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Travel Episode- Ireland, the Fresh Island



It was once said that the best four-course meal you would find in an Irish Pub was 3 pints of beer and a bag of potato chips. Old Irish cooking styles used to be cheap cuts of meat, boiled to death in a big pot with vegetables and potatoes. I got to go to Ireland a few years ago to navigate the pricey culinary landscape firsthand to see if this were true. Because I collect culinary eating experiences as if some people accumulate old coins or stamps, I was the ideal candidate to search out the most distinctive and extraordinary dining establishments.


I’m glad to report that times have changed and Ireland has blossomed into a European foodie powerhouse producing artisan foodstuffs that are rivaling other European countries that were previous Mecca’s for all things gourmet. The "gastro" pub has emerged as the new epicurean icon of Ireland. Yes, some things never change, like the full Irish breakfast (complete with Baked Beans and Grilled Tomatoes) but the global influences have introduced some delicious variations of traditional specialties.



The beer is still stellar and the heart of the pub experience. A pint (always means a Guinness) is what keeps patrons coming back, but now the food is adding a dimension of alluring interest for travelers.

As I was roaming on my appetite, I found myself searching for the best grub in the most unique and atmospheric pub.




What I discovered was every great pub is tied to the community in which it “lives”.

Sometimes loud, but always welcoming, the pubs are the heartbeat of local culture in Ireland. They reminded me of the neighborhood bars in Chicago where I used to live, with the dark wood-paneled walls, old-fashioned floorboards, a fireplace, dim lights, and lots of history. The walls are adorned with antique memorabilia of previous customers passing through. Police arm patches, currency from far away lands, postcards, and well-worn bar stools were the decorations in most pubs. Warm and cozy, I felt right at home. As I expected, potatoes, lamb, salmon, and seafood were reoccurring stars of the menus.



However, what I did not expect was so much of what food adventurers in America call FLOSS. (Stands for Fresh, Local, Organic, Sustainable, Seasonable) It justified me coughing up all those Euros knowing I was supporting local and sustainable foods and it gave the menus a sense of place that makes the difference between a good meal and a memorable one.


I judge a country’s culinary aptitude on its ability to produce good bread and butter. Consistently Ireland provided me with gratifying examples of both. Irish Soda bread was served daily at every pub and seemed like it was just pulled out of the oven and rushed to my table. Its grainy richness from soft stone-ground whole-wheat flour made my mouth water. I ate it slathered with smooth grassy locally churned butter that intensified the nutty flavor of the wheat.


Pub grub menus tend to run the gambit from light appetizers to hearty entrees, but here are a few that have had the staying power and appear frequently across southern Ireland -Don't forget to order a pint of Murphy’s or Guinness’s dark beer to wash it all down with.



Irish Menu Primer

Local Farmhouse Cheese Plate- Derby Sage, Port Salud, Cheddar & Cahill’s Porter as a starter course are a few examples of local cheeses served up with crusty slices of bread.

Mockingbird Sundae- ¼ cut roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables adorned with sour cream on the side.

Prime Rib and Pudding-Traditional steak, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding served with Au Jus.

Irish Stew- Fork tender chunks of beef or lamb swimming in a luscious sauce along with carrots, onions, and potatoes.

Bangers and Mash- Mashed potatoes, 2 large pork sausages, Cabbage & Veg, with onion gravy & soda bread

Shepherds or Cottage Pie- Ground beef, served in a crock with peas & carrots, gravy, and covered with mashed potatoes & cheese.



Fresh Irish Salmon -From Shannon and local Irish Rivers, it is melted in your mouth delicious and often served with classic European sauces.

Boxty- Potato Pancakes made with mashed potatoes come in a multitude of flavors.

Bread and Butter Pudding- the Irish version of Bread Pudding often served with a custard sauce

Sticky Date Pudding- A delicious Victorian-era date and brown sugar cake served with a homemade butterscotch sauce.




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