – but also on the diet of the Irish people.
I guess the British also suffer from advanced potatophilia, but I must say that I have never seen quite such an insistence on eating at least one potato-based product with absolutely everything than I have in Ireland. Including as a side-dish to other potato-based products.
My work canteen, for example, although admittedly hardly a reference in terms of originality, will quite happily serve up a Spanish tortilla (so, basically a potato omelet) with a side dish of potato cubes, or mashed potato – served with the obligatory ice-cream scooper of course. A gnocchi-based dish or a fish cake will also warrant the question “do you want chips with that?”. No, actually, I don’t. That’s potato with potato. That’s DAFT. Say that out loud and you’ll get a funny look from the canteen staff.
That said, they have also been known to offer pasta as a side dish with lasagna. I have yet to check if they will do you a side of rice with a risotto, but I wouldn’t put it past them. This silly repetitiveness set aside, I must say that nothing completely freaks me out like the waiter in a Chinese restaurant asking you if you want chips or rice with your chicken chow mein. You can’t have chips with Asian food, it’s just wrong! Why not spread ketchup on your sushi or serve your spring rolls with a nice yorkshire pudding and some gravy while you’re at it? WRONG, dammit!
Crisps are pretty much everywhere as well, and to someone who has live in France for so long, a country whose range of crisp flavours extends all the way from the exotic ready salted to… well, maybe the outrageously daring barbecue** at a push, and where crisps are really only seen as picnic food or aperitif nibbles, the amount of crisps the Irish eat is quite staggering. There are crisps in vending machines for heaven’s sake! That’s taking up space where you could put more chocolate! What is wrong with you people!
That said, both Brits and Irish eat incredible quantities of chocolate too, compared to the French, who have only recently discovered the existence of the 5th Holy Chocolate Bar (Mars, Twix, Snickers, Lion, KitKat) and remain blissfully ignorant of the infinite range of choccy treats that you can find in any British or Irish newsagent’s. Actually, I’m surprised that we haven’t yet found a product that combines both chocolate and potato for the ultimate snack. I’m fairly sure that if we did, the world might just end.
“And thus, did man combine the humorously lumpy fruit of the earth and the creamed beans of the cocoa tree, and the Lord cast his eye upon the result, and said unto Man: ‘Bugger this for a lark, now you’re just being silly. Time to start over I think…’ And so the Lord did cause the Earth to explode like a Mythbusters Special, just for The Fun Of It. Then the Lord did snack upon the Chocotato, and it was good, but he did then rest for a day or two, for, lo! it was Mighty Hard To Digest.”
*If one is to believe the statistics of local papers, only one root vegetable in 3.5 billion is not a rude and amusing shape and/or record-breaking size. Either this is true, or the journalists of these papers have very dirty minds, a lack of original ideas, and teeny tiny… rulers.
**Also known as “the other flavour”