The people, places and things that make Dublin special.

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 9,400 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.

Claire is a Dublin-based journalist who contributes to a wide range of publications including The Irish Independent and Image magazine. She occasionally reviews restaurants, and loves a good crime novel.

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