HomeFood (Page 36)

Food

Before I start, I have to be clear. I have nothing against hunting. We need hunting in our countryside to keep various animal populations in check. Also, I don’t have issue where there is an element of real skill and hunters are killing for the table. Having said all that….

We went to my better half’s parents’ house in Tipperary last weekend. The house overlooks Lough Derg. Just across from the house is an island. Brave men from the city pay big bucks to get in touch with their inner hunter by visiting the island and shooting pheasant. The pheasant are accustomed to people on the island and are pretty tame by local account. When groups of high paying city folk come down, dressed like country squires in padded green giléts and fresh green wellington boots to ‘hunt’, the beaters have been known to have difficulty getting the birds into the air to meet their fate.

I am a Dubliner, born and bred inside the Pale. I am proud of my roots, my history and most things Dublin. Some of our country cousins can begrudge us the privileges we enjoy from living in the ‘Big Smoke’. We have, amongst other attractions, the Luas electric tram system, an airport with two terminals, the Guinness Brewery and the boat to England.

It is traditional and reasonable for us Jackeens, as the Culchies like to call us, to suffer some inter-county hostility. Some of the rural dwellers believe that Cork is the real capital of the country. Others think that Galway is the cultural axis on which the world revolves. I refute these and many other illegitimate claims against our capital city. I am well brought up and I will not mention Dublin being the All Ireland Football Champions at present. That would be churlish.

It’s my own fault. I suggested that as I was cooking for the Wife and myself, I might include my eldest and her boyfriend in the pot. They gratefully accepted my offer. Then they did what great negotiators the world over do when they have a deal over the line. They changed the terms.

I need to be careful how I phrase this. There are two old steamers in the kitchen. They have been there for years and they have even been a big influence on the lives of my children. I think it’s time they came out of the closet. 

For over 30 years, The Great Wall takeaway in Blackrock has been a small but constant part of south Dublin nightlife. Generations of us have stumbled in their aluminium and reinforced glass front door to order our post-pints feed. The after-pub crowd would generally be well-behaved if not a bit disrespectful towards the long-suffering Orientals behind the counter.

Once, I asked our server the meaning of the Chinese writing on a wall painting beside the lengthy menu. As he handed us our bags of deep-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken, he told me, with a grin; “You come in, you laugh at us. You leave with the food, we laugh at you.”  We all guffawed but something stuck with me and has stayed since.

Here in Dublin, the temptation to find a snug and enjoy a few pints is never far away. We have a long and rich pub tradition. A night spent on the drink in Dublin attracts numerous colloquialisms: “A few scoops.”, the great understatement “A couple of pints.” and my favourite “On the batter”. I have no idea where the expression comes from. Perhaps it refers to where the evening would often conclude? In the chipper, where most things bar the chips are deep-fried in batter.

Just before Christmas, my friend L challenged me to try Cashel Blue cheese against Stilton Blue and to decide on which is the better cheese. His mind was made up and he wanted a second opinion. Being Irish and proud of it, I have my own natural leanings. The Other Half was born in London and she carried a vote too. I reckon that levels the pitch. For complete transparency, I must admit that I did bump into two of the Grubb family (makers of Cashel Blue) at a cheese tasting recently. This had no influence on my decision. I mention it to avoid unfounded accusations of bias.

Not my usual way to start a post but circumstance has forced my hand. My two grown-up (in age only) daughters were having a conversation in the way that only the female of the species can. L (the elder) looks up from typing on her computer and says “It’s great that Laura and Paddy are coming to dinner on Sunday.” Without lifting her head from deep study of Facebook, S (the younger) replies; “Who the hell is Lord Paddington?” Now, just over a week hence, my nurse niece Laura and her fireman boyfriend Paddy have become forever the single entity “Lord Paddington”. 

For centuries now Fortnum & Mason have made and sold some of the most delicious foods available on these islands. They even pioneered some populist fare. A number of decades ago, that bastion of fine British food was the first retailer to stock and sell Mr Heinz’s now ubiquitous baked beans.

My love of Oriental cooking came from a period in my working life when I ate in Chinese restaurants at least once a week. I have spent over 30 years in advertising and during the late 80s and early 90s, I would dine out, often in excellent Chinese restaurants including  the Orchid Szechuan on Dublin’s Pembroke Road or in the Imperial on Wicklow Street (great for Dim Sum). In those days, it was perfectly normal enjoy a three course meal with wine (often lots of wine) for lunch on an almost daily basis. Those habits have been diminished by time, social convention and economic change but my love of oriental fare and cooking have not been eroded.

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