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A Culinary Sojourn to Ireland…by the Main Dish!

Post #8:  I Spent A Week One Day In Galway City, County Galway, Ireland:  We’ve been having an amazing time touring the country but I have to say we were ready for the experience we had in Galway City.  This city is Terry’s  favorite   city in Ireland but I have to admit I only know about 1/2 blo ck of it and we are already gone and in another unbelievable Irish city (more on that later).  It is her favorite because it is a college town but also because it sits on the sea and has some history that is impressive.  We pulled into the Jury’s Inn on the seaport in the evening and immediately had our way with some Fish and Chippies as they call them here at a place called McDounough’s on Quay Street (pronounced “Kay” if you have the inflection right or jut “Key” if you don’t).  Honestly we were so tired that we turned in early and slept late the next morning only to be awakened by a phone call from a friend of Terry’s telling us that he was on his way in on the boat from the Aran Islands.  His name is Paul and he is a stonecutter and Terry buys from him for her store.

By the time Paul arrived we were already at a bar whose name I will have to google because it’s in Gaelic…something like Si Tschaen (I’m sure I butchered that).  Anyway we arrived around 12:00 sat in one of the little wooden booths and ordered coffee and tea and chatted until 2;00 at which time we switched to Guinness.  The rest is history but suffice it to say that before it was over we had several at our table and we were well into the pub “craic.”  (For me it was golden because the folks we were with couldn’t believe that I wasn’t 42-45 year old.  I’m just sayin’ — they were my besties.)

What was so amazing about it was that we totally lost track of time and just let the day unfold.  I want  to be clear that this wasn’t about the Guinness … or the IRish coffee … or the Hot Whiskey … it was about the discussion and the friendliness of the folks and the amazing jokes and stories and history and etc. etc. .  We went back to the hotel around midnight with more tales than a car full of clowns and one of the best days here in Ireland.  I think it was mainly because we took a break from the touring and just enjoyed the culture.  It was a day I won’t soon forget.  We were truly in the zone of being able to let go of all of our responsibilities and just get lost in the local culture of a fabulous city.

Things I Learned In Ireland Today:
–  The bathrooms (or “toilets” as they call them here) are ALWAYS cold.  Apparently we are told that toilets are not for relaxing…word is that you are supposed to do your business and get out.  I say why not provide just a bit of heat to keep your bum warm.  That’s not too much too ask.
–  There is an infatuation with Lasagna here in Ireland.  It’s on every menu.  Seriously?
– A “traveller” in Ireland is actually a gypsy … and they really exist here.
–  Irish bars don’t have  a “Happy Hour”  — they have A “Happier Hour”
–  I have the personal cell phone and home number for Fishy Fishy Restaurant, the most popular restaurant in Ireland (at least as far as the rest of the world is concerned) in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland.  And supposedly he is expecting my call.  More on how I got that later but the dude who handed it over is an Olympic Gold Medal Winner in sailing and lives in Kinsale.  (And no I haven’t used the phone number … that would be rude… but I probably WILL email him.)
– When Jameson Whiskey was tested in the old days, the Customs and Excise Tax Officials mixed a small amount of the “ready for shipping” whiskey with a small amount of gunpowder.  If nothing happened, it was “underproofed”, if there was a perfect blue flame, it was perfectly proofed and ready for sale … but if there was an explosion then it was “overproofed” and they couldn’t sell it.  The important part of this story is that in the latter case, there was always applause heard round the entire distillery because it was the employees who would get their fare share of this “bad” lot.
–  If you’re travelling with Terry and someone in your hotel tries to open your door in the middle of the night, Terry will jump up and go into defensive fighting position and yell out “Who Is There!” and then not remember anything about it the next day.  I felt protected.  Totally.
– There’s a local radio personality named “Joe” that takes calls every afternoon on anything that the callers want to talk about and it is funnier than hell.
– The BBC show called “Father Ted” is just plain wrong … and entirely hilarious.
–  I understand that I have a great disappointment to look forward to when I come home … and that i that the Guinness in the States will never measure up.  Bummer.
–  I have all of the recipes I need for the making of a cookbook of my sojourn here in Ireland and it will include the aforementioned “Fairy Cakes”
– There  is a “Butter Museum” in Cork and it is closed in January.  Darn!

