I overheard a group of French people in a Dublin bar recently discussing Ireland's horrendous food culture and found myself seriously having to bite my tongue. Just as I was about to jump in and spout some outrage, I realised what the crux of their argument was – and they had a point.
"Les Irelandais mange rien que des chicken fillet rolls".
The conversation went on for several minutes as the member of the crew who lived in Ireland explained how we all queued up in shops for chicken fillet rolls. He talked about how it couldn't possibly have been real chicken at that price, how the frozen bread was never fully cooked, that most people threw grated plastic cheese on top and even (shock horror!) 'stuffing'.
My mood changed from anger to one of grudging acceptance. No matter how far we've come in the last decade, the simple fact is that a large percentage of us Irish feed ourselves at deli counters, where much of the produce is frozen and the chicken is imported from the other side of the world.
But change is afoot and it comes not in the form of Irish cuisine, but rather an imported Mexican trend. Our local Mexican spots take huge inspiration from the US chain Chipotle and their meteoric rise in the fast casual market.
If you think the fast casual Mexican trend will pass again soon, think again. I personally know of more than 50 new outlets opening across the country.
As I sat eating my burrito today in the brand new Zambrero (excellent by the way), I marvelled at the queue snaking out the door. The same sort of queue that snakes out of Boojum down the road every single day, but this one was dotted with young professionals rather than students.
Whatever the queue, whatever the location, it's safe to say that the burrito is the new chicken fillet roll for Irish millennials.
There is of course some logic to all of this. I'd see three main factors at work here...
- Slightly more spare cash after a bitter recession.
- Most of the country becoming obsessed with healthy eating.
- More foreigners and travel helping expand tastebuds.
Have a look around most burrito joints and you'll see buff gym goers eating black rice and the weight conscious watching their diet with salad bowls. The real appeal with this sort of food is there is something for everybody, including the gluttons like myself who want the double guac, cheese and everything else that can physically squeeze in.
I think back to the French guy taking the piss out of our cuisine and, I'm sorry, but I have to agree with him. It's time we set it aside and let the burrito take it's place on the pedestal, who's with me?