See the World, Eat the World: Epic Ireland

Meet Tomato. If you’ve been following along for any sort of time, you may not actually know her, but you know her. We met in college oh-so-many years ago, and neither one of us seems to be able or wiling to shake the other.  She, along with Lettuce, makes up my up the third in our trio of caballeros.    The mistress of mischief, she is the instigator, and it’s because of her that I found myself shivering on a mountain in Nepal 4 years ago, and also because of her that I’ve amassed such an impressive collection of passport stamps.  Never one to say no to a vacation or a meal, she’s a pretty good egg to have around.  

This is a long one, but I promise a good one.  I could have edited it, but rather I chose to keep it as is, because it tells the story of the trip that inspired me to start this blog almost three years ago.  Ireland, the people, the country and the food that won me over and started my little food adventure, which is another epic journey of sorts. So, I leave it to Tomato to tell the tale.

I’ve procrastinated for a few weeks now – unsure of what to write, or where to start, but in the 11th hour, I’m finally ready.  As I near the end of this, I apologize for its length…but Ireland ended up being an epic journey, through food and mistakes.  And though I tried to abridge myself, epics require lots of words…so here goes.  First, let me introduce myself.

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Hi, I’m Dawn…often times referred to as Tomato here on Hungary Buddha.  I went to University with Chrissy and have literally been traveling and eating around the world with her since we graduated.  I wouldn’t consider myself a foodie, since most of the time I’m not sure what I’m ordering, how it “should” taste, how it’s made, or as I’ve found – what country it’s from.  I do however love to travel, love to eat, and the adventurous streak in me runs deep into the river of ridiculousness…which Chrissy is only happy to accompany me on.

I spent the last couple of weeks wondering what I could guest blog about, but opportunity after opportunity passed me by.  I ate at two new places, ordered from my favorite Thai place, experimented with a few new recipes – and each time I forgot to take a photo, or deemed the light to be too low to take nice photos. 

I got updates from all my friends traveling around the world while I worked in Green Bay – eating cheese and drinking Spotted Cow.  Exciting, I know…but I had one friend touring Ireland asking for suggestions as to where to eat, and it brought me back to one of the best accidental food trips I’d ever been on.  And wouldn’t you know, Chrissy was there with me – and coincidentally, it was that trip that started this blog.

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Three years ago now, Chrissy and I flew to Dublin for the Notre Dame versus Navy game and made a 10 day adventure out of it.  The first couple of days in Dublin didn’t feel like anything special if I’m being honest.  The sheer thousands of Americans flooding every street in Dublin kind of took away the feeling that we were in fact standing in a foreign country – that we did in fact spend 12 hours on a plane, and need a passport to enter.  But there it was.  We drank Irish beer and cider – I got the 2nd hangover of my life, which was awful, and I thought I was going to die, so naturally we walked across Dublin and toured the Guiness factory while I fought the urge to curl up and sleep in the gutter.  Chrissy was a great sport about it – taking pictures all day like any good friend would do.  

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Yeah. Thanks.

And to start off our trip full of everything Irish, we went to Monty’s…a Nepali restaurant for dinner.  Clearly we didn’t expect much from Ireland and its food.  But we were about to learn how wrong our assumptions could be. 

And yes, the Nepali food was AMAZING!  Actually every Nepali restaurant I have ever been to has been amazing because the owners and chefs are usually from Nepal…and as I’m sure has been discussed, Chrissy and I have been to Nepal twice, and have a special love for its food and its people...I digress

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After the weekend festivities full of Americans abroad and (American) football – we took off on the heart of our trip through Ireland.  This time we were staying in the south, but because we are crazy, we opted to tour the Ring of Kerry by bicycle.  Now, for most sane people in the world – when you think about spending a week on a bicycle you think about the time of the year and the weather…but when you’re Chrissy and myself, you don’t.  You just go.  And sometimes you get lucky…and we had no idea how lucky we were about to get…it didn’t really rain while we were in Ireland.  What are the odds?

We arrived in Killarney already worried about the famed narrow Irish roads, remembering to stay on the left, to look right – all the things about driving/riding/walking on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.  That’s right all you international readers…the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD.  But first thing’s first.  Where do we eat?  What do we eat?  I hadn’t really thought about it – I knew I wanted to eat Shepherd’s Pie…I knew I didn’t want another drink for the rest of my life…but that was about it, and I had plenty of time to find it, so we asked our innkeeper for suggestions.  Immediately she suggested we go to Bricìn and eat boxtys.  What’s a boxty?  I’m unsure I fully understood what she was saying in her heavy Irish brogue, but Chrissy and I didn’t question her – we just started walking to Bricìn…which according to our innkeeper, we couldn’t miss.  Walk along the main road, follow it around the corner and it’s on the right.  Right.  So a couple miles later down the road, following the bend that turned it into another road, a shopkeeper pointed us to a souvenir shop.  Confused we entered, unsure if we were in the right spot, until we asked the owner of the shop where Bricìn was…because it wasn’t making sense to us.  Turns out the entrance was through the souvenir shop, on the second level, remember…you can’t miss it…  But it was closed on Mondays.  WHAT?!?!  This was not the night I was going to learn what a boxty was…Ok plan B.  And plan B was simply – someplace open with food.  So we back-tracked a block or two and went down a random alley and found a beautiful sign on a beautiful brick building.  The Stonechat Café.