Post #7:  An Irish Fish Story:      In addition to my search for soup and Guinness in the pubs of Ireland, we have a parallel search for wonderful seafood.  Our first experience was in the Castle Bar in Donegal Town where we had a seafood pie (think Shepherds pie with all kinds of fresh seafood in a cream sauce, then topped with smooth mashed potatoes and a bit of cheddar anad broiled)  as well as some mussels that were plucked from the sea a mere mile up the road at Mount Charles.  The pub was a step back in time with it’s low beamed ceilings and dark knotted wood furniture complete with black and red striped upholstery with gold rivets.  It is situated literally in the shadow of an ancient castle.  We each ordered a glass of wine and waited for our dishes.  When they arrived we took one bite and immediately went quiet.  Moans and groans of goodness abounded.  (Yes, we received weird looks from those around us.)   Seriously we were “gobsmacked” (my new Irish word for the day).  It was so good that we could barely talk while we took bites from each other’s dishes.  This is the real deal.

We had a similar experience in Clifden, County Galway at a restaurant called O’Malley’s where we stayed the night…not in the restaurant but in one of the rooms above the restaurant/pub.  We ordered the special which was freshly caught haddock with a pine nut, parsley, garlic and bread crumb topping which was broiled and finished with a clear butter and lemon sauce and served with saffron rice and the ubiquitous brown bread and butter.  (Have I talked about the butter overe here?  Holy cow….I almonst mean that literally!)  The fish was so delicate and fresh that you could almost imagine it still swimming in the clear blue waters off the coast.  I’ll try my hand at recreating the dish and post it later.  I promise.

Last night was a seafood pizza that was off the charts as well.  It just seems that anywhere you go you can try your hand at any sort of fresh fish and the dish comes out perfect.

After dinner we went next door to the a little bar called Lowry’s which is known for trad music and good craic.  (There is that word again.)  We immediately started conversation with Amanda the bartender as well as several of the customers.  By the time we were into the music for 1 hour, we were amazed by two young boys who stepped up to the performance “booth.” (in Irish trad music venues, a few musicians will sit in a booth that would normally be used for eating and drinking and just play.   As the evening unfolds, other musicians will sit in.)  These two young lads were all of 18 years old.  One picked up a guitar and the other an accordian and they blew the house away.  It literally brought tears to our eyes because these kids were at that age where they really didn’t know how good they were.  They sang sweet Irish songs and eventually invited their young friends to dance the ancient (pre-Michael Flatley style Irish) dance called  Sean Nos dancing.  Even the young men would step up and dance on the wooden board that was dragged out to the middle of the pub at even the slightest suggestion of dance by someone.  It was pure magic.

Thing s I’ve Learned in Ireland Today:
–  Anytime someone asks me how I am from now on…I’m going to reply with one of the following:  “I’m grand!” or  “I’m mighty!”  It’s part of my new paradigm shift.
–  a “dual carriageway” is a two lane road
–  This country is magical even when it rains for every day of your trip here.
–  Sheep have the right of way.  (They also have colors spray painted on their bodies to identify them so it kind of looks like a Aropostale store.)
–  There are more sites to see in Ireland that you could see in a lifetime.
– There are more Irish whiskeys to taste in Ireland than one could taste in a lifetime.
– The St. Patrick’s Cross is the result of St. Patrick trying to blend the cross of Catholocism with the sun worship of ancient paganism.
– Irish folks will ride their bike in ANY weather…they just don the right wet gear.
–  I learned that when you talk about something being written on the backside that the Irish think your “bum” is involved.
– I also learned that asking someone for “a ride” means something totally different than a lift in their car.  That’s all I’m gonna say.

