My favorite vacations are those when I get out of my routines and see even the most mundane parts of my life in a new light. Perhaps I shouldn’t use the term “mundane” to describe eating and food, but I do find that creating daily meals sometimes pushes me into “food ruts.”
A recent trip to Dublin, London, and Paris gave me a whole new perspective on meals and ingredients. We picnicked, ate in restaurants, had meals with friends and relatives in their homes, and prepared our own breakfasts for part of the time in a rented apartment. Whether it was a simple sandwich, a cup of tea or coffee, or an elaborate dinner, I found myself thinking about my food much more than I normally do. When you think about food as much as I normally do, that’s saying a lot!
As I looked at our photos, sorted through receipts, and browsed my daily vacation journal, a number of food themes jumped out at me. Here are several of them from the Dublin and London parts of the trip:
Vacation-Sparked Food Epiphanies
- Barley is amazingly versatile. Our Dublin stop included both the Jameson’s distillery and the Guinness brewery. Malted barely in whiskey and unmalted in beer; I had no idea before this trip how much of the barely grown in Ireland and elsewhere ultimately ends up in liquor. But the real barley revelation was a simple “grab-and-go” lunch at Pod in London – barely and lentil stew with slow roasted pork. I’ve already started experimenting with that grain combination and I’m loving it.
- Breakfast makes a difference. At home, I normally eat a small breakfast and eat lunch because I get hungry a few hours later. But the several times we ate a “full Irish” breakfast, I barely needed to eat in the afternoon and had lots of energy to explore during the day. I’m not necessarily going to prepare a “full Irish” or “full English” breakfast every morning now that we’re back, but I did learn firsthand the benefits of eating a protein-rich breakfast.
- Lamb is my next meat adventure. I dined on lamb several times in Dublin and London. Whether stewed in chunks or cooked on the bone, it melted in my mouth and the sauce/gravy was divine. Now I’m anxious to find slow cooked lamb recipes to make at home.
- Irish bread. If you don’t like whole wheat bread, then you’ve never tasted traditional Irish brown or soda bread. It’s best with lovely, Irish butter, but even plain there is no better way to snack or sop up sauce.
- There is no such thing as “the quintessential scone.” There are as many ways to make scones as there are bakers who make them. Every place I could, I tasted scones and asked Irish and English people I met how they like their scones. The samples and the answers were so varied that I could only conclude that scones are to the Irish and English as chocolate chip cookies are to Americans – a sacred sweet (though sometimes scones are savory) that is no more uniform in size, ingredients, texture, color, or taste than the people who eat them.
- Coffee, Tea or ? When in Rome… There is a good reason to order tea when in Ireland and England. The Irish and the English care about their tea, the quality of the leaves and how it’s brewed. Coffee – not so much. You order coffee at your own peril, unless of course, you find a café run by an expat from a country that knows from roasting and brewing those lovely brown/black beans.
- Even foods you don’t like can look appealing enough to make you reconsider. Glacé or candied fruit has never been a favorite of mine. Except for crystallized or candied ginger, I’ve always shied away from it. But a trip to Fortnum & Mason made me want to stick my hand right through the glass counter when I saw how they displayed these sweets – a whole case of them!
- Fish ‘n chips are my downfall. If fish ‘n chips are bad for you, then I’m prepared to do penance from now until the cows come home.
What food epiphany have you had after your own travels?