We sat down and immediately we were excited about getting to see the real Ireland – far from the touristy Dublin – which as I stated earlier, was overrun with Americans while we were there – so perhaps an unfair depiction of the city.  The menu was varied but simple – and middle of the page I saw it.  Shepherd’s Pie.  Done.  I closed my menu and asked Chrissy what she was getting – she was waffling between two entrees and asked me what I was getting.  I told her and she decided to get the same thing.  If there’s one thing I hate doing – it’s ordering the same thing as the person you’re with because then you can’t taste their plate.  The waitress arrived and Chrissy ordered, and in a last minute decision I chose the lamb shank.  I didn’t know exactly what I was ordering – I knew it was lamb, but beyond that I knew nothing.  Being Japanese – I didn’t grow up eating lamb, so I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what lamb tasted like – but I think I’d had it before…and I was in Ireland, so I did as the Irish do.

I was still miffed that I gave in and changed my order instead of demanding Chrissy change hers because I picked the Shepherd’s Pie first…and then our plates arrived.  Chrissy knows meat, and she knows food…and she was instantly jealous of my plate.  We tasted each other’s plates – and I definitely won the food war that night.  To this day Chrissy still talks about her food envy over that lamb shank as being one of the greatest ever, and to this day it’s one of those stories that has us laughing so hard we cry…we have a few.  And that was the night we started really paying attention to the food, wondering what else Ireland had to offer us… 

The next morning the innkeeper (I really mean bed and breakfast manager, but will refer to them all as innkeepers) made us a hearty Irish breakfast complete with homemade brown bread.  I have to admit I was a little leery over the brown bread I knew would grace our table everyday.  I had some once in Santa Monica, but the baking soda overwhelmed the bread in my opinion and it tasted salty and metallic.  After Ireland, I have changed my tune, but it took a week to realize it was just the recipe – not all brown bread tastes like metallic salt.  This is probably a good place to point out that Chrissy thinks I’m a “super taster”, so I tend to be sensitive to flavors which over take my food…which looking back is probably why I thought all brown bread must taste like metallic salt.

We left Killarney by bike on a beautiful morning, looking out at rolling green hills that stretched for miles and miles…and next thing you know, we were on one of those beautiful rolling hills.  Let me tell you – they aren’t so beautiful when you’re on one…on a bike…wondering when you’ll get to the rolling part…  Somehow I made it to the top of each rolling hill – and I’d find Chrissy laying around waiting for me.  Probably for 15-20 minutes each time I found her waiting.  These were really long hills, and I hate biking.  That first day – whatever small and narrow road we were on – a car pulled up beside me in the late afternoon and the lady inside asked me if I was headed to Gougane Barra.  I said yes.  I wasn’t sure – and Chrissy wasn’t around to tell me if that’s where the damn road was taking us.  I was tired, and hungry and only hoping this was the last rolling hill of the day.  And about 15 minutes later I caught up with her and I could see our destination.  Immediately the frustration of day one melted away.

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I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only one who felt like my body had been tortured and might never recover.  We were in it and we were in it together…though she was and always will be faster and more skilled on a bike. 

We stayed at the Gougane Barra Hotel, and I recognized the innkeepers.  They were the couple who stopped me on the hill – as it turns out there were only a handful of people booked at the hotel that day and they had timed their excursion to about when they thought we would be making it over that last hill to Gougane Barra.  Chrissy ordered their lamb shank, and while it was good, it didn’t compare to the one from Stonechat.  We ate as if we would never see food again that night.  We were eating machines, and Ireland was only happy to feed us. 

Bodies wrecked, food babies in tow, we slept like the dead and awoke the next morning starving, ready to eat a hearty Irish breakfast once more.  Ok maybe only I was starving the next morning, because it has come to pass that I put away more than Chrissy at almost every meal.  In any case, it was that morning that Chrissy made note of the brown bread at the hotel.  Looking back, it was the sweetest of the brown breads that we ate.  It was during this trip I began to notice how sweet American breads are in general, with the exception of sour doughs and certain rye breads.  We certainly do love our sugar…and at the end of the trip Chrissy crowned the hotel’s bread the best of the trip. 