Post #6:  Vegetable Soup Isn’t What You Think in Ireland:  We are in Westport, County Mayo, Ireland today.  In addition to touring one of Terry’s knitting companies that supplies her sweaters (Carraig Don) we are excited to visit her favorite City in Ireland.  The desk clerk in Donegal Town told us that we’d “find a lot of hen parties and stag parties” in Westport … whatever those are.  We crested the hill above Westport and once again, the skies parted and there below me was a storybook town nestled between the mountains and the sea.   I don’t know that I have seen anything like it before.  (Terry tells me that this feeling happens over and over in Ireland.)  We checked into our hotel and went straight for some shopping and lunch.  As always, I ask the locals where to go for soup and in which pub.  This time we were directed to a wee cafe above a butcher shop where we were told they have the best homemade soup in town.  Two flights of stairs and we were met with a chalkboard menu listing soups, salads and sandwiches.  Among the soups was a vegetable soup served with the ubiquitous brown bread.  I went straight for it expecting a clear broth with veggies and herbs floating about.  What arrived was a pureed soup with milk and herbs.  It was luxurious.  I’m pretty certain it was heavy on mushrooms and celery and was thickened with potato and leak as well as the whole milk.  It was worth the climb.  I don’t have the recipe to share with you but I did write down lots of notes and will post one that I hope will be pretty close later.

Westport has another treasure that eclipses even the wonderful soup of the day and that is the little pub known as Matt Malloy’s.  Those of you who are familiar with the Chieftains will recognize that name as he is one of the band members.  He owns the most famous little spot in Westport and I have to say (with a resounding agreement from Terry who has visited Ireland more than dozen times) that this is the most amazing pub I’ve been in EVER.  Honestly I can’t even  describe it well.  It has been kept in its original condition right down to the wood burning fireplaces in each room.  Behind the bar is not only a handsome bartender named Seamus who was truly one of the nicest people I’ve met here but also two (count ’em) Grammy’s awarded Mr. Matt Malloy.  And it’s enough that these are sitting out in the open behind the bar but they are also gladly put on the bar right in front of you for you to touch and feel.  Now that is something that you can’t say you’ve done often eh?  I hope to post a pic for you.  Pretty amazing.

And that was just the first 30 minutes.  We stayed there well into the night and witnesses some live Irish folk music in one of the back rooms that would rival some of the best I’ve ever heard.  Word has it that Matt sits in often when he’s in town.  Yes I danced and yes I had ended the evening with two Irish Coffees (to die for).  On to another pub named Castlebar Pub (lots of things here with “castle” in the name.)  I’m blown away by this little colorful lively town.

Here’s your recipe for today from a lovely man named Jim Smith in Matt Malloy’s who was more than happy to share his favorite “starter” and to buy us toddies:

Jim’s Wild Irish Mushroom Starter
Take some Irish white wild mushrooms … large ones … and put a dollop of butter in each one.  Grill them (what he really meant after a series of questions, was to broil them in the oven) for a few minutes.  Take some goat cheese and garlic, chomping them both up separately and then mixing the two.  Take baby cherry tomatoes and squeeze the insides out and then chomp them up.  Just before the mushrooms are finished broiling, put the filling in each mushroom and cook them till they start to brown.  Chopped chives are optional on the top as well as sprinkled chomped parsley.  (These sound great don’t they?  Thanks Jim, for the recipe and the toddies.  I’m waiting for your salmon recipe as well as your secret salad dish.)

Things I’ve learned in Ireland today:

– The news reported that “three lollipop people have been killed.”  What?  If you add the Irish inflection and keep the report going…it went on to say that “these lollipop people were hit by a car trying to pass at a crosswalk.”  Terry and I had an “aha” moment when we realized that “lollipop” people were in fact NOT those found in Wizard of Oz but rather crosswalk guards holding round signs on a stick.  Needless to say we’ve had a lot of fun with this report … more fun when Guinness and our new found Irish soundalike voice is added.- ”
–  “Faulty tales” are stories of things gone very wrong.
– When slowing down to enter a town one will encounter signs that say “Traffic is Calming.”
– “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That.”  you tube that one…it’s funny.
–  “Top it up” means to add more minutes to your phone card, or gas to your car or whatever.
– Another You Tube experience for you.  Mr. Norman Wylie (friends with Mr. Van Morrison himself) wrote a song called “Absent Friends” and sang it for us right there in the pub..  He says there is a compromising you tube of him singing this song….

