Ireland's Spice Bag Is A Delicious And Eclectic Fried Mash Up

Sometimes you happen upon a dish that is so delicious and so revelatory in its simplicity that you wonder why you've never tasted it before. In the case of Ireland's popular spice bag, it might just be the fact that you live a world away. But you don't have to be Irish to enjoy the culinary fusion of the Irish spice bag. Its salty-spicy-crispy-fried goodness is being discovered worldwide due to its rampant popularity with both locals and visitors alike.

A combination of chicken (or tofu or cauliflower in the meatless versions), potatoes, peppers, onions, and seasonings that in and of themselves will leave you begging for more — the spice bag does you one better, with most incarnations serving a warm curry sauce for dipping on the side. Design Popsicle Packing Roll


An Irish spice bag is a take-out bag filled with seasoned, piping hot, battered, and deep-fried chicken and chips (fries to those of us on this side of the pond) but if that's all there was to the spice bag — it would be a big so what. (Who are we kidding — it's still fried chicken!) But, in this case, that's not all.

Beyond fried chicken and fries, Irish spice bags also contain a delicious combination of spices: typically salt, chili flakes, Chinese five spice, white pepper, and dried chili powder (like Sichuan red chili powder, gochugaru, or cayenne). In addition, there are sauteed sliced onions, bell peppers (any color you like), fresh jalapeño, and red Sichuan or birds-eye chilis. But the thing that makes this dish so phenomenal is that the hot fried chicken, fries, freshly sauteed peppers, and onions are all tossed together in a big bowl, along with the spices, and then poured into a paper bag to take wherever you like for eating.

The bag helps to sop up any excess grease and keeps the battered chicken and fries fairly crispy (depending on your travel time). It also allows the spices and aromatics to really get a hold of everything. When you're ready, tradition is that you simply lay the bag on a table and rip it open lengthwise to reveal an instant eating surface and all your delectable goodies. And while the spice, onions, peppers, and all the fried booty are scrummy enough on their own, it also comes with a side of rich curry sauce for the pour-over or the dipping.

Positively mouth-watering, right? But by now, you're probably wondering why something featuring Chinese five-spice powder and curry is called an Irish spice bag. The answer — cultural fusion. Though originated in Ireland, the bags were created and popularized by Chinese takeaway shops. The product of Irish-Chinese culture, pulling in influences from chicken shops (popular in Ireland and the U.K. — Amelia Dimoldenberg, anyone), mixed with inspiration from Chinese dishes like salt and pepper shrimp or squid, and the popular "Chinese curry" sauce (a fusion of Indian curry with the addition of Chinese five-spice and soy or fish sauces) served in chip shops all over the U.K. and Ireland.

This fusion of popular Irish takeaway items is such a hit it won "Ireland's Favourite Dish," at Just-Eat's Takeaway Awards three years ago. So, who's behind Ireland's spice bag? RTE reporter, Liam Geraghty traced the Spice Bag's origins all the way to Sunflower Chinese in Templeogue, Dublin, where they proudly claim themselves as the inventor right on the menu. Turns out the invention was the result of a bored staff looking for a little variety for their staff meal. "We tried a few different things one night, and we came up with the Spice Bag, and it was quite tasty," said Mark, an employee at Sunflower. "Then a friend tried it and told their friend about it, and they asked would you do it for their friend, and it snowballed from then and I suppose the rest is history, it just grew and grew."

Want to taste a spice bag without booking a trip to Ireland? As cookbook author and popular YouTuber, Sam the Cooking Guy (Sam Zien) demonstrates in his Irish Spice Bag video, it's so easy you can make it at home.

Sam starts with ½ pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into strips. Then, he adds soy sauce, sesame oil, and crushed garlic, mixing it well and allowing it to marinate. Next, he combines ½ teaspoon each of salt, red chili flakes, and ground black pepper, plus 1 tablespoon of Chinese five-spice, and 1 teaspoon sugar, setting it aside. Next, he slices up and sautées together yellow onion, green onions, jalapeños, and habanero peppers, before turning to the curry sauce. For this, he uses butter, flour, curry powder, chicken stock, a bit of honey, a dash of soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. While he deep fries the potatoes, Sam adds an egg white and cornstarch to the marinating chicken, mixing it around to coat the chicken and create the batter.

Once the chips are done, he adds chicken to the fryer for about four minutes before tossing everything together (except the curry sauce) and scooping it into a paper bag. Serve with a side of homemade curry sauce. Though you can opt for homemade fries like Sam, it's equally delicious when made with a bag of frozen fries, deep-fried.

While they keep it simple at Sunflower Chinese, offering only chicken, double chicken, and shrimp in their spice bags, the proliferation of Chinese takeaway shops offering spice bags means they now come in every variety you can imagine including beef, pork, shrimp, ribs, tofu, cauliflower, and of course, the classic chicken. And new spice mixes have emerged as well with some restaurants in Dublin offering Cajun and Thai versions of the dish. 


Cookie Packaging Now that, word of this epic culinary win has finally made its way to America with restaurants, pubs, and food carts in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, all weighing in with their versions of the Irish spice bag, maybe you won't have to make it yourself. Whichever way you fry it, it's a culinary coup in the making, one that Sam the Cooking Guy prognosticates "will change fast food in the U.S. forever."