Friday, April 17, 2009

Ireland, Part 4: Cuisine

We both dig good food and beer. Part of our preparation on any vacation involves researching a few restaurants we want to try. In the US, brewpubs/gastropubs* with interesting menus rank very high on our list because it’s the culinary equivalent of multitasking.

*I love the concept of gastropubs but hate the term. I always associate the prefix gastro- with IBS or something.

Our research for Ireland consisted of reading a few online articles, perusing a Fodor’s travel book (which was fantastic, by the way), and watching Bourdain and Flay traipse about the countryside, mysteriously always finding yummy treats and eccentric folks. (Wow! They have friends everywhere!)

Well, the opinion from all outlets was unanimous—Ireland, once a culinary wasteland of blanditude, was in the midst of a flavor renaissance! The roaring economy was the main factor: on one hand, immigrants searching for work brought along their culture and food; on the other, the boom in disposable income among the Irish led to more travel and the revelation that, hey—these spices taste good!

For this reason, we looked forward to our food experience....but unfortunately, the results were decidedly meh.

First though, I must say our breakfasts were consistently satisfying. We stayed at B&Bs and were very well-fed. We had a hot breakfast every day with our choice of breads, cereals, fruit, bacon, sausage, eggs...even the black or white "pudding" (blood sausage) was there for the asking. The hosts fed us so well that every morning after I finished breakfast, I thought, "I might actually be getting tired of bacon and sausage." (If you think these thoughts ever managed to persist until the next, have we met?)

As far as lunch and dinner go, the food is still predominantly bland. Don't believe the hype. I think people like, say, my grandparents would be just fine with all the stews, potatoes, and other stick-to-your-ribs grub. That stuff just doesn't do it for me. We ate at pubs a few times, mostly because at the first one we tried my fiancee ordered a fish special that looked like something off Iron Chef--beautiful presentation and flat-out delicious. My "hot pot" (a savory lamb stew) was, in retrospect, very flavorful as well.

This turned out to be the exception, not the rule. Pub food is basically bland meat and potatoes...lots and lots of potatoes. I mean, UNGODLY amounts of potatoes. I'm not exaggerating when I say my week in Ireland easily doubled my 2009 YTD potato consumption.

How bad was it? Midweek, we were both craving something--ANYTHING--with some flavor. The restaurant we visited had an Indian curry dish, so we gave it a shot.

It was tasty--a nice take on curried chicken served with rice.

AND mashed potatoes.

AND fried potatoes.

But here's the problem: restaurants in Ireland are exorbitantly expensive thanks to the explosion in their standard of living. Seriously--I read that it's cheaper to eat in New York or Paris than Ireland right now. Our no-frills pub meals came in at about $35 for two; add a beer and it was about $50. These were the least expensive places to eat, mind you. (If you're in Killarney, you may also get a nice heaping side of kerosene fumes since the furnace wasn't drafting properly.)

To get the "cuisine" that was allegedly everywhere and so univerally lauded, you were stepping up to $100 per couple minimum for a meal that would run you about $40 per couple here in KC.

Knowing we had a tremendous splurge coming the last night of our trip (our most expensive meal EVVVARRRR--details soon), it was really hard to justify too many of those.

In fact, I think our two most satisfying meals on the trip were the aforementioned "exception pub" meal and the pizza we ordered in Cork after walking past the menus of a half-dozen "cuisine" spots.

It was the first time $25 for a pizza and two Diet Cokes ever felt like a bargain.

Finally, as if there were any doubt that we are absolutely not full-time foodies: we also had cajun chicken "panini" (that's what they called them, but they really just toasted subs).


From gas stations.

We needed something quick on the road. Tastier than you might think (they did make them fresh), though one of the other quirks about Ireland is trying to get people NOT to put mayo on stuff. I hate it, and they use it in even far more nefarious ways over there--you'll find it snuck into stuff you'd never imagine. Yeah, the deli chicks looked at me strangely when I requested that they leave my sammich dry.

I don't care. Mayo is for sucks.


The "exception pub": Sonny's in Galway

The River Liffey, Dublin

Old meets new--walls of Dublin Castle surrounded by modern flats
Main Street in Adare, Co. Limerick...but it could really be anywhere in Ireland.

I don't know what these plants are (did Dr. Seuss plant them?), but they're over 6' tall

1 comment:

Ellen K. said...

Only the black pudding had blood in it. That's what makes it dark. I enjoyed both the white pudding and the black pudding, but it wasn't till my 2nd trip to Ireland (each a week long) that I was brave enough to try the black pudding.