An Eejit Abroad: These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
By Conor Makem
It would be no surprise to Ohio Irish American News readers that I’m a considerable enthusiast of the Irish food revolution taking place over the past decade or more. The gastro pubs and farm to table offerings have exploded, and as far as I’m concerned, are world-class nowadays. Ireland has been in a perfect position to experience the melding of the old with the new.
There are times, however, when all one wants is a bit of nostalgia, the return for a short while to less complicated days when calories, cholesterol, climate change, animal welfare, food allergies, nutrient intake and the like weren’t constantly in the back of the mind. Such is the state of affairs running around my gray matter this morning as I amble around the streets of Galway on Google Earth, recollecting the spiritually fulfilling nosh we used to not even appreciate.
Especially during these Covid years, when travel is only starting to enter the conversation again, I thought I’d run down some of the Irish food experiences I miss the most, while sitting on this side of the Atlantic.
And I’ll start with carvery lunches, which is what originally sparked this column. In particular, I digitally zipped past the Skeffington Arms Hotel and started salivating at the thought of fresh carved turkey breast, mashed spuds, rolls and a few ladles of gravy. Picture, if you will, sliding your tray along the rails, studying each of the steaming comestibles behind the glass separator. The chef, with blade in fist, asks which of the meats you’d prefer. You study the roast and the turkey, but there’s no correct answer. They both look juicy and delectable. “A bit of both,” you say. “A wise choice,” he replies.
I’m sorry, where were we? Food, yes.
If you’ve ever stopped into a shop of any kind in Ireland, you’ll no doubt agree with me that their selection of chocolate bars and crisps is second to none. From Tayto Cheese and Onion and Buffalo Hunky Dorys to Lion Bars and Cadbury Flakes, the difficulty is selecting just one and not filling up several plastic bags with the top twenty. Inevitably, we all have our favorites, but there always seems to be something you’ve never tried before, and exploration is half the fun, isn’t it?
Next up on our culinary tour is the staple of all staples, the full Irish breakfast. I’ll admit to you, one of these bad boys is enough to satiate my desire for a week or so, but when the calling comes back, it’s a strong one. Given a choice, I’ll skip the mushrooms, and fill up on sausage, hash browns, beans, black pudding, fried tomatoes, fried eggs and toast. These all slightly edge out potato farls, white pudding and Irish bacon (I know, send in the hate mail). It’s the one meal I promise myself to snarf down whenever I head back over.
Since I only ingest the occasional full Irish, I skip the urge to fill up at the airport on the way into the country. Sure, it will have all of the ingredients, but for me the full Irish isn’t meant to be eaten in an ultra-bright, fast-paced, plastic-chaired operation. It should be savored in an establishment with at least a modicum of charm or character, especially if you’re only having the one. Do yourself a favor and find a real restaurant or pub.
And speaking of pubs, I couldn’t skip one of my favorite ways to spend an evening, sipping a pint with a simple packet of bacon fries with plenty of old wood, stimulating conversation and a stunning lack of lighting. I suppose the food and drink takes a back seat to the atmosphere with this one.
I recall a night I spent sharing a few with an old gentleman in Sligo in a pub with no televisions and no stereo. Just a handful of folks, a choice of snugs and quiet conversation. It’s a shame that these types of places are becoming relics. It might be ne’er impossible to find a pub without something to distract patrons nowadays.
Next on my ravenous list are tea sandwiches. We’re talking two pieces of white bread filled with only a slice of ham and butter, or a slice of cheese and butter, or cucumbers or egg salad or the like, cut into quarters and eaten in three bites. There’s something so deceptively delicious about such a simple concoction.
They can be combined with the next contender, a bowl of veg soup for a perfect lunch. Take either of them separately and they’re just what the doctor ordered for a quick pick-me-up.
And if you’d like to complete the trifecta, just pull up a seat in front of a peat fire, a ham sandwich, a bowl of veg soup, a small Coca Cola and a few red embers to blow you some heat.
Not to be missed for snacks are chips (that’s fries to some folks), cut thick with malt vinegar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a ketchup lover, but chips and vinegar sometimes hit the spot. Many’s a night I’ve sat contented on a barstool with nothing to focus on but a plate of chips. And I miss it.
Last up is the classic pot of tea. I drink more tea than you can shake a stick at, but it never reaches Nirvana like back home—steeped in a metal pot with sugar cubes on the side, real milk and small tea mugs.
With all of that said, all is not lost if you can’t make the trek over to the ould sod. In fact, perusing the OhioIANews, you’ll be able to locate Irish restaurants, pubs and import shops with a lot of the grub in this column obtainable through them. You’ll be satisfying your belly while supporting the Irish-American community. And every small business could use a little help right now.
*Conor Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, and enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American and old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem.