It can be difficult to learn about Irish culture at “Irish” pubs in the United States, where menus often mix Guinness Stout with fare like nachos and potato skins. We chat with native Dubliner chef Cathal Armstrong about ‘true’ Irish food and get a history lesson on the Irish communities that once populated the Washington region.


  • Cathal Armstrong Owner and Chef, Restaurant Eve (Alexandria, VA)
  • Jane Freundel Levey Director of Heritage Programs, Cultural Tourism DC

Related Video

Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, VA, talks about what he sees as some American misconceptions surrounding Irish food and chats about the kind of food his family ate in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day:

Armstrong cooks brined pork belly with thyme and garlic, served with pea shoots, kumquats, smoked onions, and sunchokes. After the meat has been brining for several days, Armstrong cooks the pork until the skin is slightly crispy and adds the spring vegetables, emphasizing that the dish represents a transition between winter and early spring:


  • 13:25:02

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBy this time tomorrow, pub-crawlers in Washington and throughout the United States will be celebrating St. Patrick's Day. Tipping back pints of Guinness and wolfing down plates of corn beef and cabbage. Never mind that many of these so-called St. Patrick's Day traditions come from America more than they do from Ireland.

  • 13:25:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn Ireland where it's more of a religious holiday and until recently a day when pubs shut their doors and never mind that authentic Irish cuisine resembles little of what you can find in a lot of American pubs, where menus tend to feature bizarre mixes of shepherd's pie, pulled pork barbecue and chili cheese nachos.

  • 13:25:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIToday we're exploring what Irish food and culture are really like and we're getting a history lesson on how Irish communities shaped neighborhoods here in Washington D.C. joining us in studios, Cathal Armstrong, the owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Cathal grew up in Dublin, Ireland. Good to see you again.

  • 13:25:59

    MR. CATHAL ARMSTRONGNice to see you Kojo.

  • 13:26:00

    NNAMDIAlso joining us in studios, Jane Freundel Levey, historian and director of Heritage Programs at Cultural Tourism DC. Hi, Jane, how's it going?

  • 13:26:07

    MS. JANE FREUNDEL LEVEYHi, we're doing well, thank you.

  • 13:26:09

    NNAMDICathal, I'm pretty sure that there's a t-shirt says, "Everybody is Irish on St. Patrick's Day." And in Washington D.C. people pack the pubs, they drink Guinness, the White House turns the fountain in its front yard green. The only problem seems to be that a lot of these traditions are not, well, exactly Irish. You grew up in Dublin, how would you describe the traditions your family celebrated on St. Patrick's Day and how do they compare with what you found here when you moved to the United States?

  • 13:26:37

    ARMSTRONGWell, you know, growing up St. Patrick's Day is a big religious holiday day for us. You know, St. Patrick was abducted by Nile of the nine hostages and brought to Ireland somewhere in the 4th century from possibly Britain or Wales and introduced Christianity, you know, so that's what we celebrate. Mostly it's a family day, much more like thanksgiving really than the holiday we have in America.

  • 13:27:03

    NNAMDINo big drinking, as a matter of fact, pubs were not opened until, I guess, in the 1990's on St. Patrick's Day?

  • 13:27:11

    ARMSTRONGYes, that's right and when I was a kid it was, there were no pubs open and, you know, it was really a day for family dinner at home. But a day, you know, it does fall in the middle of Lent, so we were allowed to break our Lenten vows on that one day to celebrate a little bit so always a big celebratory dinner but at home not in the pubs.

  • 13:27:29

    NNAMDISpeaking of dinner, a lot of American restaurants will try to get in on the St. Patrick's Day themes. they'll serve corn beef and cabbage, they'll make special drinks with Bailey's Irish Cream. Where did food fit into how your family recognized the holiday? As you've mentioned already and what kind of dishes were part of that celebration?

  • 13:27:46

    ARMSTRONGWell, corn beef is a funny one. there's a long and muddled history about corn beef. It was probably produced in Ireland in the 17th and 18th century but not consumed by the Irish. It would've been only, you know, because beef would've gone to the English landowners and exported much more. So Irish ate much more pork than beef through that period.

  • 13:28:10

    ARMSTRONGSo we, I never even saw corn beef when I was kid. They did have this canned thing that you put on a sandwich but rarely would it be allowed in my household. So...

  • 13:28:19

    NNAMDIYou had a spring meal?

