I am running several stories behind. have not shared with you the fantastic recipe for the wheat-semolina cake made to celebrate a family birthday. You are blissfully unaware of the kitchen disaster called the apple doughnut muffins. I have not even begun extolling the virtues of my new air fryer (it is jealousy that killed the toaster).
Before all that (and how I have all the makings for a Tex-Mex party tonight), I need to talk about Ireland. The toaster’s demise sidetracked me horrendously. I am determined, though, to pen down my best food experiences from the vacation; else the tastes and memories shall fade into the Irish misty drizzle and be forgotten.
So here goes, without further ado – a list (ranked in ascending order) of my top ten food memories from an Indian summer in Ireland.
# 10: A Sub for breakfast from the local SPAR: What’s the big deal, I hear you ask. What’s so special about some lettuce, bell peppers and corn in fresh bread? The sub, ordinary as it was, that morning in Dublin, symbolized my victory over public transport in a strange country. If you ever feel that you know it all, do yourself a favor: travel to a new country, and take the tube or catch a bus to somewhere alone. It is both humbling and empowering.
The sub therefore, was the result of me figuring out that one needs change in coins to pay the fare in a bus in Dublin. Which, in turn, was the result of me figuring out all the buses to and fro my little B&B tucked away in the suburbs. It also marked the start of my day alone in Dublin, spent primarily being lost and for some unexplained reason, marching alongside tens of thousands of Irish protesting the water charges. That is a story for a different day, and for a different blog.
#9: Noodles on a rainy evening: Sorry, I am crap at being a food reporter. I have completely forgotten the name of this little Asian eatery – one of those chain ones, complete with rickety tables and a laminated menu with supposedly tempting pictures of food. It was just off O’Connell in Dublin, our last evening in Ireland. Exhausted with all the driving and walking we had done that day, all my husband and I wanted was a warm meal. So a big bowl of noodles, with some spring rolls and spicy chilli sauce, had steaming hot on a drizzly evening, clutching wet umbrellas, while hordes of Dubliners and tourist swarmed past us, more than hit the spot.
#8 Temple Bar Area: I might as well finish with Dublin. Now shut your eyes and imagine. (Okay, you have to open your eyes to read this. First read this, and then shut your eyes and imagine.) You are floating in space, only to plummet to earth, hover over Ireland, zero onto Dublin, dive into the center of the city, zoom along narrow cobble stone streets, thrumming with people and dotted with crooning buskers, pass the various eateries and pubs, wait as a door swings open and the music – perhaps Irish, some American – dances out, pass by couple of bachelor parties in full costume and full swing, listen in on strange accents meeting and mingling with the Irish lilt, and feel the gradual crescendo of energy and excitement on a Friday night in the pulsing heart of a city at the center of the world.
The Temple Bar Area is supposed to be over-hyped, but I had a thoroughly good time, both on the Friday evening spent with the girls from work, after a long week of toil, and my time there the next day. While Friday was about learning the local custom of standing at the bar, squeezed against several strangers, sipping on a pint (of Bulmers Cider), and swaying to the music, the day after was about gratefully sinking into the window seat at the Norseman and watching the world go by. When in Dublin, a pint in one of the bars here is a must do, firmly recommended.
#7: Hyland’s Burren Restaurant: Leave the noisy pubs of Dublin for this quiet and charming place in the little village of Ballyvaughan. The husband and I spent a perfectly pleasant evening, over pale ale and a perfectly grilled vegetarian platter. In Ireland, the lonelier, colder and darker the night, the more welcoming and warm are the local bars and restaurants. Hyland’s is no exception, and the staff know exactly when you need something and leave you alone the rest of the time. A wonderful end to a long drive and imagining Daniel Radcliff suddenly apparating at the Cliffs of Moher.
I am getting hungry for lunch so subsequent descriptions are about to get a lot of shorter, so hang on for the remaining 6.