The next couple of days were a blur.  Facing the never-ending onslaught of rolling hills, every night I ate as much as I could fit in me.  In Bantry Bay I ate a piece of salmon as big as my face.  I asked for it poached…which I realize isn’t the most refined way to prepare fish.   I mentioned I was Japanese earlier, so my people are pretty good at preparing fish in any way you can possibly imagine – but growing up I asked my mom to poach my fish all the time.  Sometimes I won, most times I did not.  Looking back, I think it was a texture thing for me.  I loved my weirdly large slab of pink soggy salmon that night. 

And finally we were in Kenmare.  Kenmare was the biggest city we had seen in days since leaving Killarney and it was beyond cute.  In Kenmare, we had the most gluttonous meal of our trip.  We decided on Packie’s after much debate, and literally ordered all of their appetizers.  The waitress double-checked to make sure we wanted that much food – and we confirmed it.  We were going to die by food.  Plate after plate came out – and I finally learned what a boxty was.  A glorious potato pancake – for lack of better description…and with each plate that came out crowding our tiny European table for two, the large Chinese family next to us leaned over to see what we were eating.  In contrast they had ordered an entrée each – most of them duplicates of fish and chips, shepherd’s pie and lamb chops…and this time it was both Chrissy and I who gave them food envy.  The sheer variety of food in front of us caught their attention – Muscles in white wine, lobster arugula salad, a plate of boxtys, stuffed mushrooms, pot pie etc etc – and that we were eating family style off every plate piqued their interest.  By the end of the meal they were resolved to start ordering more of the menu as they toured Ireland so they too could try more of the food, instead of sticking to the tried and true.  They were now believers in the small plate revolution…and the Chrissy and Dawn way of eating everything in sight.  It was a struggle to finish all of our food that night, but in the end we beat the plates and impressed our waitress – which is always a bonus.

More days of rolling hills ahead of us, brown bread at the table, incredible meals and the longest downhill ride ever, and we found ourselves back in Killarney.  Luckily not dead – as I did get hit by a car…but that’s a story for another day.  I told you I hate biking.  For now, it was time to rent our car and head to Blarney and beyond.

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Bruised, but not broken

The car was its own adventure.  Being cheap, we rented a manual transmission car.  My dad tried to teach me when I was 16 to drive stick, but it was so hilly when he was teaching me that I could do it but was never fully comfortable with it.  And then years later a stunt guy was re-teaching me to drive one so I could double an actor driving on a freeway in LA.  That’s the extent of my manual driving lessons and ability…so white knuckled, Chrissy buckled in for a harrowing drive through Ireland.  It wasn’t that scary…for me…but I wasn’t watching me do it – I was doing it…first to Blarney, then to Kinsale for the night.  I made sure I parked on the flats of Kinsale…otherwise we would have had a HUGE problem. 

Kinsale is a sea faring city, and known for having excellent food.  In fact, I think there was a food convention or festival happening that weekend…which is how we resorted to staying in a hostel with Professor Trelawney as our host.  She was weird, but the food was mind blowing.  Ireland is surrounded by water, so it makes no sense that we didn’t associate seafood with Ireland until we were there.  I had always thought of Ireland as a country of stews, meat and potatoes, heavy breads and bread puddings, and I don’t think I am alone in that assumption by people who also have never been, but with every stop I was learning more and more.  Sadly we were only in Kinsale for the night…so I had the chowder.  It was the first time I had chosen a clear chowder.  I still prefer creamy chowders like New England Clam Chowder, but the chowder in Kinsale that night was pretty amazing.  Fresh fish caught that morning, soup made that afternoon.  I wish we had gotten to stay a little longer, but it’s on the “must go back” list, which is as long as the “what’s next” list. 

We had to search for a place to eat breakfast the next morning – and found it a little difficult – as breakfast is usually included in hotel and B&B stays.  Unfortunately not with hostel travel…  we used our super power and talked the hostesses at the Blue Haven Hotel into letting us pay for breakfast even though it was supposed to be for hotel guests only.  This was the best breakfast we had while in Ireland.   The spread was gorgeous, and the variety was amazing.  Needless to say, everything tasted fantastic and we actually talked about it all day until dinner…

We spent the day on the road driving to Galway and we were nearing the end of our Irish adventure.  My bus would take me back to Dublin, departing at 2am to make my flight in the early morning, so this was my last day in Ireland.  Chrissy’s flight was in the late afternoon so she had a few more hours than I did – which is rare now that I think about it.  In any case, Ireland had already given us a lot of “bests” along the road.  Every time we ate we thought it wouldn’t get any better…and every time we sat down something bested what we had already experienced.  Galway was no different, and it is on the “must go back” list…if only for Ard Bia, and to finally make it to the Aran Islands.

