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  • Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Irish Cuisine

    When in Ireland, you should only go to restaurants that serve traditional Irish foods, right? It seemed like a good rule for myself anyway. You should sample the local flavors while you have the chance. Aside from a decent cottage pie, my first few restaurant meals were not so great, though. A little disappointing in fact.

    Even foods that looked good enough to make me salivate, ended up being bland, dry, over or under-cooked, or had a combination of ingredients that didn't seem to belong together. It started to make sense why they put gravy on everything.

    I am not a picky eater at all. I generally love all foods, provided they don't have eyes or look like they might be able to walk off my plate, so I didn't want to give up on Irish cuisine so quickly. Recently, however, I threw in the towel.

    The turning point came when I walked into a little grocery store one morning that sold hot food in buffet-style metal trays behind sneeze guards. As I'm on a budget, I had to ask the woman behind the counter how much everything cost.

    "The sausages, ham, and eggs are all 75 cent each," she said. "You know, it's cheaper to buy a breakfast sandwich for €4, it comes with a little of everything."

    A meat and egg filled sandwich sounded great to me. "Alright, let's do that," I said.

    She split open the loaf of bread and plopped a big dollop of baked beans on top. It happened too fast for me to stop it.

    "Oh goddammit." I politely said only inside my head. 

    She indeed stuffed it full of ham, sausage, and egg, but then came the white pudding, a sort of hockey puck of oatmeal, pork kidney fat, and god knows what else.

    "Would you like red sauce?" she asked.

    "What's red sauce?" I was almost afraid to ask. Sometimes more information negatively effects the enjoyment of the thing I'm chewing on.

    "It's kind of a tomato--" she began to say.

    "It's ketchup," said a girl working nearby.

    "Will ketchup make pork suet covered in baked beans more palatable?" I wondered. I had an inkling the answers was a definitive no, but for some reason I said, "just a little bit."

    Since I'm on a budget, I ate the whole gigantic mess of a thing, other than what I eventually picked off and some of the bean soaked bread I threw under a bush, an act of littering I justified by imagining an emaciated animal using it to gain the energy to go find a proper meal. The horrible taste haunted me for days. Actually, I've had to take a break from writing this three times just to prevent a phantom taste of it from nauseating me again.

    They say that adults who lose their sense of smell, and so also the ability to taste foods as they once did, commit suicide more often than people who lose any other of the five senses. That's including eyesight. Irish cuisine isn't going to make me jump off a cliff, you can rest assured, but being unable to satisfy food cravings has been bad enough that I have thought of this statistic many times. Even familiar foods that I love, in Ireland, don't taste like I'm used to them tasting.

    Eventually, I had to admit to myself that food in Ireland just isn't for me. I'm sorry, Irish food. You know what? It's not you... It's me. We just come from two very different places and have different expectations and rules about things.

    It was time to break my rule to eat traditional Irish food and just start eating whatever I wanted. What I wanted was my mom's fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, and macaroni and cheese. I thought about it as I walked down the road staring at pavement. I shook the thought out of my head.

    "Stop torturing yourself, man! That option is literally not on the table."

    Later, I walked into a city and found the next best thing. Kentucky Fried Chicken. No longer encumbered by my ridiculous rule to experience the local fare, I headed straight for it. Visions of Extra Crispy Chicken danced in my head like marionette puppets. Ooooh and mashed potatoes with gravy! And hot flaky biscuits drowning in melted butter! The picture of the Colonel almost brought tears to my eyes, like seeing the face of my best friend after years of separation.

    I walked in with a big stupid American grin on my face and looked over the menu.

    "Can I help you?" a girl behind the register asked with a French accent.

    "I don't see Extra Crispy Chicken," I said. "Do you have that?"

    She confusedly pointed to some chicken fingers on the menu.

    Okay, no problem. Original recipe will be fine.

    "I don't see your sides," I said. "Do you have mashed potatoes?"

    "No mashed potatoes," she said. "The only sides we have are gravy, corn, and beets."

    Okay calm down, Ryan. First, ignore that she said beets, just put that out of your mind. Second, KFC gravy is good. Great in fact. But wait... what do you put it on? What kind of a side is just gravy? Do I eat it with a spoon? Spin the ear of corn around in it? I didn't even ask if they had biscuits. Biscuits are cookies here. What would they even call them?

    Okay, I thought, just stick with the chicken. It's still the Colonel's famous 11 herbs and spices after all. There are strict franchise rules that require they get that right... Right? My eyes eventually landed on a meal that I thought sounded promising. I forget the name, but it was something like "Big Box of Random Types of Chicken For One Fat Man Meal." 

    The french girl nodded her head smiling and said, "Yeah." As though confirming that she knew I'd be such a man to order that.

    It was good. Not exactly what I had hoped for, but good. I started going to other American fast food chains as well, but none are quite the same as back home. I even started ordering sandwiches they don't sell in the US, just so I didn't have any expectation or disappointment.

    Okay, so I feel like I'm whining a little bit too much here, but there is a happy ending. I eventually found a perfect solution for my food issues. It has worked out so well so far, that I'm once again excited about getting to town for restaurant food. It was so simple I couldn't believe it took me so long to figure it out. The solution is this: 

    Authentic Mexican Food.