  • 13:28:20

    ARMSTRONGThat's right. anything that would be indicative of spring, particularly lamb, you know, like lamb was probably the most common thing that we'd have.

  • 13:28:27

    NNAMDILamb roast beef, even salmon it's my understanding.

  • 13:28:30

    ARMSTRONGYes, salmon is still, you know, has great history in Ireland and still a very popular dish there for celebrations. There's one great legend about Fionn McCool who was this, the leader of Fianna, which was the army that protected the high king of Ireland. And the story about him was that he was sent to see Brendan who was this bard that lived on the banks of the river Boyne who had fished for the salmon of knowledge his entire life and, you know, quickly, the story about the salmon of knowledge was that the first to eat it would have all knowledge of foresight and would be able to cure a dying man with water from his hands.

  • 13:29:08

    ARMSTRONGAnd so Fionn was instructed by the bard not to touch the salmon when he finally caught it and bard was, Fionn was an obedient student and he watched the salmon as it cooked and this blister boiled up on the skin and he poked the blister and it burned him and he sucked his thumb like that and immediately all the knowledge passed into him and this bard's whole life that he'd spent was ruined and Fionn had all the knowledge from the salmon. So we still have legends like that in Ireland.

  • 13:29:37

    NNAMDIWhat a great story. In case you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. How do you celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Does an appreciation for how people in Ireland celebrate it fit into your tradition? 800-433-8850. You've said that one of the biggest misconceptions, and by the way, if you go to our website,, you will Cathal at work if you will, both preparing and explaining Irish cuisine. You've said that one of the biggest misconceptions about Irish food is that it's terrible. It's all boiled and inelegant and uncreative.

  • 13:30:10

    ARMSTRONGAbsolutely, you know, Ireland is an interesting country to look from a food perspective. It has the same latitude as southern parts of Alaska, as Montreal, you know, but with the Gulf Stream passing through it, it keeps the climate moderate year around, which is why it's green, you know, one of the things about Ireland, the Emerald Isle, it's green because that mild climate that we have and because of that we can grow things year around and, you know, there's tremendous, very rare need to create silage or hay to feed cattle in the winter. You know, they can be fed grass year around and lamb.

  • 13:30:50

    ARMSTRONGIt is an island nation, which of course provides a tremendous wealth of seafood, cockles and mussels of course, the famous song by Molly Malone. The Dublin Bay prawn, which you rarely find here...

  • 13:31:03

    NNAMDII love prawns.

  • 13:31:04

    ARMSTRONG...So delicious. So and if you look back at the ancient era before the British colonization of Ireland some of the food that was available then, wild boar and venison and, you know, they actually had wine and olive oil and they were making cheese in those years and there were very broad laws about honey and who owned the honey and who owned the bees in Ireland.

  • 13:31:30

    ARMSTRONGYou know, and that culture was really very prevalent until the 1600's when the colonization changed really the layout of Ireland and how the people ate. You know, the Potato Famine is such an oddity in history because you have a very wealthy, agriculturally wealthy country with people starving to death. didn't really make any sense until you, you know, venture into why and how that happened.

  • 13:31:58

    NNAMDILessons in Irish history from Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia. He grew up in Dublin, Ireland. Tell us what you think you can learn about Irish culture, if anything at all, from the Irish pubs here in the United States. Call us at 800-433-8850 and speaking of history, Jane Freundel Levey, let's talk for a minute about the evolution of Irish American culture.

  • 13:32:20

    NNAMDIThere's an Irish history behind Washington D.C. that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, partially because one of the city's most famous Irish enclaves no longer exists. What was Swampoodle and what happened to it?

  • 13:32:34

    LEVEYPoor Swampoodle...

  • 13:32:35

    NNAMDIYes, please.

  • 13:32:36

    LEVEYYes, Swampoodle was our largest Irish enclave. It developed around in the 1840s really 1850s, about the same time as the Irish famine, which sent so many immigrants to this country and it was located where Union Station is today and in the area around it. The fact that it doesn't exist mostly -- there are some remnants still if you look hard, but the fact that it doesn't exist anymore is really thanks to one of our first urban renewal projects.

  • 13:33:03

    LEVEYThis was a slum area. It was frame housing. It was not occupied by people of high social standing or political power and so when it was time to build a Union Station and especially to lay in all these railroad tracks, it was very easy to wipe it out.

  • 13:33:21

    NNAMDIWell, what can you still see of this neighborhood and the impact of the people who live there?

