Five Things That Are Awesome About Eating In Ireland

I know you’ve heard the tired old saw that Irish food is just a bad copy of English fare – but the Celtic Tiger’s international influx has brought a bright, new face to what’s cooking, and the Irish with their cheerful accommodation have stepped up to the plate.  (see The Boxty House in Dublin).
1-  The water carafe
When you sit down at your table, the waiter brings a carafe of water with just enough ice to cool the water.  This means, you have water all during your meal, not just when your poor server has time to bring you some.  I cannot express to you how much I have missed this service since I have been back in the States.
2-  Taking your time. 
This doesn’t mean that servers are inattentive, just that they follow a more leisurely schedule for eating.  Courses tend to come out a little slower and the check absolutely doesn’t appear until you ask for it.  This means you can take your time with a meal.  I think it would take me a little time to get used to this.  I’m so used to shovel-it-in-to-get-to-the-next-thing, I barely know how to relax for a meal that comes in courses.  (more about courses later)
3-  Trolley service on the train
(prepackaged sandwich with chicken and stuffing on wholemeal bread.  I still get lonesome about this sandwich.)  I know it seems funny to take up a whole number’s worth of praise on a pre-packaged sandwich, but this is a sandwich that could come out of my own mother’s kitchen and none the wiser (anybody who knows my mother knows what a high compliment that is).  This is nothing like a limp, white-bread, processed-food, day-old, not even much resembling food pre-packaged sandwich.  This is a sandwich you could bring home to meet the family.
Chix Sandwich
Chicken and Stuffing Sandwich on the Train
4-extras, afters, and info
At almost every sit-down meal we had, there was something brought to our table that was a little extra something.  This something was neither mentioned on the menu nor included in the bill, a real lagniappe, as the Cajun would say.  At one meal it was a bowl of veg.  At another, a side salad.  We had quite a few experiences where our wait-person would stand and converse, and answer questions about the menu, the food, the restaurant, the local folks, or the weather.  At The Jewel In The Crown, we had a very lengthy discussion about the bitter mango pickle and how they prepared it onsite, which was fascinating.  And if we ordered coffee, the coffee service always came with biscuits, even if we had ordered dessert with our coffee.
Our ‘mains’ at the Jewel In The Crown, Dublin
5-the 3 B’s (Bacon, Butter, and  Bread)
(Erm.  Sidecar….you’d’ve thought I’d’ve said ‘Beer’ for one of those…but…We drank whiskey for the most part, not beer.  Powers whiskey, to be specific.  Since I still had a cold, I really needed the cough suppressant most of the time (that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it)).

B the First:  BACON  The Irish ‘bacon’ is technically called back rashers.  What we would call bacon in the States is called streaky rashers.  Irish bacon is something like a cross between cured country ham and ‘city’ ham.  I loved it, but did trim the fat from it.

The Full Irish at the Granary in Waterford



B the Second:  BUTTER:  The Irish butter really is quite good, and lives up to all the press one hears about it.  One of the surprises is how it is used:  every sandwich you order, regardless of any other item put on it, will be smeared with butter first.  I guess it’s the equivalent of the way mayonnaise is used here in the States.  Another surprise is it’s not common to have it on the table during breakfast.  You can ask for it, but they commonly don’t have it out.  I guess it’s because they just want jam?

B the Third  BREAD:  The bread was just wonderful.  Almost all the bread we ate appeared to be really locally sourced and ‘brown’ bread was customarily served.  Most of it was soda bread, instead of yeast bread.  At the Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel I had a beautiful, hot out of the oven wholemeal scone every time I ordered soup.  I ate soup *a* *LOT* while I was there.  When we went to Tesco (the major supermarket chain there), there were shelves and shelves of beautiful looking, delicious bread.  I wished I’d had some way to bring some of it back with me, but it wouldn’t have kept.
Other random food thoughts while I am here. 
(these are the lagniappe for this post!):
We did have some good desserts – here’s my absolute favorite:  a lemon tart that has a piece of lemon inside it.  This lemon is only slightly poached in sugar syrup and is still quite tart.  The white might have been just Devonshire cream, or crème fraiche, or a mascarpone filling.  It was topped with what might have been lemon curd, but it was cooked again, so you could pull it off the tart in little, chewy, sticky delicious bits.  This is a goal of mine, to someday a) recreate this tart or b) get back to Sligo to the shop where I bought it to buy another one…
Oh!  and while I was there, I bought a fruit cake which has been doused with rum and is waiting for Christmas.  Should be nice by then…


Lemon Tart
Lemon Tart from O’Hehir’s Bakery & Café in Sligo
Early Bird Specials
I loved, loved that eating early (usually between 5 and 7, which is when I want to eat anyway), gets you a special fixed price menu.  Sometimes it is the whole menu and you get to choose 2 or 3 courses, and sometimes it is a smaller subset of the bigger menu.  We took advantage of those ‘early bird’ specials a lot while we were there…
As you would expect from an island nation, the fish was delicious, and tasted sweet in that way only really, truly fresh-caught fish tastes.  I ate their fish chowder and did have fish and chips (the fish = worlds above the chips IMHO).  I would love to take my daughter there and have her try it.  She complains fish tastes ‘fishy’, but I’d wager the Irish fish might give her a run for her money

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