Thursday 22 March 2018

It's a national institution . . . so why can't Supermac's bridge the urban-rural divide?

EU is trying to ban Supermac's but the brand is integral to memories of growing up in the country, says Elaine McCahill

Elaine McCahill gets stuck into a Supermac’s. Photo:
Elaine McCahill gets stuck into a Supermac’s. Photo:
Kirsty Blake Knox. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Elaine McCahill and Kirsty Blake Knox

It's lashing rain. The Luas is jam-packed and you're praying you make the train in time. You check your watch and see that there are actually 20 minutes to go.

The relief sets in when you arrive at Heuston Station and realise that not only will you make the train home - but you can also grab a cheeky 'curry cheese chips' from Supermac's. You drag your suitcase, family presents and bag of chips down the platform and as you jump onto the train with a minute to spare, you make your fellow passengers jealous as the delicious smell of curry wafts through the carriage.

For those who grew up outside the Pale, grabbing that last-minute bag of chips as you race for the train gives you the real sense of going home for Christmas.

While city slickers grew up with fancy fast-food options - the likes of Eddie Rockets and KFC - for a child down the country, nothing meant a day out more than the mandatory stop at Supermac's. School tours, GAA matches, a trip to Dublin for a concert all meant one thing: the delight of a double cheeseburger or chocolate muffin with ice cream. And you could get milk rather than fizzy drinks.

I remember one school tour where the highlight was stopping in Supermac's in Limerick on the way home because it had a bowling alley and a huge arcade.

It's not hard to understand why Irish people who live abroad would love to be able to get that taste of home. The fast-food joint is intrinsically linked to Irish life and that's why emigrants in New York got so emotional to see the revered Snack Box up on a screen in Times Square.

Dubliners will never understand how Supermac's relates to country life.

Want to see some drama during Galway Rag Week?

Need to line your stomach before hitting the pubs after a day at the races? Then head to Supermac's in Eyre Square.

It's like Mecca in Galway. Whether you've been in the Róisín Dubh or the Electric Garden, everyone ends up there to get their fill. Coppers wouldn't have a patch on the amount of couples who first hooked up under that fluorescent red sign.

Further down the country, there's nowhere else to be after a match at Semple Stadium in Thurles. It's where the craic is - and even as children we never used to mind queueing for ages as the crowds wound their way out the door and down the street. All part of the fun.

When it comes to taste, you always feel like you're getting more substantial grub than the stringy fries and mediocre burgers in some outlets.

Whether it's a hangover cure or a match day treat, Supermac's is an Irish institution. It's a pity if the Irish abroad were to get to sample the delights only on home soil. 

City girl Kirsty Blake Knox has never had a Snack Box and doesn't get the fuss over this standard fast-food fare

Kirsty Blake Knox. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Saying you don't get the fuss about Supermac's borders on culinary and cultural sacrilege in Ireland.

It's on a par with slagging off a spice bag, or confessing that you don't like Daniel O'Donnell's jumpers. You just don't do it for Christ's sake!

Tell people you've never tried a Snack Box and they'll look at you with a mixture of disgust and contempt.

"Are you even Irish?" they mutter as they push past you.

For years, I've remained silently perplexed by the cultural bastion that is Supermac's.

I've even faked a liking and understanding of the fast-food institution.

I've smiled and nodded in agreement when co-workers and college friends chat about tucking into a red and white bag of fried goodness after a night out.

"Tell me about it!" I laugh, slapping my thigh, hoping no one would sense the hollowness of my words.

But in truth, I don't understand Supermac's at all.

And I will never understand why anyone feels the need to put coleslaw, universally acknowledged as the world's worst condiment, on chips.

Despite this, even I grasped the significance of Supermac's losing its EU legal war with McDonald's this week.

It's the David and Goliath story - but this time Goliath won.

So there seemed no better time to take a trip to Dublin's O'Connell Street branch to try to understand why Supermac's holds such a dear place in Irish consumers' hearts.

I ordered a Mighty Mac, chips and Coke from a soda streamer, which always tastes nicer than from a can.

It felt a little odd sitting in a shiny, fast-food restaurant at 1pm on a Thursday but the place was bustling with businessmen, shop assistants and men in day-glo jackets ordering subs, slices of pizza and chicken tenders.

I was impressed with the offering - the chips were substantial and crispy, the burger greasy and cheesy.

It didn't seem vastly different to any other fast-food joint I'd been in - lots of salt, lots of sugar and lots of calories.

But it's not really about the quality of food in Supermac's, it's about the fast food memories.

As Pat McDonagh, managing director of Supermac's said: "For lots of people, Supermac's is a taste of home, it reminds them of being a kid and getting a treat.

"When people living abroad visit Ireland - going to Supermac's has become a ritual to let them know they're back home.

"It's tied into a lot of happy memories."

So while I won't be making a regular pilgrimage to the fast-food joint, I understand why it's managed to lodge itself into the Irish psyche. Sort of.

Irish Independent

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