Post #5:  A Seaside Town in County Donegal, Ireland:  The trip across the country from Dublin to Donegal Town was nothing short of long and arduous last night.  My friend Terry forbade me from looking at a map (in fact I had to sneak a purchase of one at a service station halfway there) because she was hell-bent on using her GPS only.  She is a strong-willed woman who knows a lot and it’s why  I love her to death. (Some say that I am strong willed  also but I don’t believe them.:))  Anyway, when we found ourselves on a gravel road in some little town spelled with all consonants, she finally agreed to pull over and allow me to navigate.  We made it to Donegal Town around 9:00ish and checked into our hotel.  Poste haste we made our way to one of the several pubs on the “diamond” — this one was called “The Reel Inn.”  Live Irish folk music and because both of us had scratchy throats, we both ordered “Hot Toddies.”   No soup at this hot spot … too late in the evening.   Here’s your next recipe (and our new favorite drink)

Irish Hot Toddie: Pour hot water into a coffee mug (preferably a footed glass one).  Empty the water and put a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom.  Add a bit of hot water and stir to dissolve.  Add “2-3 fingers” of Jamison Irish Whiskey and “top it up” with more hot water.  Add a slice of lemon that has been studded with about 8 whole cloves.  Let it sit just a bit and then sip it.  It’ll cure what ails ya.

Things I’ve learned today in Ireland
– There used to be a hole above the entryway just inside the front door of a castle called the “Murder Hole.”  This was where they would kill enemies who got inside the main front door.  Just so you know.
– There is on reason to waste valuable suitcase space on sunglasses when you go to Ireland in January.
– It’s not unusual to find baked beans on the breakfast buffet in Ireland.  I wonder if they are barbequed.  Probably not.
– A guy named Derk or Derken was the most famous accordian player in all of Ireland.
– They still display scones and candies in open bins without being wrapped.  Ewww.
–  The shrimp salad in a seaside village in Ireland is damn good.

Post #4: Dublin Treasure: Today I’m off to Donnegal (think northwest Ireland, rugged landscapes, tiny villages and wind). We’ll be visiting Hanna Hats. Not much time to blog but I did sift through my notes from yesterday’s tour of Dublin and remembered a wee recipe (everything here is described as a wee this and a wee that…) I received from one of the bartenders at the Gravity Bar on the top floor of Dublin’s flagship beer manufacturer – Guinness. Enjoy. Slainte!


  • 10 egg yolks
  • 10 egg whites, whisked
  • 350g dark chocolate
  • 1/4 lb. butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100ml Guinness draught

Melt dark chocolate and butter in a bain-marie, add in the Guinness draught. Beat egg yolks and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the melted chocolate mixture in with the egg yolks and slowly fold in the whisked egg whites until everything is smooth. Transfer mousse to serving glasses and chill. Tip: serve with fresh raspberries or other seasonal berries.

Post #3:  Ok …About That Soup & Guinness.  I’ll start with the Guinness.  Mainly becuase I can make short work of that topic.  The pints of this dark elixir are simply the cleanest, most flavorful dark beer I have ever had.  I heard that was gonna happen over here.  (Note: Those who know me know that I’m a “rum & diet” kinda gal.  However, I feel a deep paradigm shift coming about.  I’m turning into a pint drinker half the time and an Irish whisky drinker the other half  (with water – no ice – in two separate small glasses to mix as I please).    Throw in the requisite glasses of water in between to hydrate and you have yourself a full-on paradigm shift.  My friends won’t recognize me.)

On to the pub soups.  So far my pub fare has included  two versions of a decadent creamy seafood chowder,  a light potato soup thickened with potatoes and very little cream, a spicy garlic and tomato broth based seafood soup (I could have jumped into that soup and lived there a while it was so good), a chicken curry (that I’d like to put in the soup category if you’ll allow) and  a Thai noodle soup with vegetables.  The one that I now wish I had tried was one called “Wench’s Soup” which is apparently a broth based vegetable soup.  I didn’t try it because it was late and according to the barkeep it was the only thing they were still serving.  Something inside me said  to “pass” on this one probably because it sounded like it was one of those “bottom of the barrel/this is all we have” dishes.  Hey, I had a week to go and didn’t want to risk anything.

