A Brief History of Boxty, Ireland's Potato Pancake

Boxty Chicken Quesadilla at Fado Irish Pub | © Fado Irish Pub/Flickr
Boxty Chicken Quesadilla at Fado Irish Pub | © Fado Irish Pub/Flickr
Photo of Niall McGrade
5 August 2017

An old rhyme goes: “Boxty in the griddle, boxty in the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man”. The rhyme may be outdated, but it definitely shows the cultural importance of this dish. But what exactly is boxty? Here’s a look at the peasant dish that Ireland loves to love.

The humble spud

Although potatoes and Ireland are stereotypically inseparable from each other, this wasn’t always the case. Potatoes were brought over from South America to Europe during the 16th century, and quickly took root. Potatoes came to form a massive fraction of the Irish diet, particularly for the country’s poor. By the early 19th century, the average adult Irishman was eating around 6kg of potatoes a day. Because they grow in most types of soil, they were an accessible crop to all, and a large portion of the country’s iconic dishes rely on the tuber. For the Irish, it was a true staple food.

A Potato Harvest in Antrim | Courtesy of Tourism NI

Boxty in the griddle

On to the thing itself: boxty is a potato pancake made with grated potato, flour, baking soda, and buttermilk. Its name likely comes from the Irish arán bocht tí, meaning “poor-house bread”, but it could also come from the word for bakehouse, bácús.

Traditionally made with 70% potato to 30% other ingredients, boxty is mixed together, then fried in a pan like a normal pancake. This gives boxty a unique texture, somewhere between a pancake and a hash brown. Its nearest analogue is probably the Swiss rösti. Boxty can also be boiled like a dumpling or baked as a loaf, but the fried form is by far the most common. As interest in Irish cuisine increases, many different interpretations of the dish have arrived on the scene, with boxty now flavoured with spices, filled with beef, or used as a tortilla in a wrap.

Boxty Chicken Quesadilla at Fado Irish Pub | © Fado Irish Pub/Flickr

Where to try it

Boxty is available all over the island, especially in restaurants specialising in Irish cuisine. In Dublin, Gallagher’s Boxty House sees boxty as its signature dish – the owner is passionate about the potato. Boxty can also be found ready-made in some supermarkets in either dumpling or pancake form.

In Belfast, Holohans Irish Pantry hosts a Beer and Boxty night every Thursday. Endorsed by The Hairy Bikers, it’s a two-course set menu (one course is, of course, boxty) paired with a local beer or wine and accompanied by live traditional music to match the traditional cuisine.

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