My Citizens! There can be no doubt or equivocation that the Sultan of Serendipity – YOUR TFD! – has an inexplicable sense of opportunistic timing that is beyond rational explanation, as has been proved over innumerable examples throughout the course of My charmed life navigating between Scylla and Charybdis!
Herein, I give you but one minor example of the synchronicity shadowing my footsteps at every turn! I had been long planning to share this recipe for Irish spice bag – a mouthwatering mix of fried chicken strips, french fries (aka chips), Chinese-style seasonings and hot chili peppers – for several months now. On a lark, I decided for once to post a preview to my personal Facebook account for the benefit of My friends and followers there – and was duly informed how awesome it was that I was doing this in honor of National Fried Chicken Day!
To be clear – I had no idea there was such a thing as National Fried Chicken Day, and as a fully-vetted Kentucky Colonel (seriously, I am!), you’d think I would know about such a red-letter opportunity…and thus, you see my point. 😀
Regardless of My committed relationship with Dame Fortuna (or Tyche, Lady Luck or whatever you choose to call Her) – this is one hell of a delicious dish, Citizens!
We have in the Irish spice bag yet another example of fusion cuisine, here between the Anglo-Irish world (chips/fries), Chinese cuisine (the seasonings and the fried chicken) and Indian cuisine (the curry dipping sauce) with a respectful nod to Southeast Asia, the original home of the wild chicken not to mention South America – the ancestral home of the potato! Proof that all modern cuisines (and virtually all ancient) are in fact fusions that resulted from trade across the millennia!
Americans may not be aware of the incredible (and very recent) popularity of Irish spice bag – as such, allow the Sagacious One to illuminate your cerebral cortex with the searing white-hot spotlight of bountiful knowledge!
A spice bag (or spicebag, spicy bag, spice box or spicy box; Irish: mála spíosrach) is a fast food dish popular in Ireland inspired by Asian cuisine. Typically, a spice bag consists of deep-fried salt and chili chips (fries), chicken (shredded/balls/wings), red and green peppers, sliced chili peppers, fried onions, and a variety of spices.
A vegetarian or vegan option is often available, in which deep fried tofu takes the place of the shredded chicken. It is sometimes accompanied by a side of curry sauce and has been available in Chinese takeaways and chippers since the 2010s, and the dish has developed quite a cult following. It was in fact most recently voted ‘Ireland’s Favourite Takeaway Dish’ in the 2020 Just Eat National Takeaway Awards!
According to RTÉ reporter Liam Geraghty, the dish was supposedly created in 2010 by The Sunflower Chinese takeaway in Templeogue, Dublin, with the first spice bag sold on Just Eat in 2012.
As noted in this most erudite story I found on dublin.ie:
For the love of spice bags…
In Dublin pubs, the conversation has now evolved from queries of ‘What is a spice bag?’ and ‘Have you had a spice bag yet?’ to more pressing issues of etiquette and availability.
Because everyone’s mother probably now knows what a spice bag is, that celebrated, moreish takeaway meal combo of chicken, chips and spices in a bag (foil or paper) and the occasional bit of onion and red pepper thrown in. She may have even eaten one. Once seen as something only millennials should let past their lips, it’s now gone properly mainstream, and was voted Ireland’s favourite dish at the Just Eat National Takeaway Awards last year. A mere culinary craze? We don’t think so.
If the spice bag has lost some of its mystery, it hasn’t lost any of the obsessive devotion it inspires. Dubliners are now posing searching questions like: ‘Would you eat a spice bag if you hadn’t had a few drinks?’; ‘Officially, where can you get the best spice bag?’ (The Daily Edge posit that Lin Kee on the Ballymun Road is one of the city’s finest); ‘Would you ever put some curry sauce into your spice bag?’ and perhaps the most urgent poser of them all: ‘Do spice bags only come out at night?’
Even though the spice bag allegedly has rural origins (it’s rumoured to have been invented at New World Chinese in Bagenalstown, Carlow, some time in the 2010s), it’s a very Dublin thing to run with it, as the city has. There’s always been a strong chipper culture here; give us some greasy goodness, with a bit of novelty value thrown in and, well, you’re laughing.
The proliferation of hipster fried chicken joints, the queues out the door for doughnuts at Aungier Danger and the huge success that was the pop-up Tayto sandwich shop last year is proof of that. Some suggest we may even be approaching peak takeaway.
For SB virgins who’d like an insight into the deep love fans have for all things spice bag, the Spicebag Appreciation Society on Facebook, with 16,931 members, explains everything. The rules are simple: only pictures of your own spice bag are permitted, the brown bag must be present in the picture, curry sauce is allowed (but not advised) and selfies mean instant ejection from the group.
The descriptions are magical. ‘It is hand-crafted from God, the chicken-to-chip ratio is solid and they always leave a few chicken bits at the end. If this isn’t a solid spice bag I don’t know what is,’ raves one member.
Making your own DIY healthy version has also become a thing. This makes sense if you’re trying to lose weight, given that your average bag contains in excess of 1200 kcal. But this also misses the point. Clean eaters who don’t want to embrace the ‘dirtiness’ of a spice bag should probably stick to their coconut oil and spelt ways.
It might seem obvious that the next step to take after the spice bag is to graduate onto the munch box, a pizza box filed with any variation of stuff including chicken wings, ribs, chips, spices and onions. While it can be a decent group sharing experience, for the SB purist, it’s overkill. A true aficionado knows that a simple spice bag, eaten alone on the walk home from a Dublin night out is all that is required for salty satiety.
Basically, a spice bag is Irish late-night takeaway at its greasy, salty, spicy best – and thanks to the Glory who ALONE is TFD, I shall show you the one true path to spice bag glory so that you too may enjoy this delectable meal without boarding Aer Lingus for an emergency takeout run to Dublin! 😉
Being TFD, I have made a few adjustments to the classic spice bag recipe, mostly to bring it a wee bit closer to its ancestral home of China and the recipe that almost assuredly gave the dish its primary seasoning blend – the glory that is Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken! Despite the name, the pepper is actually minced hot red and green peppers, along with a nice hit of Sichuan peppercorns as well as – of course – salt.
Rather than the flour-only breading used in Dublin on the chicken pieces, I go back to a blend of flour and cornstarch used by the Chinese to attain supremely-crispy results! The spicing blend is my own, of course, and is second-to-none IMHO!
In addition to my formerly-proprietary spice blend, I also added in a goodly hit of one of my favorite condiments – chili crisp, made up of crunchy bits of fried chili flakes, garlic, and more. Chili crisp adds a truly addictive bit of spice, and an even more necessary hit of MSG to bring this recipe truly over-the-top! This is my preferred chili crisp vendor, and please don’t sneer at MSG, it’s what makes all takeout moreish and really pops the flavors onto your palate – there is barely any in use in this recipe!
Omit if you so prefer, but I personally wouldn’t. I also prefer to mash a few fermented black beans into my chili crisp for extra umami – this is a totally optional ingredient but I do dearly love it. Buy it here.
The curry sauce traditionally served with Spice Bag is also optional, but I really find it complements the salty, spicy goodness and as such, I include a recipe for it that I conveniently found on irishcentral.com – you can certainly substitute your favorite dipping sauce of any kind for use with the fried chicken strips and fries/chips! One way or the other, the unmatched members of TFD Nation are in for a truly sumptuous repast this National Fried Chicken Day – courtesy of My unmatched largesse!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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