  • 13:33:26

    LEVEYWell, the impact of the people who live there is, unfortunately, for our topic today, kind of seen in a couple of pubs that are still just south of Union Station and they're not very Irish as we have just determined. But there are some small houses along North Capital Street, to the west of North Capital Street, going up to around K Street, that area.

  • 13:33:49

    LEVEYA lot of Swampoodle developed behind the government printing office because that was a major employer of people and, but what is, I think, the main part of Swampoodle you can see today is the St. Aloysius Church, which arrived in the 1850s following the Irish community to that part of the neighborhood.

  • 13:34:06

    NNAMDII'm thinking Gonzaga Senior High School, same area.

  • 13:34:08

    LEVEYGonzaga Senior High School is right next to St. Aloysius, it was part of the same movement to tend to the Irish community of that neighborhood. One other place you can see it too is on H Street Northeast. Because Swampoodle's boundaries, like any boundaries for any D.C. neighborhood are fluid. It depends on who you're talking to and when you're talking about it.

  • 13:34:29

    LEVEYI think traditionally Swampoodle ended at about 2nd Street Northeast, but a lot of people said, no, it went all the way over to Binning Road out H Street Northeast because we had Irish immigrants who got work in the construction trades who became very good at brick laying and built themselves a number of very nice brick houses that you can still see today along H Street. They started off as houses and then as H Street started to develop with the streetcar line, people converted the ground floor into shops. And you can still see some of those today.

  • 13:35:00

    NNAMDIGonzaga High School, which was established in the early 19th century, was a Jesuit school, but some of its more famous alumni trace their history to Ireland, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Pat Buchanan, the well-known syndicated columnist-journalist, Thomas Vincent Kelly and Michael Kelly. But it's my understanding that there was actually a baseball stadium of some sort in Swampoodle.

  • 13:35:24

    LEVEYThere was and it's been remembered as the Swampoodle Park, which is a great name. If you can visualize where the postal museum is today, right across North Capital from Union Station, that is where we understand the park was.

  • 13:35:40

    NNAMDIWho played there?

  • 13:35:41

    LEVEYIt was early, goodness, American League, I'm not sure, National League. The history of baseball is so confusing that I haven't gotten it straight yet, Kojo, I'm sorry. But because the league names all changed and they all sounded the same to me.

  • 13:35:55

    NNAMDII'm trying to figure out who exactly played there. At some point, we may find out. Cathal, food is something that was part of your home growing up in Dublin, probably more so than a lot of families, because your family grew its own fruits and vegetables and your father had his own touch.

  • 13:36:11

    ARMSTRONGRight, my father's a great natural cook, probably one of the best I think I've ever met. And, you know, curiously, he liked to cook, which is, in that period, exceptionally unusual for an Irish man to be cooking in the home. When my mother met him, she had never tasted garlic, you know. That notion to me is just so foreign.

  • 13:36:37

    ARMSTRONGHe is a travel agent and a tour operator in that time when it was really big for the European package holiday and so we would travel to places like Alicante and Tunisia and Greece and go visit with these families that worked for my father and eat things like piaya and, you know, moussaka and couscous and all these dishes that we're eating at home in our house. And we would literally, you know, sit around the dinner table and say, nobody else in Ireland is eating this dish tonight and it wouldn't be an exaggeration.

  • 13:37:14

    NNAMDIThat's how Cathal was introduced to the wealth of the food world and that's why today you speak English, French, Spanish and your native Irish.

  • 13:37:21

    ARMSTRONGYes, yes.

  • 13:37:22

    ARMSTRONGHis father and food. See what food can do for you? Let's go to the telephones. Here is Sarah, in Foggy Bottoms. Sarah, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:37:29

    SARAHI must say I had fabulous food all throughout Ireland during my vacation there, but there is something odd about Irish cuisine in that even at the fanciest restaurant where the meal is exquisite and the restaurant itself is a gem, there was three kinds of potatoes served with every meal. It was funny in this very, very elegant restaurant where the owner and chef really thought himself something, we pointed out that to an American, this is odd. And he was shocked, shocked that we did not eat three kinds of potatoes with all our meals.

  • 13:38:04

    NNAMDIYes, Cathal.

  • 13:38:04

    ARMSTRONGYes, that's funny. The first restaurant I worked in is a restaurant called Devincinso (sp?), which is on Leason Street in Dublin and it's still there. And we serve -- one of the dishes we served was lasagna and it came with a side of French fries. So it's still -- I think there'd be revolution if you didn't serve potatoes with the dinner.

