• Eat 'em by the sea: curry chips on an Inis Oirr beach. (Flickr / young shanahan)
Think golden fries, topped with a thick, mild curry sauce. And possibly melty, gooey cheese.
By
Kylie Walker

12 Feb 2019 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 12 Feb 2019 - 4:43 PM

You can do it with thick battered chips, all crispy edged and chunky. You can do it with French fries. You can have the sauce – and lashings of melted cheese – on top, or sauce on the side. You can eat it at midnight, for dinner at the footy, or in Irish pubs around the world. And you’ll soon be able to have it at an Irish food van in Sydney, too.

We’re talking Irish curry chips – which is pretty much what it sounds like, chips with curry sauce. It’s a combination that’s not the sole preserve of Ireland, of course. Curry chips are big in England too, and in the broader loaded fries family, there are plenty of other countries that boast a version of a sweetish gravy of some kind drizzled over fries. But right now, prompted by an upcoming show on SBS Food, and a new Sydney food van, our thoughts have turned to the Irish version. And it is something that made every single Irish expat we mentioned this article to get just a little bit nostalgic.

“Curry chips are an essential, in fact a quintessential part of a night out in Ireland. They provide indispensable fortification before and vital soaking up after!” says chef Alastair McLeod, who was born in Belfast and now lives in Queensland.

And not only a night out - find them everywhere from fairs to football matches.

And expats miss it enough for the tongue-in-cheek Waterford Whispers News to publish an article cautioning “Mams Sending Curry Sauce To Sons In Australia Advised To Not Mix It First” .

The curry sauce on chips leans more to a mellow south-east Asian version, rather than a fiery Indian curry. Much of the thick, fruity brown sauce poured on chips across Ireland, and even in Australia, is made with McDonnells Curry Sauce powder, although you can try this Irish expat’s made from scratch version.

One theory about the origin of this sweet brown chip condiment in England and Ireland is that it was born in the 1970s when many English fish and chip shops were owned by Asian families.  

Or perhaps an Indian influence has created this national favourite. “It’s an Indian curry, pardon the generalisation, at heart that has been sweetened and subdued in spice for a palate that subsisted on tubers for eons,” says McLeod.

And if you’re curious about the difference between Irish curry sauce and the English version, this discussion suggests the Irish curry sauce is usually darker, with more flavour and more MSG.

Homemade Irish curry sauce – and Irish chicken curry too – often includes apple or other fruit. “For sweetness and ballast,” McLeod says.

Now, while we have spotted curry chips made with those battered chips mentioned above, it’s usually long, thin fries. The sauce is mostly served on the top – which makes sense when they’re being loaded into a takeaway container, although some pub versions put the sauce on the side. (McLeod, for the record, in in the loaded fries camp: “Over the chips, always over!”)

Iriah curry chips seems to pop up wherever there’s a sizeable Irish population (you’ll spot a US take on it on SBS Food Channel 22, in United Plates of America, when host Gary Takle visits Boston, and as well as meeting an Irish police officer who was shot while pursuing suspects in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing 2013, has his first taste of curry chips at one of the city’s Irish pubs.)

Given the number of Irish expats visiting or living in Australia, it’s not surprising we can find curry chips on menus across the country, although some remain convinced that the only place to get the real deal is back home.

"I remember my first experience in a fast food restaurant in Melbourne. I ordered some chips and curry, which I was surprised to see on the menu, and while expecting a big bag of chips like I normally get back home I got this tiny little plastic square with about 15 chips in and a drizzle of curry. 

“Many other attempts over the years made no difference. The only good chips and curry I could get was when I flew 18 hours back to Cork,” Stephen Palmer, the founder of the hugely popular website Irish Around Oz, tells us.

Irish expats in Sydney will have another option for a taste of home – made by an Irishman – when the Big Dave’s food van launches in Sydney this month.

”We are loosely based on the Irish fish and chip shop, but with a difference. We will be serving fish and chips, homemade burgers, battered sausage. And of course the best curry cheese chips in Sydney!” says David Corroon. The van will also be serving another Irish fave, the four in one. “Chips, rice, curry sauce and chicken balls... ya haven't lived till you've had one,” Corroon says.

“I came to Australia when I was 21. Came with a few mates, said I would do six months… that was 10 years ago,” says 32-year-old Corroon, who originally hails from Mullingar and now lives in Sydney with his wife Cliona and an eight-month-old daughter, Isabel, who, he says “already loves a curry chip!”

Corroon has spent many years working in the construction industry, but trained as a chef as a teenager, and ran an ice-cream van in Port Hedland in WA as a side business a few years ago, so the new venture brings together many strands of his life.

“Over the years the conversation pops up amongst the Irish about the foods we miss from home and how it’s always the simplest things that you'd take for granted when at home, like the chippers or the fresh rolls from a deli.

“And now so many of us are hitting the 10-year mark here in Oz, people are really settling in. Less of the travelling and party scene, people starting families here, and life slows down a bit. It’s then when people really miss home and so we feel good tasty Irish food will make that a little easier for the Irish community.”

Big Dave’s van will be launching at the NSW GAA Gaelic football game in Ingleburn on February 17. He’s planning an appearance at the St Patrick’s Day festival at The Rocks, and working on organising a weekly spot in the eastern suburbs. Alastair McLeod is an ambassador for Queensland's Lockyer Valley and holds regular events in the region - watch his website for details.  

United Plates of America starts Monday 18 February on SBS Food Channel 33, and will then be available via SBS On Demand. Watch episodes 9.35pm weeknights, including the Boston/Irish episode on Thursday 21 February. 

Lead image by young shanahan via Flickr

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