In Ireland, people don’t say How are you?, they say, What’s the story? They say, Sit down. Have a cup of tea. Come here to me, wait till I tell you. Because people want to hear the story. There’s always a story.
Ireland is a country in love with language, with words, with writing. The Long Hall in Trinity College, built in the 1700s, is one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Before the euro, there was even a writer, James Joyce, on the £10 note. In his visit to Dublin last year for his Layover TV show, Anthony Bourdain said, ‘It seems that every great poem, every great story, every great thing ever written not by a Russian was written by an Irishman. Point is, they like books around here.’
Then there’s the slang. When I moved here, not only did I have to work hard to understand the accent, but Irish slang is like a language all its own. Fourteen years later, I’m still learning. Go away out of that. I’m as sick as the plane to Lourdes. The head on him and the price of turnips. Sure this is it. I still sometimes get that panicked, apologetic smile when I haven’t quite caught someone’s meaning or the lilt of their accent and have to lean in closer while I ask them to repeat themselves.
Roddy Doyle said, ‘Dublin is the sound of people talking. Dublin city is the sound of people who love talking, people who love words, who love taking words and playing with them, twisting and bending them, making short ones longer and the long ones shorter, people who love inventing words and giving fresh meaning to old ones.’
Take this, the capital’s namesake dish: Dublin coddle. When I asked some Irish friends if anyone actually ever eats it, a born and bred Dub compared the boiled sausages you’d commonly find in it to ‘widows’ memories’ (I’ll leave that one to your imagination). It was said to be a favourite dish of Jonathan Swift and Seán O’Casey, two more wordsmiths, and James Joyce referred to it in Finnegan’s Wake (‘to cuddle up in a coddlepot’). The name of the dish itself comes from the verb coddle, which means to gently cook in liquid just below boiling, which itself comes from the word caudle, a hot drink given to the sick in the Middle Ages.
Can an expat – a blow-in no matter how long you live here, no matter how firmly you try to put your roots down since they don’t go deep – ever really know a place? The way I finally hit on was through the lens of Ireland’s food. I may not have grown up eating Dublin coddle or soda bread or seed cake, but I’m learning to love them now. I’m still trying to make this place mine, one new dish, one new word at a time: barmbrack, boxty, colcannon, coddle.
‘If you’ve got any kind of a heart, a soul, an appreciation for your fellow man, or any kind of appreciation for the written word … then there’s no way you could avoid loving this city,’ said Anthony Bourdain. Beneath its tough, gritty, ‘dirty old town’ veneer, Dublin is all heart. And the city — this country — now has mine. Come here to me and wait till I tell you.
Traditionally, Dublin coddle is made simply by throwing all the ingredients into a pot and cooking them together for hours. The result, though, isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing, or the tastiest: ‘slimy onions and slimy sausages’, as someone put it on Twitter. Even Darina Allen says in her book Irish Traditional Cooking that when cooked that way, it looks ‘distinctly unappetising (lots of chopped parsley scattered over the top would take the harm out of the sausages, which still appear to be raw)’. Like any good soup, the key to this dish is to spend a bit of time at the start by browning the sausages and onions, though apparently this step is a bit controversial. ‘The sausages are supposed to be pink and raw looking. Sorts the men from the boys,’ said Séan. ‘You browned the sausages? I heard only Protestants do that!’ said Claire. And of course, since there are so few ingredients, use the best sausages, the best bacon and the best produce you can find for some pure Dub comfort food.
olive oil or rapeseed oil
450 g (1 lb) good-quality butcher’s sausages
200 g smoked streaky bacon or rashers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 onions, sliced
450 g (1 lb) baby potatoes, halved
500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
good crusty bread, to serve
Heat a splash of olive or rapeseed oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat. Add in the sausages and cook on all sides just until they have a nice colour. Transfer them to a plate, then add the bacon and sliced onions to the pot. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions have softened and have a little colour. Add in the halved baby potatoes and transfer the sausages back to the pot, then pour over the stock. Season with some salt and pepper, but go easy on the salt because the sausages, bacon and stock will already be salty. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour, until the potatoes are cooked through. Stir through the chopped fresh parsley and ladle into soup bowls. Serve with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the broth.
If you don’t want to make Dublin coddle yourself, you can find it on the menu at these Dublin restaurants: The Gravediggers pub (aka John Kavanagh’s) in Glasnevin, Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar or The Bakehouse on Bachelor’s Walk or in the IFSC.