A bowl of soup and memories

2011-10-21 08:01

The steam furls off the floral bowl, releasing the smell of the sea. This is the best seafood chowder I’ve ever had. It comes with a freshly baked whole-wheat roll and is full of chunks of salmon. I burn my tongue, too greedy to wait.

We find the best seafood chowder in an odd little cafe on a drizzle-spattered road in Ireland. It has a shop selling the expected tourist tat as well as a back room selling a surprisingly eclectic collection of second-hand books that celebrate the country’s writers.

The cafe is tucked on the side, almost as an afterthought. Five rough wooden tables and chairs, no décor, but the walls teem with photographs of the area, all for sale.

The menu is scribbled on a board – vegetable soup, potato and leek soup or seafood chowder, followed by apple and blackberry or rhubarb crumble, and tea and coffee. That’s pretty much it. But what this little roadside cafe does, it does to perfection.

My visit to this odd place on Ireland’s most western shore will stay with me forever. The huge slice of apple and blackberry crumble will too. I had to hold myself back for dignity’s sake from using my finger to scoop up stray crumbs and dollops of fresh cream. This is what makes for everlasting holidaymemories – food.

The best way to experience any culture is through what people eat because, like the people, food is never static, always evolving. Take the ubiquitous tomato.

You’d be quick to say it is an Italian thing, but this fruit originates from South America and only became a possible ingredient in the Mediterranean after the Spanish colonisation of the Americas.

Potatoes too are from South America, but have in the four centuries since they made their worldwide debut gone on to become the world’s fourth-largest food crop. In Ireland, it was the failure of that crop that led to the horrendous potato famine that killed 1?million people and made another million set sail for the Americas in the mid-1800s.

There are hundreds of other examples of ingredient migration. The discovery of the Americas by the Europeans can be traced back to the spice trade – especially the demand for pepper – as they battled Constantinople’s monopoly of the sea route. 

So it seems fitting in this age of rock star chefs and exotic shopping lists that travellers should experience foreign climes through their taste buds as much as through their cameras.

Just about any loaf of bread and hunk of cheese you buy in a Parisian supermarket is better than anything you can buy at home. Is that because you can gaze at the Eiffel Tower while you picnic or because the French know their bread and cheese? Probably a little of each.

In Rome, my most triumphant moment was finding a restaurant tucked off the tourist track with peculiar fake grass at its entrance. It was filled with Romans having lunch. The pasta was just made and coated in a brilliant red tomato sauce.

These tomatoes can’t be found in a South African shop; you have to grow them, which I did with smuggled seeds. While on a trip to Egypt, one of my most enduring memories was of the man at our rather tatty little pension making us the most delicious meal of eggs, salad and flat bread.

Sure, I remember paying four times the going rate for a cooldrink while on camel’s back at the Sphinx, but that’s not such a good memory. It’s the less palatable side of the holidaymaker’s story – getting suckered.

You know that terrible sinking sensation as your dinner arrives and you realise that it’s not going to be what the menu promised? Short of accosting local strangers and forcing them to tell you where the best grub is, it is the lot of the visitor to be at the mercy of good cooks and bad while on the road.

This is why a lip-smacking culinary experience off your home turf is the stuff legendary dinner table anecdotes are made of. After all, anyone can kiss the Blarney Stone, but that bowl of seafood chowder is unique to my holiday experience.

Tucked away behind this windy-swept, rain-battered sign is the best seafood chowder in Ireland|| Photo: gayle edmunds

A freshly baked baguette with cheese is as good a way to get to know the French and their ways as walking along the Seine

Impossibly fresh pasta with even more impossibly delicious tomato sauce is a memorable Italian experience

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.