Pandemic Cuisine in Northern Ireland

A common misconception about modern Northern Ireland is focused on the limitations of the region’s cuisine. Although Northern Ireland does reflect its relative historical isolation within its culinary heritage, to believe that local cuisine has remained stagnant in recent years would lead you to miss one of the most underappreciated culinary evolutions in Europe. Currently, Northern Ireland plays host to two restaurants with Michelin Stars, and a significant group of others winning the praise of Michelin Bib Gourmand ratings. Even more consequential is the fact that many of these eateries primarily feature local ingredients and honor the culinary traditions of Northern Ireland. These restaurants have earned international recognition for turning a humble cuisine into offerings tourists will travel across the world to eat.
A great disappointment of living in Belfast during a global pandemic has been missing out on these culinary offerings. But out of this disappointment has grown one of the major highlights of my time in Northern Ireland – becoming completely dependent on the native goods of Ireland to build a completely local diet. Now, this might sound complicated during a pandemic – we typically imagine truly local produce as being scarce and expensive – obstacles that might be magnified during lockdowns and periods of social distancing. However, with many of the regular restaurants and farmers markets closed down, a direct to consumer wholesale market for fresh, local products has begun to flourish. It’s been so successful, that I haven’t stepped foot in a supermarket my entire time in Belfast. Instead, I get a fresh collection of everything I could want, from produce to meats and dairy, delivered via no-contact carrier straight to my door.
Now there are challenges, especially to a palate that has been trained to think it sustainable to be eating pineapple in January and root vegetables in July. If I’m going to eat and experience the foods of Ireland, that just isn’t going to happen. Instead, I’ve been challenged to expand my palate, and my culinary skills, to incorporate products and foods that I haven’t used before. For reference, without the ability to sit down at one of Northern Ireland’s fine restaurants to taste their food myself, I’ve relied on local food programs and books from the library to build an anthropology of the culinary heritage. My experience has gone beyond just eating well, and moved into learning about the history of the island of Ireland in a way I would not expected to.
I by no means can recreate anything close to the dishes you’d find at one of Michael Deane’s various eateries in Belfast, but the challenge of embracing my surroundings – not just academically, but culturally – has been one of the most fulfilling experiences being in Northern Ireland has offered. I look forward to continuing these practices in the next place I find myself while cherishing all the dishes from Northern Ireland I’ve come to love.

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