This has been a huge week for burgers in Ireland. Firstly, we announced the top 10 burgers in Dublin to try in 2015 and yesterday we revealed that Five Guys where opening a host of new restaurants across the capital. With all these new places in Dublin dedicated purely to serving up the humble hamburger I began tallying them up:
- McDonalds (38)
- Eddie Rockets (24)
- Burger King (19)
- Jo Burger (3)
- Gourmet Burger Kitchen (3)
- Five Guys (4 coming soon)
- Supermacs (5)
- Bobos (2)
- Bunsen (1 soon to be 2)
That's a whopping 100 burger joints in Dublin that have our population of 1.8 million spoilt for choice.
How did this happen? How did we all become Americanised? Have the CIA infiltrated us with a bunch of spooks posing as burger chefs? How did we end up with a place in rural Ireland called "Barack Obama Plaza"? The answer is actually quite simple and it can be linked to our broader history and to our pub culture. Young people are not going to the pub anymore, and indeed, Irish people in general have ditched it in their droves. People say that Dublin has a cafe culture but I think we actually have a burger culture.
To see a true cafe culture, head to Melbourne or Marrakech (I'm writing this on a plane back from there) and watch how people linger over their coffee or tea for a couple of hours, having meaningful conversations with each other. Discussing life in the same way is something that us Irish used to do in the pub. This was mainly due to the fact that pubs were the only places that stayed open late. We'd sit for hours drinking, smoking, arguing about politics and whose side we were on in the great Saipan debate. It was comfortable and familiar, a true home away from home.
Luckily Irish people have been able to slowly wean themselves off the pub, and the alternative has come in the form of burger joints. A group of mates heading for a coffee doesn't quite work here yet, but going for a big, meaty burger and a couple of craft beers seems like the perfect way to spend the evening!
Now, the negative side of all this is that Ireland could be at risk of our food culture emulating that of America. Many might say we already have our noses firmly up their arses as it is! Tourists don't come flocking here for a double cheeseburger and sweet potato fries - they're looking for trad sessions and a hearty Irish stew. If all our good looking, charming and entertaining folk are off dunking their fries in chipolte mayo who is going to provide the legendary craic that we are famous for in our pubs?
Well the good news is, that the burger generation do love a good night out. The difference being that instead of 8 pints, a packet of Marlboro Gold and a basket of sausages they are more likely to be in some up-and-coming gastropub. We tend to look at the pub scene that used to exist here through rose tinted glasses. But much of the reality was that the service was shocking, the beer expensive and the experience quite dull. You could argue for every pub closing in the suburbs these days it seems that a burger joint is opening elsewhere. People aren't going out less - they just want a better way to spend their 20 quid. For many that means chips, a burger and a beer and if you're lucky, some change left to grab a couple more to drink when you get home.
The purists will complain that we should support the pub industry; they'll also argue that supermarket discounting as well as other factors, are changing the landscape of traditional Irish culture. Some of the best nights I've ever had were in a pub having the craic with my mates. But I've also had as many tediously boring nights in a pub where you end up spending 50 quid, only had a few laughs and have a stinking hangover to ruin the next day. Personally I plan to spend more afternoons there watching sport in an atmosphere that I know can't be created at home, but it's not where I like to socialise anymore. I believe that our cafe culture will improve over the next couple of decades. In the meantime, we've gone for something in the middle - for now, we are very much The Burger Generation.