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Erin go... around the world

Written by  Professor Barry Goldsmith

Let’s take a quick culinary trip around the world to see the most popular national restaurant on all six continents - and there’s no better month for this tour than March. (Keep reading and you’ll see why.)


Watching “A Christmas Story” again over the holidays, I was reminded that for decades -- wherever you go across the USA -- there is one ubiquitous national cuisine – Chinese.

Since Chinese restaurants are so prevalent in America. Let’s first travel to the country of America’s favorite foreign cuisine and see what national cuisine the Chinese crave. Any guesses?

It’s the Irish Pub – so it’s nice to know that you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in some of the most remote regions of Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia.

Ireland, a nation of 8.5 million, has tempted the palate of a nation of 1.5 billion Chinese. The Chinese now extensively travel -- which is great – as long as they all don’t go to Ireland to visit authentic and original Irish Pubs -- at the same time.

Whys the worldwide attraction in Irish pubs?  

I’ve led tours to six continents and I’ve yet to have a request – a craving for corned beef and cabbage on soda bread – not even from Irish tourists in Ireland.  When you go to an Irish Pub you go for the total experience – total immersion in all things Irish: Irish ambiance. Irish décor, Irish song and dance played on Irish musical instruments. No one goes to grab grub – Irish pub grub. It’s the total Irish experience from the moment you enter.

Go to a French, Italian, Japanese, or Mexican restaurant and chances are you’re going just for the food. (Considering how the French worship their culinary art, when you go to a French restaurant you’re not going for French “food”, you’re going for French “cuisine.”)

I’ve yet to go to a French restaurant anywhere in the world -- including Paris -- where you experience fine French cuisine and wine, impeccable service while being accompanied by a French accordionist playing “La Vie en Rose” while a chanteuse sings, and dances with the diners joining in.

Let’s look at how the Irish pub evolved and became internationally popular 

Many believe that the Irish Pub evolved from the British Pub.  At first they were just establishments where you could buy a “pint.”  Later, basic food was added such as fish & chips. (Of course, British fish & chips comes wrapped in The Times (of London) and Irish fish & chips comes wrapped in the Irish Times.)

The Irish take their pubs more seriously than the British. The British pubs have cutesy names such as “The Kings Head” where they serve “spotted dick.” (Yes, “spotted dick” is a real British dessert.)  Irish pub names usually have Irish names such as “O’ Brien’s, O’Donell’s, O’Hanlan’s. (I have yet to see, “O’Nassis’s or O’Bama’s.)  And they’re named after Irish things and places.  There are many “Blarney Stone” Irish pubs in Ireland and around the world.  At one of the “Blarney Stones” in Ireland -- when I suggested adding a “d” and calling it, “Blarney Stoned” -- there were no “Irish eyes smiling.”

The Irish Pub followed Irish 19th-century Irish emigration to the United States.  They were primarily owned by Irish immigrants for Irish immigrants – since this was also the time of the “No Nothings” – a virulently anti-Catholic political party.

As the Irish moved up the socio-economic ladder – the Irish pub also became popular with non-Irish Americans.  In the 20th century, more non-Irish Americans than Irish Americans patronized Irish Pubs (except on St. Patrick’s Day). After World War II when Americans traveled abroad for business and later -- after the arrival of the jet -- for pleasure -- Irish Pubs in large cities around the world became a haven for ex-pats.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, most Irish pubs in large international cities weren’t even owned by Irish ex-pats – instead they were owned by natives and patronized mostly by tourists – in other words – Irish Pubs evolved into tourist raps.  And when tourists became more intrepid – traveling to “off-the-eaten (sic) track” countries and towns, Irish pubs turned up in places without any native Irish population or Irish ex-pats.  When I started traveling to Africa, Asia and South America in the 1980s, I was surprised to see that Irish pubs came to isolated towns even before 5-star chain hotels.

Recently the founder of Ikea died, but his concept lives on. Ikea invented the concept of shipping furniture in pieces to be assembled at their destination.  Following the Ikea concept, in 1990 (financed by Guinness) Mel McNally, an Ireland-based entrepreneur, created the Irish Pub Company – which -- like a stage set-- ships entire Irish Pub interiors around the world to be assembled upon arrival.

Here are a few of the most unusual and remote Irish Pubs I’ve visited, which belong in the “Guinness Book of Record Guinness Sales”:

Stone the Crows Pub – Lijiang China.  Remote Lijiang is in Yunnan Province – far from its capital city, Kunming – and even farther from Beijing and Shanghai.  What makes this Irish pub even more rare that its location is its owner –an actual Irishman! While this pub’s been in existence since 2007 -- when I was in China almost 20 years ago -- there was already an Irish Pub/internet Cafe in ancient, old-town Lijiang.

Godthab Bryghus, Nuuk, Greenland – Yes, an Irish pub in Greenland. From the most populated country in the world, China – to the least populated country, Greenland – the world’s largest island. Maybe island Greenland merely has an affinity for another green island -- Ireland -- the country that even has a green nickname —“The Emerald Isle.”

Paddy’s Irish Bar, Cusco, Peru -- After the name, “Paddy’s” the words “Irish” and “Bar” are really redundant (redundant). Even before you have a drink, it claims to be the “highest” Irish Pub in the world. (It’s across the street from yet another Irish Pub!)  

O’Hagan’s, Lusaka, Zambia and McGinty’s, Lusaka, Zambia – Yes, there’s more than one Irish Pub in Zambia. When an Irish-American friend recently visited O’Hagan’s, she said she was probably the only person there who was not a native.  She really enjoyed joining the natives Zambians singing and dancing to her familiar Irish music.

O’Connell’s Jerusalem – a Kosher Irish Pub! (Although I think a better name would be “Lepre-Cohen’s.”)  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Hassidic Jewish man singing Irish songs.

As a comedy professor, you don’t have to search for comedy clubs around the world for humorous entertainment –- just visit an Irish pub in a very remote location that’s frequented exclusively by natives – and enjoy the fun of natives lip-sinking familiar Irish ballads and improvising their version of Riverdance.


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