  • 13:38:22

    NNAMDIOne of the things Cathal points out about Ireland is that it is green, literally. It's so agriculturally wealthy that you can grow almost anything there really well.

  • 13:38:31

    ARMSTRONGYes, pretty much everything grows really well except for tropical things. We don't quite get the heat for bananas and that kind of thing. But you know what's funny is an awful of people will step off the airplane into Ireland and be shocked at all the palm trees. You know, because the winter's mild. They can survive there, you know.

  • 13:38:46

    NNAMDI800-433-8850. As widely traveled as he would, Cathal, was -- Cathal's father didn't see a banana until he was an adult, right?

  • 13:38:54

    ARMSTRONGThat's right, that's right. There were no such thing as -- none of those tropical fruits were brought into Ireland until, you know, way later into '70s even. You know, so at the Halloween feast every year, we would see -- when we were kids, we would see things like pomegranates and that kind of thing, but only very exclusively on that one day would they be brought into the country.

  • 13:39:17

    NNAMDIWell, how do you think of Irish cuisine? What foods come to mind when you think of it? How did you come to learn that those foods were Irish? Call us at 800-433-8850. Here is Mike, in Reston, Va. Hi, Mike.

  • 13:39:32

    MIKEHey, how you doing today? Good topic. I guess, what comes to mind listening to this a class I took in college on Irish history and I was amazed to find out that the great Irish writers, writing about independence, singing tunes about it, a lot of this if not the majority of it took place in pubs. They would gather and drink, write and pen music and it seemed to be just central that the Irish cuisine, the drinking culture, for lack of a better term, just played a huge role in the Irish independence. And I'd like to hear your guests commentate on this, and I'll take the answers off the air. Thank you.

  • 13:40:20


  • 13:40:21

    ARMSTRONGYeah. Absolutely. I mean, the pop culture in Ireland developed from an ancient culture which was called the Shanahee. And the Shanahee was the newscaster really for the Irish people. He would travel across Europe and across, you know, foreign parts of the world, and then he would come back and they would all sit around the fireplace, the whole village would gather, and the Shanahee would tell stories and tell news of the world to the people.

  • 13:40:46

    ARMSTRONGAnd that culture, you know, kind of gradually developed into what pubs are today in Ireland. And, you know, it's funny, occasionally when I go back on a holiday to Ireland, I'll see pubs with live music, and that really wasn't the tradition for us when we were kids. You would go to the pub and sit around the table and just chat and laugh, and tell stories, and talk all evening. It wasn't about listening to live music.

  • 13:41:13

    ARMSTRONGSo that culture definitely originated back in the 16, 1700s with the Shanahees and then just kind of developed into what the pubs are today. It's amazing. One of my favorite pubs in Dublin is Mulligan's on Poolbeg Street, which is just off of Fleet Street in the newspaper district. And a lot of the famous writers and politicians and activists and revolutionaries in Irish history would have frequented Mulligan's. It's a, you know, 400-year-old pub, and they actually sell probably the best pint of Guinness in the world.

  • 13:41:46

    ARMSTRONGBut that history is still clearly there and the plots that (word?) Pierce and his, you know, colleagues would have hatched probably took place in pubs like Mulligan's.

  • 13:41:57

    NNAMDIMake note to self, spend a lot of time at Mulligan's on Fleet Street. Yes. Jane Freundel Levey, your turn.

  • 13:42:02

    LEVEYI was just going to add to that, when you're exporting that to this country, that the pub tradition continued here in the early days of Washington, certainly in the early days of U.S. history, especially for Irish pubs, and also German beer halls, they were here early on, too. And one of the reasons that these places were popular, in addition to the social and cultural exchange that took place in taverns where -- for people who had no other place to gather outside of church, was that the water supply wasn't safe in cities.

  • 13:42:37

    LEVEYAnd people went to the pubs to have something safe to drink that had a little alcohol added into it to kill the bacteria. And that's a real part of our history here in the 19th century.

