With Thanksgiving just around the corner, foodies everywhere are feverishly scanning recipes for fresh takes on turkey, sides, and desserts…and if you’re like me, you’re daydreaming of new and exotic dishes to serve on T-Day. Somehow, though, you often end up serving the same-old roast turkey and mashed potatoes, and using the pumpkin pie recipe on the back of the Libby’s can.
On our summer trip to Ireland, the cuisine reminded me of typical Thanksgiving fare: roast meat and gravy, mashed spuds, and cooked vegetables. In fact, no matter where we ate—a little hillside café above the Atlantic Ocean in the wilds of County Kerry, or a city hotel in Galway, most of the food we encountered was like in America—you could easily find Caesar salad, burgers, and fish and chips wherever you went.
Ireland is also a carnivore’s dream come true. Given the number of farm critters in Ireland (mentioned in my previous Glen Keen Farm post), meat, and plenty of it, was available for breakfast, lunch and dinner: pork, lamb, beef and often turkey, as well as bangers (sausages) and rashers (bacon). Not much new in the meat department, then—but one food that surprised me was the vegetable soup, offered on nearly every lunch menu. Instead of veggies floating in broth, in Ireland the soup is a mix of cooked pureed root vegetables. Really delicious!
One new food I did discover was turnips! I’d never tried them before…but then, in my experience, no restaurants I’d ever eaten at offered them. In Ireland, they’re served either mashed, or in the aforementioned vegetable soup, lending a delicate sweetness to the preparation. I liked turnips so much I’ll be dedicating a big garden bed to turnips this coming summer.
Our best meal, hands down, was at the King’s Head Pub in Galway City’s High Street. (Although the street sign reads “Shop Street”—take your pick.) John ordered a burger and fries—mostly, I think, because he liked the little tin bucket the fries came in. I had teriyaki salmon on a bed of rice—the fish was super-crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. It was actually, hands-down, the tastiest salmon I’ve ever had. Same goes for the coleslaw, creamy and sweet, just the way I like it.
For anyone with an incorrigible sweet tooth (guilty!), Irish desserts are first class—one dinner ended with a rhubarb crumble, another with an apple crumble, both of which were served in little ramekins that could have been a LOT bigger. Carrot cake was frequently on the menu, lunch or dinner. The Glen Keen Farm tearoom had a bakery case that could bring tears to your eyes—groaning with five kinds of scones, frosted cakes and custard cakes.
I took myself on a “bakery crawl” (as opposed to a pub crawl—you see my priorities here!) in Westport, County Mayo, and in Dublin. Each bakery offered lots of cakes too, which I would have loved to try. But eating on the run generally gives me a tummyache, and you can’t carry a slice of cream cake in your backpack while you traipse around museums and ruins. So I’d end up buying a cookie.
The most memorable dish was the one that got away: the drool-inducing cheesecake at the Kylemore Abbey restaurant in County Galway. I’ve long concluded that most restaurant cheesecake is served in pieces that are WAY too small. But this massive slice of what appeared to be New York style was perfect. Still, with a long ride to Westport ahead, I knew it would be gooey mess by the time I got to it, so any cheesecake-eating would have to be in my imagination.
When I had a sweet craving, and no cream cakes or even cookies to be had, I’d settle for a Butler’s chocolate bar. But I’m still dreaming about that cheesecake.