While recently you were treated to a taste test of British candies—a celebration of the ways these quality chocolate goods can tap into the pleasure centers of taste and nostalgia—this exploration is of an entirely different sort. Irish junk food comes in many weird and marvelous forms. Generally put, these foods lack the decorum you'll find in their more conservative British competitors. Collected here are seven of the most appealing and startling of the snack follies past and present that grace the shelves of our convenience stores. Should you have the chance to visit the Emerald Isle, in this mix you'll find some guaranteed teeth-rotters to try and some to avoid (looking at you, Jedward Bar).
TK Red Lemonade, a phenomenon that exists only in Ireland, is synonymous with farmer's lunches and dodgy drinks mixers. It tastes just like normal lemonade but with an extra kick of enigmatic artificial sweetener that leaves you confused more than quenched ("is that lemonade mixed with… some decaying cola candies?"). It's a taste that harkens back to childhood birthday parties or that night you drank 'Jameson and Red' and ended up at a rave in a garden center.
There's an urban myth that Red Lemonade was banned in the European Union due to its color additive being carcinogenic, and in the weeks leading up to Halloween it's sometimes relabeled as 'Witches Brew.' And yet this drink is often listed as one of the things Irish ex-pats miss the most about Ireland, and to them I would say: exactly how poor was your diet?
While British crisp companies might prefer to crowd source possible future flavors, over in Ireland the lads at Hunky Dorys had the courage to pluck a crisp flavor out of thin air, nevermind if it had little to no relevance to the modern consumer. 'Buffalo' flavor, according to the packaging, is for those of you who aren't afraid to 'get your hands dirty, to graze the occasional knee. You laugh in the face of indoor plumbing.' Which is possibly a clever marketing way of getting around the fact that there is no possible way to discern what exactly 'Buffalo' flavor is beyond the taste of Potassium Chloride mixed with arcane 'spices.' The allergy information helpfully informs you that 'Buffalo' crisps 'don't contain Kryptonite.' All that said, I did just consume an entire packet from the comfort of my own bed, and I would highly recommend it.
The Jedward Bar is essentially the perfect chocolate-based embodiment of the absurd. It combines two of the most incompatible candy-elements: chocolate and popping candy. The packaging makes use of the non-word 'Jeadly,' a cruel misappropriation of the Irish slang 'Deadly,' meaning something that is awesome. And yet when you get the first pernicious crackle at the back of your throat as you try one, you'll realize that there's nothing awesome about this bar.
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Jedward, they are identical twin performers of questionable talent who have represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest for two years running. They are responsible for tweets such as this:
And videos such as this one. I would liken them to a cross between troll dolls, Aaron Carter in the 90s, and unlicensed brain experiments. The fact that they have been honored with a chocolate bar is mind-boggling.
Meanies are what children would eat in a dystopian vision of the future penned by Roald Dahl. Have you ever seen a mascot more terrifying? Meanies used to be readily available throughout the UK, but now their sales are confined mostly to Ireland, due, one imagines, to their lack of aesthetic appeal and unpopular choice of flavor: pickled onion. Nevertheless, terrible appearance and taste aside, you'll often see Irish people happily chowing down on these malformed monster claws. Wikipedia describes Meanies as attempting to "fill the same niche as products such as crisps," as if they'd been created as part of some sort of post-apocalyptic food substitute effort. These corn gargoyles remain popular for a reason though and that is because pickled onion is the flavor you never knew you loved, trust me on this one.
Wilton's Candy is the wonderful company responsible for Macaroon Bars, Klipso Bars, and, my own personal favorite, the Mint Crisp. Far from the flashy packaging of the snack food giants, I like to think that the humble Mint Crisp is probably molded, packaged and distributed by one extended family from their house in the Irish Midlands. Wilton's enjoyed their heyday as a stalwart on the treat scene back in the 80s, and it appears that they never quite got back their dominance in the sweet rat race. This is unfortunate as they offer the ideal mix of chocolate and minty freshness in a fun size. The wrapper might be a bit like using Comic Sans in an important business presentation, but, like every moral fable taught you, it's what's inside that counts and that is no doubt what is keeping these guys in business.
Tayto crisps, one of the most pined-after snacks of ex pats, are so popular that their mystical ambassador Mr. Tayto has run a false presidential campaign, released his own autobiography, and has been honored with a theme park. This particular packet features a resplendent Mr. Tayto alongside a promotion for the Irish Football Team. The names of some of the players appear to have been shoehorned into the text of the packet at various intervals, which is one of the most bizarre marketing strategies I've ever seen. Sour Cream and Dunne'ion? Sunflower Doyle? I bet the marketing team is reclining in Tayto Towers right now, laughing to themselves saying, "I think we really nailed that one boys, really nailed it." Lucky for them their cheese-and-onion variety is unparalleled in the Irish crisp market, allowing them to pull ludicrous marketing stunts like these without repercussions.
Last but not least is the most recent addition to Ireland's roll-call of curious confections: The Langer Bar. This chocolate treat hails from Cork, in the south of Ireland, where, in the vernacular, a langer is either a disagreeable person—or a penis. The bar has already garnered lots of attention, in part for its name, in part for its rich taste. As these photos show (one is above), the bar has been spotted all over the world. However, retailing at €3.25 you're really paying for the name. Only in Ireland would you find a chocolate bar that essentially goes by the title "The Penis Bar" receiving mass acceptance. If you ever meet someone from Cork be sure to cite this slang for instant ingratiation.
And so ends your guide to the exciting and unnerving world of Irish treats. Your first port of call upon setting foot in Ireland might naturally be a pint of Guinness, but why not try a packet of Meanies or a Wilton's Mint Crisp. If possible skip the Jedward bar lest they continue to offend our sensibilities with their branding schemes. These products and our dedication to them are testament to both our unrefined palate and unhinged national psyche. Just follow Jedward on Twitter for proof.
Related: Six British Candies: Which Tastes Best?
Emily Carson is an attempted full-time working person and part-time writer living in Dublin. You can read more from her @ESCarson. Langer Bar photo courtesy of WorldIrish.