  • 13:42:46

    NNAMDIWe're talking Irish cuisine on this Food Wednesday, the day before St. Patrick's Day. The number to call is 800-433-8850. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have a couple of lines open, so you can still call, or you can go to our website, and make your comment there. What are some of the foods that come to mind for you when you think of Irish cuisine? How did you come to learn that they were Irish? You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:03

    NNAMDIWe're talking Irish culture on the day before St. Patrick's, on this Food Wednesday, with Cathal Armstrong, owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Cathal grew up in Dublin. And Jane Freundel Levey is a historian and the director of Heritage Programs at Cultural Tourism D.C. We got this e-mail from Jennifer in Washington. "I grew up in Boston where the European immigrant communities, including the Irish-shaped neighborhoods, and still shape those neighborhoods. It seems to me that D.C. is sorely lacking for a Little Italy or a working class kind of neighborhood where that culture still bleeds out.

  • 13:45:36

    NNAMDII lived in New York for a while, too. I kind of miss those kinds of places." Jane, Washington is different from some of the older cities on the east coast in that we don't have a vibrant Little Italy anymore. Our Irish working class neighborhood is -- Swampoodle is a thing of the past. How do you think the evaporation of some of these working class immigrant neighborhoods fits into the broader tale -- the broader history of this city?

  • 13:45:59

    LEVEYYou know, the history of this city is a history of climbing the economic ladder. And I'm no expert, by any means, on what happened in Boston and New York, but here in Washington, when you had Irish immigrants who came in, that first generation probably was a ditch digger with no skills. But his son got an education here and he climbed the economic ladder and into the professions and his grandson did even better. And as a consequence, the need to have kind of an immigrant enclave didn't exist as much in Washington.

  • 13:46:29

    LEVEYThe other thing that built up those immigrant enclaves in other cities had to do with industrial opportunities. And we had very few factories here in Washington. We had the Navy yard, which was making weapons, and we had the government printing office.

  • 13:46:41

    NNAMDIPaper factories.

  • 13:46:42

    ARMSTRONGThat's pretty much all we had. So we did not attract a large number of unskilled laborers who could get factory work. We ended up with the artisans and the thinkers.

  • 13:46:53

    NNAMDIHere is Mary in Columbia, Md. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:58

    MARYHi, Kojo. Hi Cathal. First of all, congratulations. I read about you in the paper this morning, how President and Ms. Obama came to your restaurant. What a great honor.

  • 13:47:06

    NNAMDIIndeed, congratulations.

  • 13:47:08

    MARYUnlike Cathal, I'm a Koshi and I did eat corned beef and cabbage, but I'd much rather eat bacon and cabbage. But you can't get that bacon over here. Can I use pork belly instead? That's my first question. And the other thing I cook for my husband is tripe. He grew up in Cork and he loves that stuff. I hate it. I wouldn't touch it. But I do cook it for him when I can find it. Unfortunately, we can't find any drisheen. Okay. Could you explain all those terms to Kojo now?

  • 13:47:35

    NNAMDIThanks -- thank you very much, Mary.

  • 13:47:37

    MARYYou're welcome.

  • 13:47:39

    ARMSTRONGYeah. Pork belly is the same thing as what we would have, boiling bacon, at home. And you can usually find pork belly fresh here, but not cured the way we'd have it in Ireland. So, you know, just a very simple way is to salt cure in a brine cure for about five days, and it gets pretty close to what we'd have in Ireland, and then you just boil it and then put it onto the -- what the Americans call the broiler, what we call the grill, to get it nice and brown on the skin.

  • 13:48:09

    NNAMDIAnd my mother prepared tripe all the time. Would you please explain what that is?

  • 13:48:12

    ARMSTRONGYeah. Well, when we were -- when were kids, you were never allowed to leave the dinner table until everything was gone off your plate. That was the rule. There were six kids, and two adults, you know, so a family of eight, you got to eat everything. So except for this one time my father cooked tripe and then he, you know, we all put our foot down.

  • 13:48:35

    NNAMDIFor a kid, it's not very attractive looking.

  • 13:48:36

    ARMSTRONGNo. So tripe is the lining of the cow's stomach.

  • 13:48:39


  • 13:48:39

    ARMSTRONGAnd it's bleached for human consumption, and it's best when you cook it for about 48 hours.

  • 13:48:48

    NNAMDIYeah. What about a food you can find in the pubs there that do serve food? I take it that it's probably a little different from the Emerald Isle nachos and the County Cork potato skins that stand for pub fare here in the states.