# 6: McGann’ Pub in Doolin: First off, how great a name is Doolin? Doolin is a little village, on the Wild Atlantic Way, in County Clare, made famous on the tourist circuit by being a pit-stop for those visiting the Cliffs of Moher. It is next to a town called Lisdoonvarna. You don’t know need to know that, except for how great a name is Lisdoonvarna? Anyhow, we ate at McGann’s at Doolin on a sunny afternoon on the way to the Cliffs. Despite arriving at the same time as a bus load of tourists, we were served in a jiffy. S had the day’s special, a big bowl of hot mushroom soup while I ate pasta. There wasn’t a single place in Ireland, where the wait staff was not extremely good at coming up with vegetarian food options or modifying their dishes to suit us. The pasta was done exactly to my liking and the soup was delicious.
The reason why McGann’s is on the list is because this is where I met Smythwick’s pale ale. The friendly bartender helped me with a few samples, and lo and behold, I found my best friend for the trip (the beer, the not the bartender.) People will go on and on about Guinness, but my recommendation is to sample other brew as well. Stay clear of the obnoxious Coor’s and try the local beer in the towns that you visit.
#5: Oslo Bar, Galway: Which brings me nicely to #5. 5 things that put Oslo so high on the list – they craft their own beer and stock plenty from around the world, they are right by the gorgeous Galway Bay, they have great falafel, the décor is quirky and welcoming, and in the ladies’ loo they have the most gorgeous hand painted poster. Need I say more?
#4: Pablo Picante in Dublin: Oh, I forgot, we need to go back to Dublin for Pablo Picante. In fact go to Dublin for Pablo Picante. Why? Because they put the picante in Mexican! Trust me on the picante, what’s salsa if it does not cause smoke to stream out of the ears. I ordered the Victorian Verde, both times I visited. (Yes, I liked it so much that I went back the next day!). The girls got some chips with guacamole which was also delish. Far from being doughy or dry, my burrito packed quite a punch and had the perfect ratio of flour, fillings, rice, and sauce.
So inspired am I with the Pablo Picante memories, that I am dishing up Tex-Mex for dinner. Home-made guacamole, refried beans, tomato salsa with grilled vegetables, marinated in my special secret recipe (which I shall reveal only at gun point, or if you ask real nice.)
#3 Arches at Adare: On a long cross country drive from Dingle to Kilkenny, we stopped at Arches to have lunch, proving that sometimes the most random choices are the best ones. While the food is good enough, the service is what it makes it super. The owner personally ensured that we were comfortable, customizing because I wanted my sandwiches grilled; the service staff had an awesome sense of humor and truly cared for our and other diners’ comfort. Tip: The apple pie was as light and flaky as a cinnamon-vanilla cloud. You just have to order dessert.
#2: Stoney Kebabish: We stayed near Kilkenny, at this dear farmhouse called Lawcus. The owner (Ann- Marie) recommended that we check out the nearby eatery at Stoneyford. And thus it comes to pass, that my second most favorite food memory from Ireland is actually that of an Indian place run by a Pakistani gentleman! I do believe that it is pointless to go seeking familiar home-food when you can sample all the local delights in a ‘foreign’ country, but chips with curry sauce washed down with Smythwick’s, is just impossible to pass up. The owner is such a dear and I hope he continues to do roaring trade.
#1 Breakfast at Lawcus Farmhouse: Ann Marie had also thoughtfully given us a hand drawn map of the local area, and we woke up early next morning and for a stroll around the nearby ruins of a twelfth century priory (in Kells). As we wandered through the stone tower houses, I imagined a bustling priory straight from Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. The presence of several sheep with their woolly gazes was a bit out of place, though. After the priory, we walked by an old water wheel and made our way along the meandering King’s river, with birds and swans for company. While leprechauns were scarce, or in hiding, they did serve up a rainbow to tie the morning up (my birthday gift, as the husband put it!)
The walk gave us just the right appetite for Ann Marie’s breakfast, pictured here. We left the menu to her and she dished up the perfect omelet with cheese and spinach, in her open kitchen. And the lovely birthday breakfast is, rightfully, the #1 food memory.
As you can imagine, I left Ireland with lasting visions of shamrock and potatoes, mixed up with picante and curry sauce. What makes the food scene in Ireland the best, is undoubtedly the caring and warm hospitality of the hosts, owners, bar tenders and service staff. My best advice to you, that when in Ireland, ask for recommendations, the day’s specials, sit at the bar first, and strike up a conversation. Time flows different in the country, a lot more relaxed, perhaps stopping for beer and some spuds. The only way to understand the pulse of this nation is to join in, sit back with a drink, and drift along.