Everyone is Going on About ‘GirlDinner’, but it’s just Mammy Salad for the TikTok Generation.

Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Parello Instagram, Three servings of ‘girl dinner’, as defined by TikTok. Composite: TikTok @alanalavv via The Guardian

Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Parello Instagram, Three servings of ‘girl dinner’, as defined by TikTok. Composite: TikTok @alanalavv via The Guardian

Hate to break it to you, but GirlDinner is nothing new or cool or even that novel. There is a reason it went viral – we were all already eating like this? Why – because we grew up eating like this. That’s because this newfangled ‘GirlDinner’ is just Mammy Salad with a glow-up. It’s yer ma’s picky bits with a better name. Yes, the salad of your childhood nightmares has come back, but it’s now called “GirlDinner” and features Parello Olives.

The narcotism of GirlDinner is undeniable. In the last seven days, more than a thousand food videos have been about girl dinner: an assemblage of no-cook snacks eaten as a meal. The trend has been viewed a collective 14m times. It has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, CNN and every major publication you can think of. GirlDinner has gotten so big that Nigella Lawson of mick-ro-wavé fame has responded in tweet form. She called us all out for thinking it was a cool new wave style of eating by reminding us that our parents ate like this, and theirs before them.

At first glance, this is a trend celebrating culinary non-conformity. But when you dig into it, you start to see echoes of a ghost of every Irish childhood mirrored in it.

We all know the Mammy Salad, which was sometimes called a “picky bits salad” by the Mammys. The salad has been named after the people who served it to us as soon as it got too warm to bother with coddle-ing. The mammy salad is the OG’ It’s too hot to cook dinner, dinner.’ This childhood classic was typically built from boiled eggs, cucumber, ham, coleslaw, slices of cheese, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, and coleslaw. There was also ham all rolled up to look fancy, but was just sambo ham.  

The mammy salad was somewhat ubiquitously served begrudgingly by mothers who knew they had to make dinner for the kids but just wanted to be decked out on the patio with their sisters having a natter in the sun. Along with a rose, Aperol spritz and a 99, the mammy salad has a season: summer. And though we all hated it as children, there is a genuine fondness for it now that we’re old enough to be nostalgic for a time when food magically appeared before us. 

The mammy salad rose to notoriety because of the fridge. Refrigerators were still a status symbol in Ireland in the 50s and 60s. This led to chilled foods such as prawn cocktails, potato salad and coleslaw being the height of sophistication. So when the women who became mammies in the 80s and 90s were shopping and the things that seemed out of reach for their mothers were affordable and storable, they went in on it. These jars of picky bits made them feel a bit posh. So the mammy salad of the 80s 90s proliferated at the same time as fridges and delicatessens themselves.

Girl Dinner Mammy Salad
Girl Dinner Mammy Salad

The same can be said of GirlDinner. Many parts of girl dinner that would have been seen as posh when we were kids have become foundational parts of our regular shopping. Olives, sardines, anchovies, and even pickles to an extent. Fancy cheese, dried and cured meats, artichoke hearts. All these things are now available in Lidl and Aldi at reasonable prices. All of them keep in the same way the components of a mammy salad did. Each part is traditionally eaten during warm weather. 

The biggest difference between a mammy salad and a GirlDinner is crucially that mammy salad is made for us by a loved one and usually with ingredients that were popular in the 90s. GirlDinner has a few more notions. They’re also made by girls, for girls of girlie supermarket treats. GirlDinner’ is less together than a charcuterie board. It tends to be rushed and a little chaotic. Modern girlies got places to be scurrying off to and stuff to be doing. They don’t have time for slaving over hot stoves, either.

Albeit new, the trend has its detractors who call the meal ‘suspiciously low calorie’ like TikTok user @siennabeluga said in a video which has over 720,000 views. Others say that it’s just ED in a TikTok Acceptable form. That elicits an eye roll from active participants in GirlDinner.

Girl Dinner Mammy Salad 
Three servings of ‘girl dinner’, as defined by TikTok. Composite: TikTok @alanalavv Via The Guardian

Would you call a charcuterie board ‘suspiciously low cal’? No! Because there is heft to it. Many of the plates featured in this trend include foods with a wide combination of flavours and textures. It’s basically eating a “smorgasbord” of favourite things. Just because it’s female doesn’t mean it’s diet culture. Just because it’s not a conventional dinner doesn’t mean it’s symptomatic of problem eating.

GirlDinner can be seen as a meal of liberation or oppression, depending on which side your baguette is buttered. You’re liberated if you’re off living your best life. You’re not if you’re being worked too hard by the excessive expectations that are put upon women. 

The same can be said for the mammy salad. It was either a way for a mammy to feed the kids while making time for herself when the sun came out. Or it could be seen as emblematic of how women are forced to do household labour even when they needed a break.

Is there such a thing as “boy dinner”? There is an argument that we are all girlies on the internet and that therefore men can do GirlDinner too. However, if you want a gendered version, there is one. According to TikToker Bryan Lee, “boy dinner” is frozen pizza or whatever is in the legions of men’s baskets in the local shop after work time. 

In the same way, dad dinner was beans on toast or more likely to be a walk to the chipper. The biggest difference between girl dinner and boy dinner is prep. The boys trend towards being last-minute-Larrys, and the girls tend to have a few bits in the fridge since. Things like pickles that don’t go off quickly.  

Girl Dinner Mammy Salad

According to the DSN English report on fashion trends, trends repeat every 20-30 years because of “generational changes as well as designers taking inspiration from styles their parents wore.” The same can be said about food. We might not be eating the exact same fare that was trendy in the 90s, but its certainly informed by how we ate when we were younger. Sure, everything is always informed by how we grew up. So if you thought you were cycle-breaking by GirlDinner-ing then I am sorry to say you are -in fact – not.

Elsewhere on CHAR: Unleash Your Inner Rat Girl and Eat a Whole Chicken with your Bare Hands

Related Articles