When something is presented well, it piques the appetite and increases enjoyment of food.
A chance encounter, it was a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. Silke Cropp had stacked rows of cheese at her stand during Galway’s food festival. Cheese-maker Silke and her colleague Kevin Powell, cheese-monger, were offering slices of their most unusual home made products.
The small slice of sheep’s cheese sat well on the palate. It was neither strong nor aggressive in taste and settled well. The goat’s cheese was a little stronger. Both were made in cylinders, hard rather than soft, as the usual imported French goat cheese is.
A new and different taste celebrated with a sip of white wine. Some sheep’s cheese found a home in a little paper bag.
Ireland is like that. Chance encounters with country people whose skill in the garden, kitchen, and bakery make the land a place to savor. Ireland is not to be confused with England where good products are destroyed by bad cuisine. Ireland is a place where culinary arts have prospered with intelligent choices and organic farming.
“They call me the celebrity chef,” said Darina Allen. Having addressed a hall filled with visiting dignitaries, her welcome was about food.
Darina, who’d offered food, was later scooping up plates of it to take to the Irish ministers so they could eat while greeting important guests.
“Why Cook?” Darina asks and then answers. “Because so much depends on the food we eat—our health, our energy, our vitality, our ability to concentrate … we can’t do much about our genes, but we can take responsibility for our own health and the health of our families by choosing food that nourishes rather than empty calories that fuel rather than satisfy.”
There were many samplings of Irish foods available. Thomas Burns offered chocolates. “This is vegan raw chocolate with cashews. No sugar is added.” When it melted in the mouth it radiated taste with sweet, but not the over-sugared ordinary chocolate taste.
John Curley, his daughter Angela, and colleague Michael Reddington stood at a spice stand. Everything was natural; no flavor-enhancing additives. John Curley began his business 40 years ago. The family business is now the largest privately owned family-run food manufacturer and distributor in Ireland.
It was clear from a sampling of their products that the spices, oils, sauces, and jams were what they were supposed to be, and nothing else.
Most visitors begin their Irish journey in Dublin; the city has a great ethnic mix, with Chinese and Indian gourmet influences everywhere.
In Temple Bar on Anglesea Street is a little restaurant called The Mongolian Barbeque. Host Saravanan greeted with a warm welcome.
Not simply a serve-yourself buffet, the diner is expected to fill a bowl with choices such as various meats, seafood, vegetables, noodles, and tofu, add herbs, spices, and sauces, then present it to a chef. The selection is then cooked in the Mongolian way and returned to the bowl.
Saravanan assured that this form of cooking arose with Mongolian warriors that made do by preparing their stir-fry atop battle shields. The food is delicious, fresh, and savory. The Mongolian Barbeque offers a full dinner with as many trips to the buffet as one desires for about $20.
While shopping in Dublin, discover Avoca Café on Suffolk Street, a most unusual café on the second floor of a department store on Suffolk Street. It was a grand surprise.
Their beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and eggs are 100 percent Irish origin, sourced from certified members of Quality Assurance Schemes, and local suppliers. No wonder the food is delicious. A main course will cost about $20.
Avoca’s organic beef burger comes with a delicious serving of Hegarty cheddar cheese, beef tomato, and a great pile of chunky fried potatoes. The potatoes are the equivalent of two large spuds, cut thick and piled crosswise on the plate.
For those with a yen for the unusual visit Café en Seine; a must-see bistro. The décor is something like 1920s Paris with tall bronze statues, a kind of French art deco, marble tables with armchairs, a long skylight over the bar, chandeliers, and glass ceiling lamps.
The food runs from bar snacks to beef and Guinness pie. They serve ale-battered fish and chips catch of the day. Figure $23 for a main course on average.
Dine and Dance
Leave room for some fun for there is a country pub outside of town on a beautiful hillside that evokes the spirit of Irish music and dance over a fine meal.
The Merry Ploughboy’s food is fine and traditional Irish music exceptional, with dancing that puts one in the mood to join in.
Of course, more fun is yet to come. Most combination excursion tickets include a visit in Dublin to the Guinness beer storehouse and Jameson’s whiskey distillery.
But the best yet is found out of town in Kilbeggan, only a short drive or bus tour from Dublin.
Locke’s Distillery proclaims itself the oldest licensed distillery in the world. The key to their brag is ‘licensed,’ for in Ireland and elsewhere, the making of that magic potion they spell with an added ‘e’ has been made without license for ages.
The old Kilbeggan, licensed in 1757, remains just where it was started, on the Brusna River. It was a perfect place since limestone imparted minerals to pure river water, which also turned a water wheel to supply needed power.
Whiskey was produced at Kilbeggan until 1953 when it ceased production. Cooley’s Distillery took it over and returned to small production, still being made in the old distillery. Tours describe the old ways and the new, and always end with a tasting of Kilbeggan’s finest.
Let the wanderlust take you where it may. On most every road a rover travels in Ireland, a good meal awaits with a warm greeting and happy smiles.
John Christopher Fine is the author of 24 books. His articles appear in magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.
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