The Great Banger Debate

This article was published in the February 2014 issue of the Irish American News (see page 43 of the print edition).

My husband Michael loves sausages, as many Irish folk do. Since arriving in Chicago in 2008, Michael has been on a quest to find a sausage like the kind “you get back home.”

On a cold December afternoon, I sat with Michael devouring a “classic” Irish breakfast at The Irish Bistro in North Center. Michael couldn’t get past how much the Irish bangers tasted like the beloved sausages of his County Down childhood.

The barmaid told us that the sausages were from John Diamond—we had never heard of him or his sausages. Michael took to his phone and looked him up. An article from 2010 popped up, it discussed the Irish banger in Chicago.

The company’s Facebook page featured a close-up of a sausage, crisp and brown. From the tantalizing photo, you could imagine how moist it would taste, the thin casing splitting easily under your teeth at the first bite.

After I downed my cup of tea and Michael finished his pint, we took a swift pace north on Damen Avenue toward Montrose to finish some Christmas shopping—we would shortly be headed to Ireland to be home for the holidays. After crossing enough items off our list, we decided to make our way west when we came across a small Irish shop called, “Celtica.”

I spotted Michael’s mother’s favorite brand of tea, which she purchases by the box-full at her local Sainsbury’s. “Shall we bring her some tea?” I asked and he rolled his eyes and laughed.

Inside, the shop was filled with knickknacks, food stuffs and other Irish novelties (e.g., a pot of real Irish dirt). The shop owner chatted with a customer as she pulled items out of a chest freezer and placed them neatly in bags on the counter. Another woman browsed the shelves.

As I peered at teas and flour for soda bread, while imagining myself in the kitchen becoming an expert soda bread maker, Michael noted the reasonable prices as he ran his fingers across bags of Taytos and Christmas selection boxes.

When living away from Ireland, ordinary things become extraordinary—they pull at your heart strings. Finding Taytos unexpectedly for sale in America, for instance, creates a burst of excitement and a feeling of being connected to home, just as tucking into an authentic fry-up has the ability to transport you across the pond. At times, engaging in a conversation, where the accents are firmly rooted in Belfast, Dublin or Cork, can sharpen a longing for home; at other times, it can ease that longing.

“Where do you get your sausages?” He asked the shop owner without much of an introduction, as he made his way to the counter. “Winston’s,” she replied, pulling out a pack from the freezer. The sausages, although rock hard in their plastic wrap, seemed ripe with authentic potential.

Michael explained in detail how we’ve experienced Winston’s sausages, how my Irish-American family would go out of their way to buy them from his shop near Midway Airport and how my mom would cook them. Although I’m not originally from Ireland—my ancestors moved to North Dakota from County Donegal in the 1860s—my Irish roots pushed me to appreciate the many versions of the Irish sausage.

The woman who had been quietly browsing in the shop chimed in, in an Irish accent that I couldn’t place.

We spoke at length, standing at the counter as if in a Donegal pub, debating the high and low points of sausages. Pretty soon the conversation turned to the topic of soda bread and the other woman, who had been browsing, confided that she made it from time to time, selling it at farmer’s markets. I asked if she would share her recipe, but she averred, mumbling about “family secrets.”

Finally, Michael managed to bring the conversation to a halt when he mentioned potato bread, “I line the bottom of my suite case every time I come home and then it all goes in the freezer.” The Celtica shop owner swooned over the thought and simply said, “Yes, potato bread.”

As I listened to the varied Irish accents, I was suddenly transported back to Ireland. I felt happy—happy that Michael could find community around food, around a sausage, something you could call simple, but ultimately has a very complex cultural value. And although Michael considers Chicago his home now, I know how important moments like these are for him to build a community in Chicago, his home away from home.

We said our goodbyes with the promise to return and left the shop. We may not have agreed on the best Irish sausage in Chicago, but we certainly had a spirited afternoon connecting with others in Chicago’s Irish community over our shared love of “what you get back home.”

I carried a strong feeling of Ireland with me the rest of the afternoon realizing that a walk around the neighborhood is enough to connect Michael to his Irish roots, me to mine and us to each other.

 

 

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