Beyond Pub Grub
in Ireland has become a treat. In 1975, a restaurant was a rarity. Pubs served
stale sandwiches made with butter and a single piece of old meat. That was
it. Hotels served better food, but it was outrageously overpriced. Pepper
was an exotic spice.
My uncle still tells the story of ordering some
pub grub back in 1978. The waitress told him they served "ham, cheese,
and tomato sandwiches."
"I'll have one of those," said my
"Oh no!" explained the waitress. "We only serve a ham sandwich,
a cheese sandwich, or a tomato sandwich."
My uncle pondered this. Finally he reordered.
"I'll have a ham sandwich and a cheese sandwich and a tomato sandwich
- and throw away the pieces of bread in the middle."
Falafels with your Thai
every little town has a quiche and pizza place. Home made soups (vegetable,
mushroom, potato) are to be found in almost every pub. Eating out is reasonable
- and soup with roll or brown bread is a bargain. And Chinese and Indian restaurants
can be found in every town with a population greater than 3,000. The place
has gone through a gastronomic revolution. Lasagna, rice dishes, salads, fresh
everything, panini, bagels and even interesting sandwiches are common. Most every place offers
a vegetarian main course.
We've had falafels, hummous, and tabbouli from
various markets around. Meats are the finest anywhere. And why not? These
cattle are eating the finest grass on the planet. Pita has become a staple
in almost every market. Farmhouse cheeses are abundant - and great. And the
smoked salmon you find everywhere is superb. Cork and Waterford and even my little town of Dungarvan have Thai
restaurants. Dublin has sushi bars.
Meat and Potatoes
Despite this plethora of gastronomic
delights, spuds are the essential food in most every Irish household.
The average family will go through many pounds weight of potatoes
every day. Meat and potatoes are still the standard meal, and
vegetables in most households are boiled and otherwise beaten
Vegetarian & Health Food
Every town of more than a few thousand people has a health food store these days. You want dietary supplements, organic vitamins, seaweed shampoos, molasses or soy milk? Ya got it! Along with energy bars, whole wheat pastas, non-gluten bread and a whole lot more.
Not only health food stores carry this stuff - every quarter decent sized grocery store has a section with a few dozen health food items. These will always contain a breakfast cereal or two, non-gluten foods, a selection of dried beans, nuts and dried fruits and a supply of candies suitable for diabetics. After that, each store varies.
As for vegetarian diets in general - there's no problem. A growing percentage of the populace, particularly young women, are vegetarians of one persuasion or another. The supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, canned goods, frozen quorn meat substitutes and everything else is huge. If you're willing to eat cheese, the supply of local and specialty products is gorgeous.
I contrast this with my experience of a few decades ago when bicycling round Donegal. I stopped in at a restaurant and asked for a green salad. Never having heard of such a thing before, they dug up everything in their larder that was green - cold green beans, cold peas, cabbage leaves.... These days you can try the same order and your problem will be working your way through the radicchio and rocket to get at the lettuce.
For lots more information, try the Irish site Vegetarian.ie
One thoughtful bulletin board user hunted out an About.com page listing the "Top 10 Irish Recipes". I note that the list does not include the number one Irish favourite - fat and soggy chips doused in vinegar.