Potatoes. It’s what most people think of when they think of Ireland and its cuisine. Maybe mashed with some boiled cabbage, or sliced and covered in cream and cheese and baked, or cut into matchsticks and double-fried, perhaps doomed to a thorough smothering in some pepper gravy. Maybe, just maybe, simply cubed and boiled with its frequent partners, carrots and turnips and a shoulder of hapless lamb. Or molded, ice cream scoop-like, next to a slab of gray, fibrous roast beef or wonderfully plump hunk of “bacon”.
But I’ve got other words for you. Cream. Cheese. Mussels. Salmon. Goujons. I defy you to find a pub menu in sunny green Cork or Kerry counties that does not feature these lovely, and inevitably ubiquitous, ingredients. This is the way of southern Ireland: creamed or deep-fried bits of seafood, paired with the inevitable Guinness or glass of Magner’s.
At first, we have fun with it. Ha ha, we say, we’re going to gain 100 pounds! I think of the tears my trainer will shed as I plod back into the gym, an inevitable 5 kg heavier, all our hard work erased with the help of my frenemies Guinness and Jameson. But it’s new acquaintances I must watch out for, too: beautifully buttery, flaky scones, slathered in proper clotted cream and a whisper of red berry jam; bits of crab and avocado retiring bashfully under a blanket of cream and melted cheese; and bacon, always bacon, tucked into white bread or flaunted shamelessly next to poor old cabbage or oats-heavy slices of black pudding.
But it gets to be … much. Too more-ish for our beleaguered digestive systems. Suddenly, without even expecting it, I begin to look longingly at passing Chinese restaurants, places I would not bother giving a second glance at in flusher times, but with every meal in this or that pub, every menu a variaton on fish and chips, seafood chowder and some sort of grilled salmon, one’s stomach begins to contemplate … straying. Wandering. Imagining a life without boiled carrots and well-done meat, mashed potatoes and cheeseburgers. I can’t help it. I miss Asian food.
But even as I — strangely, bizarrely — contemplate the odd tryst of a meal at a place like the Chinese Shamrock (a monstrous hut in a gas station parking lot that is, obviously, painted bright green), I find bright spots to focus on. The soft-serve ice cream, possibly the best in the world; an abundance of beautiful berries so reasonable that I stuff myself with blackberries almost daily; the little mussels, glittery handfuls of sweet, tender morsels that can be simply steamed in white wine or cooked in cream and coated in breadcrumbs:
Even at our (temporary) home, we end up cooking Irish food: pie made with the fresh, ruby rhubarb the caretaker has thoughtfully left at our doorstep; carefully pan-fried wild salmon; a 2-day simmering stew of the surprisingly tough beef mixed with the produce we find at the market that day. Always the bacon, and a wedge of Cashel blue or the room-clearingly pungent Durrus. To end the day, a shot of Jameson.
We finally get home to Thailand, and set to gorging ourselves on all the flavors we missed before: chilies, lemongrass, coconut milk, fish sauce. It is here that I gain 5 kgs, instead of on the fair, sunny Emerald Isle. The weeks pass in a blur. How time flies.
While stuck in traffic, I find myself looking longingly at the new-ish Irish pub on Ekamai. What can I say? I miss Irish food.
(All photos except the first by @karenblumberg).