Visiting Cork, Ireland was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me when it did. When I boarded my flight after 10 days in the UK, I was tired, emotionally drained, and frankly, a bit of a mess. Alex (the friend I would be visiting) and I used to swim together back when he was in the States, but that had been over a year ago and part of me was a bit nervous that I’d receive the same welcome that I had earlier in the trip.
Mistake #1: Never underestimate the incredible good-will of a proven, amazing friend.
Mistake #2: Never underestimate the incredible good-will of the Irish, period.
The atmosphere of my arrival could not have been more different. The moment I stepped out of my gate at ORK, I was engulfed in a gigantic bear hug (at 6’3″, Alex just towers over me), my luggage was swiped genially from my hands, and I was introduced to my friend’s beaming mom–who also pulled me into a grand towering hug–faster than I could say “luck of the Irish.” 30 minutes later, we were speeding through the small, quaint downtown of Cork and happily en route to Blarney Castle, legendary home of the Blarney stone that (apparently) grants you the “gift of gab” if you kiss it.
Turns out that the rumored gab-gifting wasn’t in particularly high supply–I certainly didn’t feel very eloquent afterward!–but we did buy ice cream cones afterward to make up for it (and maybe to cleanse our mouths after kissing the wet, suspiciously dark patch of rock). The ice cream, which was my first official taste of Ireland, surprised me with its freshness and flavor: I had heard about the beer, but to be completely honest, I hadn’t had high hopes for the food…
Mistake #3: Never underestimate the universality of good food options if you know where to look for it (or know someone who knows where to look for it).
Kissing the Blarney Stone, which is that darkish patch of rock right there. Not what you expected either, right?
Disclaimer: I never actually tried Irish Soda Bread while I was in Ireland, though I had heard about this easy, no-knead, no-yeast (yes!!) bread ages ago and was determined to try it when I got back home. Then again, there were so many tasty things to try that you can’t blame a gal for not getting around to them all during my scant 48 hours there! On our first night on the town, we hopped into a few pubs with great thin-crust pizza and I ended up order a bianca with–yup–sliced Irish potatoes on top. Uh, yes please. If you’ve never done the potatoes-and-pizza combo before, you’re in for a treat: the seasoned potatoes balanced perfectly with the understated, thin, slightly chewy crust and the light smattering of cheese sprinkled on top. And even though I was already bursting at the seams with Guinness by that point in the evening (I learned that stout beer fills you up really fast–speaking of which, stay tuned for my next post, Chocolate Guinness Bread! YASSS), I managed to shovel down half of that pizza on my own. I felt like a total champ, to be honest.
The next night, Alex treated me to dinner at a dimly-lit, vegetarian-friendly joint in downtown Cork that offered fancy fun cocktails and an absolutely bomb vegetable casserole. The waitress even mixed up our drinks order and decided to serve us an extra cocktail on the house, which was absolutely delicious and–it turns out–a fast route to making the room spin around me (I discovered on this trip that I’m an ultra light-weight–leave it to Europe to educate the alcohol-illiterate!).
But it wasn’t only the restaurants that converted me to the potential of Irish cuisine. Did I mention that Alex’s brother is basically a home-grown chef? Every morning he’d be up bright and early, cooking and brewing away in the kitchen. Some of the things I tasted in there were absolutely amazing, and his passion for cooking was equally incredible to witness. We had fluffy pancakes with homemade cream cheese frosting on our first morning together, and on the day I left, Alex’s dad had bought scones to pair with some of the jam that Alex’s brother had made at home. I didn’t even attempt to make my own jam to pair with this bread–I’ll leave that to the real pros–but I can safely say that fresh jam (and butter or fresh cream, too!) is a must with a slice of this Irish soda bread. I could definitely use a dollop of that homemade jam from Cork right now!
Now, this bread: it’s crusty on the outside, a mixture of crumbly and soft in the inside, and–because there’s no yeast or kneading involved–takes only 5 minutes to throw together. Sound too good to be true? Mistake #4 would be underestimating the power of a solid Irish recipe–but I’m sure you wouldn’t do that, now would you? Right then. Just make sure that you heat up your slice of bread slightly (say, 10 seconds in the microwave) before consuming…it’s so good when it’s enjoyed warm and toasty!
What’s your favorite Irish dish?