Jan 7, 2016

Fast Food Trend Watch: Ireland's Spice Bag

It usually takes generations of cooking tradition passed down from chef to chef before a type of cuisine becomes a staple of a nation’s diet. For the humble spice bag, it took less than 18 months.

Amazingly, the country that once had to cast their votes to keep the once loved but recently overlooked spice burger in supply, rallied behind a mystery bag of spicy goodness earning it more critical acclaim than season three of The Wire.

But just what is a spice bag? What secrets are behind the delicious taste and where on Earth did it come from?

What is a Spice Bag?

It hasn’t got its place in the Webster dictionary yet, but when it does, the spice bag will be defined as follows: a combination of fried chicken pieces and chips shaken in spice, served in a bag.

The chicken can be battered, or in chicken ball (ed. note: Irish and UK speak for popcorn chicken) form and a spice bag can sometimes contain some red or green peppers in the mix. Regardless, the true spice bag needs to be served in a foil or paper bag.

The side order of curry dipping sauce sometimes served with the spice bag is unnecessary as the spices infused in the bag are enough to ignite a supernova of flavor on the tongue.

The aforementioned ingredients served in a box or a tray is a completely different thing – replicas should not be entertained.

What’s the appeal?

The rise in the spice bag's popularity comes down to three factors: price, portion size, and word of mouth.

Price: Before we even consider the practice of chippers (ed. note - Irish and UK speak for french fry shops) undercutting each other, the spice bag usually sits between the affordable €5 and €6 mark ($5.40 to $6.48).

Portion size: Not quite a full portion of chips nor a full serving of fried chicken, the spice bag offers a mix of two meals without leaving the eater too full. It’s also the perfect size for a side order.

Accessibility:  It’s easy to say, it's a novelty to add to your normal order, and hearing someone endorse something called a "spice bag" with a straight face simply can't be ignored.


According to the chronicles of Twitter, it all began in Bagenalstown Co. Carlow, in December 2013.

What followed over the next six months was the type of news pattern that typically follows a UFO sighting in a sci-fi film.

Bewildered social posts appeared, scattered at first but coalescing into a pattern before finally emerging as a trend.  It went something like this: "Lads, I’ve just had something called a Spice Bag," then 'People in the queue at the chipper were asking about that Spice Bag thing again," before finally leading to "I'd sell my own sister for a Spice Bag right now."

One version of the backstory has the shaken bag of chicken, spice, and chips originating in Stoneybatter, Dublin. This has become an unpopular theory in recent times, with the East coast mythology now being retold as “Oh no, I said I've heard the best Spice Bag comes from Stoneybatter."

Is the mainstream next? 

No one is above the Spice Bag. Unlike the battered burger before it, the spice bag is not associated with a lower standing in society, nor is its existence unwanted in any way. People are either simply in love with the spice bag or are intrigued by it.

I’m not suggesting you should pin a medal on the spice bag (although it was voted Ireland's favorite dish at the 2015 National Takeaway Awards), or put it in line for a Nobel Peace Prize (yet), but after looking, tasting, and experiencing the spice bag, it's hard not to admire all that has been accomplished by such a simple bag of fast food.

Seeing as the spices tend to be chili and lime based (ed. note - it counts as Chinese food in Ireland apparently), it's quite easy to imagine a fast food giant such as KFC or Popeyes commandeering a version of the spice bag to call their own. KFC in particular seems eager to experiment with new and "exotic" flavors, trying ideas such as spicy Thai chicken and rice combos as well as tacos and wraps, which add a bit of non-American inspiration to their traditional recipe. So, if you don’t fancy a trip to the Emerald Isle, you might not have to wait too long until the spice bag (or if KFC get their way, a "spice box") comes your way.


Guest post by Sean Markey. Sean hails from Ireland where he likes nothing more than to relax on the couch with a pizza, some beers and a monster movie DVD. He likes to write about these experiences for the website Geek Ireland.

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