Dulse and Yellowman - Gastro Obscura


Dulse and Yellowman

An unlikely pairing of honeycomb toffee and purple seaweed.

Each year, thousands of people visit the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle, County Antrim. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s the oldest fair in Northern Ireland. And while all kinds of stalls line the streets, it’s the food that draws much of the attention.

Chief among the culinary treats on offer is a particularly strange combination: dulse and yellowman. The latter is a yellow, toffee-textured honeycomb made from brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, vinegar, and baking soda (though some recipes vary slightly). Big chunks of yellowman are smashed up with a hammer, and sold in uneven shards. It’s kind of like a less refined version of the inside of a Cadbury’s Crunchie bar.

Dulse, meanwhile, is a type of seaweed harvested at low tide along the coasts of Northern Ireland. Irish monks began harvesting this seaweed (an activity known as “dulsing”) some 1,400 years ago. It can be eaten raw or tossed into soups, but most often dulse is dried in the sun and turned into chewy, reddish-purple seaweed chips.

Why these two became a classic combination is open to debate. Perhaps it was a genuine flavor pairing, a centuries-old sweet-and-salty snack similar to today’s chocolate-covered pretzels or salted caramel popcorn. Or maybe the combination came about simply through centuries of association at the fair.

The two have been sold alongside each other for hundreds of years, and were made even more famous as a duo by a local shopkeeper and bog-oak carver named John Henry MacAuley. He wrote a ballad about the fair that includes a reference to dulse and yellowman. Part of the chorus goes as follows: “Did you treat your Mary Ann to some dulse and yellow man / At the Ould Lammas Fair in Ballycastle-O?”

Where to Try It
  • The fair typically occurs on the last Monday and Tuesday of August. Though dulse and yellowman are normally sold individually, vendors place them alongside each other, so you can choose whether to combine them or eat them separately.

Written By
Tony Dunnell Tony Dunnell