Ard Bia was our restaurant of choice in Galway.  Located next to the Spanish Arches on the Long Walk.  We didn’t have reservations – which we didn’t know we needed – but since culturally we eat earlier than Europeans, it worked in our favor that they had space for us if we promised we could be out in 2 hours so the 730p reservation could have their table.  And of course culturally we eat quickly, so we made the deal and got a table. 

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It felt like an Irish cottage.  Stone walls, an exposed fire place, the interior was a maze of small rooms, with rustic wooden tables and spotted tea cups.  Our table was next to a wall of books that said Ard Bia on them.  I picked one up and found it was a cookbook.  A beautiful cookbook with gorgeous pictures and a short story on how it came to be, the inspiration for the restaurants Ard Bia and Nimmos (the attached upstairs restaurant) and how the recipes are influenced by the chefs’ and owners’ Irish roots in a port city.  It was my last meal in Ireland and what an amazing send-off. 

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I wanted the cookbook so badly, which at the time was funny since I swore I didn’t know how to cook back then, which wasn’t really the case.  If you can read and follow directions, you can cook.  As luck would have it – I opted not to buy the book in the restaurant that night – my luggage weighed the max at 50lbs…so I bought the book when I got home.  It’s easier to find today, but I bought the last one from an independent seller back then, and when I finally moved to Chicago I started to use it.  I have loved everything I’ve ever made from it – and while my talents in the kitchen aren’t exactly my superpower, this book reminds me of this trip, and how unexpectedly Ireland won my heart through my stomach.

I have lots of independent cookbooks I’ve collected since then.  Each one telling stories about the author and how the recipes within came to be.  Each one reminding me of my travels, the way I felt, and most importantly what I ate.  The one from Ireland was the first, and is still my favorite.  Every winter I make pots and pots of Niamh’s Mam’s Chicken, Carrot and Sweet Potato Stew…because I’m brilliant and moved from where it’s sunny and 75 to where winter turns the land into “Chiberia”. 

And now, thanks to Tomato’s shopaholic tendencies and her desire to recreate our Ard Bia experience, you now too can make Niamh’s Mam’s Chicken, Carrot and Sweet Potato Stew.

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Niamh’s Mam’s Chicken, Carrot and Sweet Potato Stew.
Serves 4
A delicious chicken and sweet potato stew
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Ingredients
  1. 4-6 chicken thighs (or one whole chicken)
  2. 3-4 bay leaves
  3. 1 generous handful of thyme, unpicked
  4. 10 peppercorns
  5. 3-4 TBSP olive oil
  6. 1 onion, chopped
  7. 4 sticks celery, chopped
  8. 5-6 small spring carrots, scrubbed and sliced
  9. 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  10. 2 bunches spring onions
  11. 3-4 handfuls of flat leaf parsley, picked
  12. salt and pepper
tastes great with
  1. soda bread
  2. brown rice
  3. dillisk and cheddar scone
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, cover the chick en with water. Add the bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Cover and bring to a boil. Cook at a rolling simmer for at least 45 minutes (or up to 90 minutes for a whole chicken).
  2. Once the meat is cooked through, remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before straining. Set aside the cooking liquid. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, pick off all the meat and discard the bones.
  3. In a large heavy-based casserole pot, head the olive oil, onion, celery and garlic and sweat gently over a medium to low heat. When the onions have begun to soften and turn opaque, add the carrots and sweet potatoes. Pour the strained liquid over until just covered, return to a low simmer and cook until the carrots and potatoes are tender – about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken meat, spring onions and parsley. Season generously and cook for another two minutes to warm the meat through and serve in large bowls. Try this with our Dillisk and cheddar scones, with soda bread or brown rice.
Notes
  1. **I tend to put more veggies and bay leaves in than the recipes call for, and always use only thighs because white meat tends to get too tough. I also think it’s better the second day unless you have the time and patience to let it simmer for A LONG TIME – after the second heating the potatoes will get even softer and release more of their sweetness, and because I like this re-heated on the stove I don’t add the additional onions or parsley.
Adapted from The Ard Bia Cookbook
Adapted from The Ard Bia Cookbook
The Hungary Buddha Eats the World http://thehungarybuddha.com/

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4 Comments

  1. oh my goodness, this sounds like such a fun adventure! I can’t wait to get back to Europe but it seems I have made 3 sets of North American plans from April – August within the last week.

    I have friends who grew up/lived in Ireland; they are very fond of their soda bread, soups, and potatoes.

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