  • 13:49:01

    ARMSTRONGYeah. When -- when my wife, Michelle, came to Ireland the first time, she was starved when she arrived so we stopped into a pub to grab a sandwich on the way in. She ordered a tuna salad sandwich. Well, tuna salad in Ireland is a very different thing than it is in America. They take the tuna out of the can and they put it onto a sandwich with some lettuce and tomato and that's it, you know. They are certainly missing the onion and the mayonnaise part. So I would steer clear of that if you're visiting Ireland.

  • 13:49:28

    ARMSTRONGHowever, you know, with -- Ireland was really progressive with eliminating smoking in the pubs, and well ahead of a lot of other nations on it. So they had to do something to draw the crowds back into the pubs. And they -- a lot of them introduced what is traditional pub fare in Ireland, which is the toasted sandwich, ham and cheese, egg salad, egg mayonnaise salad, those kinds of sandwiches on toasted bread, so delicious.

  • 13:49:56

    ARMSTRONGAnd with all fresh ingredients, you know. Nothing processed. A lot of them provide carveries at lunch, which give you more food than you could probably eat in a week. And then -- but when you see the real Irish dishes, like that smoked seafood soup, you know, with mussels and cockles and prawns and smoked fish, smoked haddock, that kind of thing, they're just amazing, amazing foods that you get in pubs.

  • 13:50:17

    NNAMDIThe Washington Irish pub owners, I hope you're listening. Here is Tammy in Sykesville, Md. Tammy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:24

    TAMMYHi, thanks so much. First of all, you're ruining my excuse. I say I can't cook because I'm Irish, so you're dispelling that myth.

  • 13:50:32

    NNAMDICathal is destroying your reputation.

  • 13:50:35

    TAMMYWhat's that?

  • 13:50:37

    NNAMDICathal is destroying your reputation.

  • 13:50:39

    TAMMYI know. When we went to Ireland, I loved -- my cousin used to say the differences between how the cattle at fed, you know, that there's not the chemicals and, you know, all that our cattle are fed. So it's much more healthy, which is great, I guess because of all the grass chewing. But I do think, you know, stereotypes are just that. They talk about a percentage, and there's always exceptions, but in growing in an Irish area and with a lot of Irish cooks, the food is pretty bland.

  • 13:51:16

    TAMMYYou know, it was delicious, I loved going to Ireland and eating, and you eat great food, but it is more centered on the pub and yes, it's because of the water, you know, from the historic -- more alcohol, less germs, but I also think it's because of the personality, you know, love to be together and, you know, very social kind of people, and fun, and making each other laugh. And you have to come together to do that. So...

  • 13:51:41

    NNAMDIBefore Cathal responds to the bland remark, allow me to go -- and Tammy, thank you so much for your call, to Matt in Falls Church, Va. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:51:52

    MATTHey, Kojo and Cathal, how you doing? Just actually a comment really about the previous caller. She noted it in her comment, and it's really a question about what I heard Cathal say about the -- the cattle eating grass. And so that caught my ear because in our country now, in America, you know, we've become this industrialized food nation where we've got all these cattle eating corn all across the country. And so the big thing now is, you know, to go buy local -- from local farms where cows are being fed grass.

  • 13:52:25

    MATTAnd I just wondered about how much of the cattle are eating grass over there, and what sort of trends are going on in Ireland regarding the industrialization of food, and if they've followed the trends of America in terms of feeding cattle corn, and really just wondering about that.

  • 13:52:45

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. That and the bland comment made earlier.

  • 13:52:49

    ARMSTRONGOkay. Well, certainly I would agree that for a very long period the food of Ireland was bland. The most famous dish from Ireland, the Irish stew, was made with neck -- the neck of the lamb, and potatoes and water, and that was the recipe. And you'll see some people that have kind of tried to adjust it and make it a bit fancier, but that was the food of the peasant people for four or 500 years. There's a huge tradition, obviously, that we all know about with immigration from Ireland, that didn't really change until this Celtic Tiger thing with the economy in the 1990s.

  • 13:53:23

    ARMSTRONGAnd what we started to see was chefs returning from Europe where they had trained from France and from the United States where they had trained, and developing a cuisine based around the ingredients that are indigenous to Ireland. So you see, you know, really even before that boom (word?) and Myrtle Allen, and her daughter, Darina Allen, had this amazing place which is an Irish farmhouse, and some incredible food that they've served there for some generations.

  • 13:53:54

    ARMSTRONGBut then the newer restaurants like L'Ecrivain in Dublin with chef, Derry Clarke, and Chapter One in Dublin that have really helped to elevate what Irish cuisine can be, and what it's capable of producing with the ingredients that are indigenous. So certainly, to put the label bland on traditional Irish cuisine is probably true, but it has really grown and exploded with the -- as the economy did in the 1900s.

