What’s your favourite food memory? Like the one that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and brings you right back to the child you once were?
I had a beautiful dinner last night in Hartleys in Dun Laoghaire. (Great new menu highlights include the sesame-seared tuna and pork belly with wasabi slaw, and specials last night included a hunk of spiced swordfish, still juicy and served with soft, sweet strips of fennel and red pepper with saffron aoili – all as good as it sounds.)
Anyways, we were chatting about food memories ahead of this weekend’s Dingle Food Festival, at which I’m hosting a For Food’s Sake event on Sat & Sun avo (skip down below for full line-up). Someone was saying they had an emergency breakfast of fish fingers and beans recently and it brought them right back to being eight years old, sitting tucking into an emergency supper. Sounds like such a bad combo but you know you’d hoover it up if you were presented with it.
One of my favourite memories is of those not too rare but nonetheless treasured back-to-school autumnal evenings when the ma would decide to cook fish and chips for tea. We’d be cosy in the sitting room, the rain pelting against the windows, watching Grange Hill or Blue Peter or Cheggars Plays Pop, and from the kitchen we’d hear the sound of knives being sharpened, and the cats pattering down from upstairs bedrooms or scratching at the backdoor to get into the kitchen, cos they knew that knives being sharpened meant fish being filleted which meant lots of lovely skin and heads for them to eat. Then you’d hear the steady chopping as lovely spuds got peeled and chopped into lovely chips. Then the deep-fat fryer spitting and hissing as the fat fizzled and danced on the starchy surface in the first fry. The background murmur of drivetime talk radio would still itself as the Angelus peeled out and one of us would get called to set the table.
White fillets gleaming with freshness would be dredged through seasoned flour and into the bubbling butter in the pan, while the drained chips would drop crackling into the deep fat fryer for their second fry. Malt vinegar would take pride of place on the table alongside freshly made tartare sauce. And if I asked nicely, I could mix up some Angel Delight for dessert. We wouldn’t have to be called twice to that dinner table. And there’d be no bickering around it either. Happy days indeed.
What about your worst food memory, the one that makes you feel a little off just thinking about it? Mine is a dinner I cooked about 10 days after landing in Prague in the summer of ’94. We had been out for about nine nights in a row, sampling the world-famous beer (well, at 20p a frothy pint a pair of 20-year-olds would have to take advantage, right?). Anyway on the 10th night we couldn’t face another bar, and I suggested a home-cooked meal.
Off we went to local supermarket, where we bought the closest thing we could find to pasta, tinned tomatoes and tuna. There were no fresh onions or herbs, just a funny looking pale green capsicum yoke which I figured would do. What I served up would have been an affront to the sturdiest of sensibilities, never mind our delicate states of being after our crash course in Swilling Pivo Like a Local. Skinny sludgy semolina with sweet tomato paste, unidentified oily tinned fish and funny capsicum, anyone?
Between the scars of that dinner (little of which was eaten) and those inflicted by several unwitting meals of unidentified meat and dumplings, very early in that summer in Prague I turned vegetarian – and stayed that way for a good seven years. A local Hare Krishna cafe where you could get seconds or even third servings of delicious nutritious food for just 70p all-in kept us healthy and well fed. Maybe there is a god after all.
Anyway, enough about me and my memories. I’m looking forward to hearing about the food memories of the following food writers, bloggers, producers and chefs down at Dingle Food Festival, to which I’m heading on the train as I write this. If you’re going too, look out for the Big Blue Bus parked up on Orchard Lane, opposite the AIB bank on Main Street. One €2 tasting trial token will get you upstairs on the converted double decker, where I’ll be interviewing these lovely people:
SATURDAY 6TH OCTOBER
Sat 2.00pm Aoife McElwain of Totally Dublin & icanhascook.com
Sat 2.20pm Birgitta Curtin of Burren Smokehouse
Sat 2.40pm Caroline Byrne of Bridgestone Guides & thedublinfoodie.blogspot.ie
Sat 3.00pm Katy McGuinness of The Gloss & The Sunday Times
Sat 3.20pm – John Desmond of Island Cottage Cookery School, Heir Island
Sat 3.40pm Sharon Greene of Queens of Neon
SUNDAY 7TH OCTOBER
Sun 2.00pm Caroline Hennessy of Irish Food Bloggers Association & Bibliocook.com
Sun 2.20pm A sweet surprise (TBC)
Sun 2.40pm Ollie Moore of Irish Examiner & olivermoore.blogspot.ie
Sun 3.00pm Imen McDonnell of Irish Farmer’s Journal & marriedanirishfarmer.com
Sun 3.20pm Fiona Falconer of Wild About Foods
Sun 3.40pm Jack McCarthy of McCarthy’s of Kanturk
Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it, follow the action on Twitter at #FFS #foodmemories