29 May 2024

International Potato Day: An ode to the humble spud

| Lucy Ridge
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basket of potatoes

It’s hard to beat homegrown potatoes. Photo: Helen Lynch.

Maybe it’s the Irish blood in my veins, but I couldn’t help but be excited when I discovered that May 30th is the official UN International Day of the Potato. How wonderful! A whole day dedicated to celebrating the humble spud, the cheerful chip, the mighty mash!

What’s not to love about a potato?

Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew: po-tay-toes are (according to the UN) the world’s third most consumed food crop. Potatoes are the bronze medalist of food security and a vital source of sustenance for people the world over.

They’re also bloody delicious.

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When I was an apprentice chef my assessments were undertaken in units grouped by food type: ‘stocks, soups and sauces’, or ‘poultry and game meats’. I cringe to recall that ‘international foods’ were all lumped together as one, but ‘potato’ was given a whole section to itself.

I learned to make croquettes and potato dauphinoise, and I spent a very long time learning to ‘tourne’ potatoes, a technique that creates a seven-sided shape for some reason only comprehensible to the French.

And, of course, there are chips, leading to the inevitable debate over which chip is best.

When I asked my colleagues for their favourite hot chips in Canberra, they didn’t hold back: “Chisholm Takeaway but only when you demand well done,” “Hughes take away – extra chicken salt,” “Any answer besides Kingsleys is objectively wrong.”

At the risk of creating a storm in the comments section (not to mention the carnage I’ve left behind in the office), I will declare my favourite chips in Canberra to be those at the Old Canberra Inn: I love that they leave the skin on and the mix of crispy ends and soft middles just can’t be beaten.

I still wistfully recall the extraordinarily soft potato loaf from the long-gone Cornucopia Bakery in Braddon. Will we ever see such a beautifully braided loaf again?


What’s not to love about potatoes? Photo: Lucy Ridge.

I feel like potatoes have gone out of style on restaurant menus recently: perhaps it’s time the humble spud had a fine-dining comeback. They’re in season, grown locally in Michelago and Crookwell, and cheap as, well, chips!

So how should we celebrate this most magnificent of days? Perhaps with hash browns for breakfast, before potato, bacon and leek soup for lunch. That will surely warm our bellies and hearts in this cold Canberra winter. Dinner could be anything from fish and chips to lamb with roast potatoes or good old chips and gravy.

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Celebratory snacks should, of course, be chips (or crisps, if you’re English). Salt and vinegar, honey soy chicken, crinkle cut or saddle-shaped Pringles: as long as they crunch they’re fine by me.

The only downside to potatoes is their tendency to grow tentacles and try to escape from your pantry when abandoned for months at a time … but perhaps that’s just a sign we should be eating more potatoes!

At the end of the day, perhaps the potato’s finest contribution to world cuisine is in liquid form. Let’s raise a glass of old-fashioned vodka and toast to the humble potato: nazdarovya!

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Lucy, you could go to SpudBar in Belconnen Mall to celebrate the day.

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