Friday, 8 April 2016

Meal 59. Northern Irish Ulster Fry (Brunch)

Fried in generous amounts of Irish butter
This is the first brunch in the history of this blog project. Douglas (or Dr. Doug, as I like to call him) kindly offered this Ulster Fry as the most typical Northern Irish meal, saying most other meals he likes cooking from 'back home' are indistinguishable from just Irish (i.e. Republic of Ireland) meals. And it fits with the (relatively new) tradition of him coming to the house I share with Dr. John to make us breakfast on weekends, something I wholeheartedly support.
Doug, consciously wearing a green t-shirt this morning, regularly ate Ulster Fry while growing up, apparently one of the few meals his dad would be happy to get involved with! It is traditionally a smorgasbord of carbs and saturated fats, featuring potato bread, soda bread, pork sausages, bacon, black pudding, white pudding and eggs, all fried in the famous Irish tea or coffee and some orange juice to cut through the grease. When asked if anything like the 'English breakfast' staples baked beans, stewed tomatoes or mushrooms make an appearance, Doug faux shudders and exclaims:"No, no, no. You can't have anything healthy in there!" With a straight face he then tells us that the portable defibrillator was developed in Northern Ireland to come to the rescue when people have heart attacks while having fatty breakfasts at home. The first part is indeed true (and a nice bit of trivia I can throw around next time I meet a doctor from Belfast). Though this meal doesn't seem conducive to good cardiovascular health, the stats actually show that Northern Ireland is roughly on par with England; within the UK it is Scotland that has significantly higher levels of heart disease.
One of the unique properties of Ulster Fry is that it all goes in one pan, apart from the eggs, which are fried up last.
Adding the bacon rashers...
The topic moves from death and disease to politics...Doug grew up near Belfast and went to school there, Ulster's biggest city, but as he was still very young when the Troubles ended, he implies it has not affected his life all that much. Though he can easily tell you which neighbourhoods (and names) are typically Catholic or Protestant, he went to a 'mixed' school and said there were definitely lots of friendships and relationships 'across the divide.' He feels the sense of difference or enmity that still remains is largely class dependent. Apart from reading a few novels about the topic many years ago, I really do not know much about the issues. Now I learn Ulster is one of the four historical provinces or kingdoms of Ireland (with Munster, Leinster and Connacht) which are now mainly used as divisions for rugby teams. Historical Ulster fits roughly with the current boundaries of Northern Ireland. It is interesting to hear Doug's synopsis of the roots of the Troubles: that Ulster was the most difficult province to control for the British government, so they consciously 'planted' lots of English settlers and gave them the best agricultural land...which sowed the seeds of future discord, leading to the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule, exactly 100 years ago (the Dublin memorial this Easter was still a bit contentious). This uprising paved the way for Irish independence a few years later.

Heapings of black pudding and potato bread in the foreground
Doug feels keenly that he has been unable to procure the most typically Northern Irish ingredient of all, the soda bread. However, he scored some top notch branded potato bread from famous chef Paul Rankin, who went to school with Doug's father (just to prove the point it is a small place). The packaging of this 90% potato based bread actually advertises a competition to "Win a Food Break to Belfast!", as it appears Northern Ireland is celebrating 2016 as the Year of Food and Drink. So having this blog entry now is very appropriate, despite neither Doug or I being aware of the fact! Belfast is apparently becoming a bit of a foodie capital, although Doug claims most people there still think the word espresso has an x in it!
The flux between Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is fascinating, with a special national anthem commissioned for the Irish Rugby team, which includes players from the whole island. As well - spooked by the impending Brexit - Doug has recently been able to acquire the Irish nationality to twin with his British one. I am proud to say I helped out by authenticating his photos for him, which I was allowed to do as an officially trustworthy veterinarian with a business card and work phone number. A nice touch was the colour of the, of course!
Clockwise from top: fried egg, black pudding, bacon, potato bread and pork sausage. Yum!

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