  • 13:54:18

    NNAMDIHow about Matt's question about the industrialization of food and the feeding of cows?

  • 13:54:22

    ARMSTRONGWell, I mean, I think everybody is trying some industrial elements to some extent, because they are cost cutting. And, you know, one thing that we did with beef was we tried industrial farming because people looked for more and more and more tender beef. Whereas grass fed beef is really not tender the way you think of a USDA prime-type steak. But the Irish really have been very progressive with things like recycling and green initiatives, and I think it's really not as popular. You know, we've stuck to the farmer's market quite well.

  • 13:54:57

    ARMSTRONGMy parents still go to the bakery to by bread, and they go to the fishmonger for their fish. There are these two great ladies down on the pier in Dunleary, and the husbands catch the fish, and the wives sell the fish. And when they're out, they're out. And, you know, they go to the farmer's market on Saturday to buy the produce and the chicken that they call it, and, you know, they go to the one butcher in Fox Rock for lamb. And, you know, that wouldn't be very typical of all Irish families, but it's certainly changed in the last 20 years or so.

  • 13:55:28

    NNAMDIWe got this e-mail from Scotty in Arlington. "I wish more of the stuff that used to be cool was still here. This Swampoodle place and the baseball field sound awesome, like old Penn Station was kind of awesome in New York. When I hear about places like the Arena where the Beatles played in D.C., it makes me angry that I can't go over there anymore to see it. We need to do better in how we preserve things." Jane Freundel Levey, as an historian, what concerns do you have about how little is left of some of those neighborhoods, and what you can still see of them, not just in what used to be Swampoodle, but as Scotty points out, across the city in the area?

  • 13:56:01

    LEVEYWell, of course, I'm concerned about it. I do want to tell you, Scotty, that you can go see where the Beatles played. It's still there. It's the old Uline Arena. It was called the Coliseum at the time the Beatles came. It has been down on its luck. It ended up as a trash transfer facility for a little while, but it's being redeveloped now. And you've given me a great segue to talk about the Heritage Trails that we do at Cultural Tourism D.C.

  • 13:56:24

    LEVEYWe're very concerned about what's being lost, but with the Heritage Trail program that we have which puts out signs in the neighborhoods to show you not only what used to be there, but what is still there that you haven't noticed. You can take a self-guided tour of our historic neighborhoods and see a lot.

  • 13:56:42

    NNAMDICathal, it's my understanding that you've been studying up a bit on your history as well, that you've been working on a menu for an upcoming event that draws from ancient Ireland. What's that project about?

  • 13:56:53

    ARMSTRONGYeah. The Archeological Institute of America invited me to design the menu for their annual gala, which is in New York on the 26th of April in Capital. And so every year they have a theme about, you know, surrounded by archeology obviously, and there's an amazing burial site just outside of Dublin that predates the pyramids called Newgrange. So the, you know, we've done some research on what they were eating in the third, fourth, fifth century in Ireland. Lots of wildflowers, dandelions, wild garlic.

  • 13:57:31


  • 13:57:32

    ARMSTRONGShellfish, tons of shellfish. Venison, wild boar.

  • 13:57:36

    NNAMDICow's milk.

  • 13:57:37

    ARMSTRONGThey had cow's milk, they had cheese, they had honey, they had olive oil. You know, because they were -- it's interesting because they were Celts, and the Celts probably originated just north of -- in the northern part of Italy. There was some evidence that they sacked Rome a couple of times, and then they were chased across Europe and the remnants of them are Britain, East Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. So there's a lot...

  • 13:57:58

    NNAMDIYou forgot to mention one thing, wine.

  • 13:58:00

    ARMSTRONGWine. Don't forget the wine.

  • 13:58:02

    NNAMDIThat'll be a part of it. Cathal Armstrong is the owner and chef at Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Va. Cathal grew up in Dublin, Ireland. Cathal, always a pleasure.

  • 13:58:10

    ARMSTRONGMy pleasure, thank you.

  • 13:58:11

    NNAMDIJane Fruendel Levey is an historian and the director of Heritage Programs at Cultural Tourism D.C., reminding us about Cultural Tourism D.C.'s Heritage Trails. Jane, good to see you again.

  • 13:58:21

    LEVEYThank you so much.

  • 13:58:22

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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