Orla Tinsley: Life is too short and unpredictable, so eat your curry chips now

The irony is, before I was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease, I mostly avoided fast food

This past week, as the snow landed, I walked past the Embassy Grill and my heart began to race. I knew that the finest curry chips in Dublin lived there, inches away, and I knew this because I grew up with their cousin, Central Grill (aka purveyors of the finest curry chips in Kildare), minutes from my family home.

This was the perfect Irish dish for a winter day because a giant plate of fat chips in a sea of curry can cure any conundrum.

I think it’s McDonnells sauce and a sprinkle of magic that they use. Drool.

At that moment, I figured that I finally understood something of what smokers feel when they’re trying to quit. Since last year things have changed drastically for me, and when it comes to winter cravings I must abstain.


This is my first Christmas living with diagnosed end-stage kidney disease, which means: changes. I turned to face them through a trial run cooking a Thanksgiving feast for my parents. Beloved dishes modified and tested, I made them accessible and kidney-friendly in preparation for Christmas. I felt ready-to-write-my-recipe-book levels of confidence, but some dishes could not be saved. End-stage kidney disease causes a build-up of normal minerals and fluids in the body, because the kidneys do not work. The body usually secretes waste through the kidneys. But when it comes to chips or, in particular, curry chips, nothing could be done. Their gastronomic glory could not be imitated, replicated or replaced.

This rings true for pudding and Christmas cake too, which I have to limit to prevent the fruits from causing a catastrophic potassium spike. And then there is phosphate that must be controlled by carefully administered binders so it doesn’t build up in the body. Not to mention the turkey sweats are limited this year as my protein comes in carefully proportioned doses. We do hard things because they are necessary, and in this past year I have found joy in exploring escape routes, cooking through the feeling of absence my end-stage kidney disease diet has caused. I pose this question to myself often, dwelling in abundance: what ingredients are available to me?

Over time, alternatives to mac and cheese found their way into my self-made cookbook, alongside chicken pot pie, non-mushroom green-bean casserole and roast potatoes that had been vigorously boiled first to eliminate the problematic potassium and then buffed and crisped under the broiler. It is possible to be satisfied, but it is not easy. The irony is, before this happened, I mostly avoided fast food. I should have eaten more curry chips.

They are something I crave in the depths of despair or, in their absence, a fluffed baked potato (also banned). One time I was in hospital in New York and my amazing friend asked whether I would like any good grub brought in. “McDonald’s cheeseburger and chips! With a strawberry shake!” I said, far too enthusiastically. Not wanting to overburden the poet, who, like me, was a student, I also knew that people often mistake an unexpressed need for an excuse to bring a fruit basket. I was not willing to let that tragedy happen. The golden sun illuminated the Hudson as my friend arrived with the grub and some poems. I unfurled the paper bag emblazoned with the golden arches and listened to him read.

The bag looked kind of small, but hey, maybe no napkins. Sensing something, my friend stopped sharp, held up his hands and said: “I’m not sure if you like Ruffles or not so I got another kind too.” A dark cloud draped over the room and the archives of my internal dictionary scrambled. I realised my fatal mistake. In the US, chips translates to potato chips. As in: a bag of the crispy cold comfort that provides a sad substitute for a skinny bag of fries. Never mind the chunky Central Grill chips.

Life is too short, and unpredictable, so eat your curry chips now. It’s especially worth remembering now as we are bombarded with language from the diet industry designed to create deficit instead of abundance. A recipe made famous by Monica and Ross Geller is on my list for today. The Moist Maker, in all its glory, is a Thanksgiving staple from Friends and it goes like this: Take one slice of bread and soak it in gravy. Next, take two more slices of bread and butter them with mayo. Layer with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, lettuce and the gravy bread. Repeat. Eat.

That’s better. I hope you are eating what you love and that you continue that into the new year. The time is now.