Mind you I haven’t even been out of Dublin yet so I’m anticipating the myriad of seafood based soups that we’ll have along the south and west coasts of Ireland.  I’ve also met several folks from various counties who have promised to take us to their favorite pub for the “best soup we’ll have on the trip.”  We’ll see.  It’ll be a tough culinary journey but someone has to do it.

In the end for today … so far so good …. real good.   Seems that soup is representative of the timeless neighborliness I’ve found so far in Irish pubs.  It’s full of all kinds of different interesting ingredients that have simmered over the fires of time into one velvety smooth representation of the people of this island.

A few more things I’ve learned today:

– “Shambles” is another word for a market.
– There’s a company here called “Slane Farms Catering Oils” with a slogan as follows: “Keeping Ireland’s Chefs Well Oiled” (you gotta love that sense of humor)
– The sun rarely comes out in the winter but when it does, you can almost see the leprechauns and fairies.  Today as I stepped out of the “lift” (that’s elevator in Irish speak) and into the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Storehouse (ok, I HAD to do some research right?)  it was at that very moment that the sun peeked through the clouds for the FIRST time since I have been here.  The church spires, green mossy roofs and the Wicklow Mountains in the distance was absolutely breathtaking in this rare and pristine light.
– A famous Irishmen said “Never Let School Get In the Way Of Your Education!”  (tru dat.)
–  A cabby told me that everything just south of the Liffy was just “tourist trash” and if I wanted to go to the real deal for music I should go to the Cobblestone Pub in Smithfield.  (Like I won’t be there tonight if I have anything to do with it.)
–  “To Let” is NOT a sign that just is missing the “i” — it actually means “For Rent”
–   It’s isn’t true what they say about the food in Ireland … it really is quite good.
–  Pubs I’ve frequented:  Stags Head, Paddy Collins, The Crowe Bar, International Pub, Temple Bar Pub, The Four Seasons Hotel Pub (a/k/a fancy pub), Sandy Mount Pub, Gravity Bar and O’Riordans Pub.

Standby for more later … I’m late for a pub crawl in the Temple Bar district.  Soup anyone?

Post #2:  And So I Digress:  Ok so I know I said I was gonna talk about all the soups I have tasted at the local pubs in Ireland.  And believe me I have some good notes and pictures of same.  But I must admit that since I have landed in this magical land other things of importance have taken precedence.  I promise I’ll get back to the soup theme because ..well …I’ve promised and I’m not one to go sour on a commitment.  However, there is so much more …

Like for instance the unbelievable friendliness of the people.  It’s like I’m in an alternate universe because EVEYONE is so kind an inviting.  Even in the commonest of situations…the man taking the tickets for the DART (the tram) who asks the second and third time if everything has been taken care of for me … and  the guy next to me at the pub whoconvinces you that he truly cares where you came from and why you’re here in Ireland.  There is a community and “craic” as they call it that runs deep … and I must admit I love it.   It is infectious.

And then there was the taxi ride this  morning that I  shared with two lovely women (Geraldine and Helen)  – which by the way was all of 8 minutes or so – where  we established a friendship that resulted in us meeting for coffee at 1:00 and then agreeing to meet again at 4:00 for a pint.  By the time we left each other (because they had to make a train to the middle of Ireland by mid evening) we had exchanged life stories, some jokes that only women would get, and reached out to several people around us as if we had been a group of life long girlfriends.  In the end I have some cryptic notes for two of Helen’s favorite recipe.  as she dictated the ingredients and instructions, she peppered her notes with jokes and all of us laughed straight from our bellies.   I include one of the recipes below but I have to give you the caveat that this recipe will no doubt require some follow up.

Miss Ellie’s (a/k/a “Crazy Helen’s”) Brown Bread Recipe

  • 1 pound of flour (for a good 30 minutes I could have sworn she said “one pint of flour”)
  • 2 T sugar (it took me 10 minutes to get her to explain that a small handful of sugar was probably about 2 T.)
  • 2 t. “bicarbonate of soda”
    (break for an off color joke about a half empty pint of Guinness that I can’t repepat here)
  • a “good handfull” of wheat or oat bran  (she swears she’ll send me a picture of her holding a “good handful” of wheat bran … and of course I will pass that along to you!)
  • buttermilk (just under a pint she says)

Instructions (as best I could interpret them):  make not a wet/wet dough.  Use bran flour for the surface, make a round about “this” high (my eyeball measurements told me that it was about 2 1/2 to 3 inches high).  Put the round on a metal baking tray and make a Catholic “cross” on the top.  Bake for 45 minutes or so at about 180.  ((‘ll need to get back to you on the 180 thing…I need to do some math and some research as to how that interprets into US temps).  When it’s done it will be crispy and hollow on the bottom (what?).  She also swore to me that she would post a picture of the final product online.  She swears that this is the best Irish Brown Bread I’ll ever eat.  (If you will bear with me, on my return I will test this recipe and repost my results).

Anyway,  Crazy Helen (errr.. Miss Ellie) went on to share with me her favorite saying apparently in response to some comment that my friend said about her husband and his reluctance to show his affection.  She said ”  A Faint Heart  Never Wins The Fair Lady” which I  think means that her husband better get with it or he may lose the best woman he ever had…or something like that.  Helen had to leave before I could ask her to expound.

So you see what I mean?  These Irish folks are a hoot.  and that was just part of the day.  Before it was over I could have filled a small journal with advice and little tidbits that evoke the soul of the Irish.  Here are some samples of the lessons I learned today in Ireland (from folks other than Helen and Gerladine I might add):

Give your babies a drink of equal parts Guinness and milk before bedtime as a tonic.
A shakin’ of cinnamon is all it takes
Don’t be an “eidgit” (actually there was more to this one, but I’m trying to keep it clean here.)
Cupcakes are called “Fairy Cakes” here in Ireland.  (I’m so gonna steal that one.)
Only dead fish go with the flow.
Dont worry about people who talk about you behind your back…they are two steps behind you.
There’s a place in Kilkenny called “The Hole In the Wall” where the owner breaks into song and then throws hats to his customers and makes them sing along.  (What?)
Irish men are deeply mistrustful of anyone who shares too much of their personal feelings (I’m so in trouble on this one.)
It’s “quite dodgy” to make reference in public to a guy that you talked to last night in a pub.
There’s a 4 star restaurant in Cork called “Fishy Fishy” … only in Ireland I say.
Add a little black currant liqueur to your Irish Coddle to take the edge off.
EVERY WOMAN wears tights here with her skirt … and boots too.

… and I have another week and 3 days to go.  Standby.


Post #1:  I recently had the opportunity to accompany my friend Terry to the emerald isles where she attends am annual trade show.  It so happens that I have been longing to do some reconaissance for a possible culinary tour of Ireland so I jumped on the chance to go there with someone who knows the country well.  I was long overdue for an adventure so the planets of opportunity converged in one of those rare moments.

When it sank in that I actually was going to go to Ireland for 2 full weeks, I immediately began thinking of how I would best learn about the culinary culture of Ireland.  While I long to investigate what the experienced chefs are doing these days to chip away at a longstanding opinion that the food of Ireland isn’t worth the trip, my heart kept going to the small pubs where the real deal takes place – the “craic” as they call it here in Ireland – the palaver and sharing of news, the wisdom of the people, the everyday events.  When I mentioned this to Terry she immediately added that her favorite part of Ireland was the beautiful soups that she tasted in each of these small community watering holes.  She said there was nothing better than to stop in a pub and have a great pint of Guinness and a bowl of soup.  It struck a chord with me and from there a journey was born.

Now while I have never been to Ireland, I’m no novice to its food culture  as I have studied it from a distance and actually have taught cooking classes on this topic.  I can make a pretty mean colcannon, Irish Stew or brown bread.   But what interests me most is whether these classic food traditions are still around and if so, where they can be found.  What I didn’t know until I got here is that my journey would take me places that I never thought I’d go both in the culinary sense and in a weird sort of spiritual way as the truth of these little pubs began to unfold.  .

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