We awoke on the earlier side, as we were scheduled for a Galway food tour. I have never been on a Galway food tour before, or a food tour in general. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
We huddled at the starting point, Griffin’s Bakery/cafe, where we were met by Gosha and Orla— two absolutely wonderful, charming, witty locals who put the food at every place we stopped into context of the establishment, as well as the Galway community.
We split into two groups, one of which had the vegetarian/gluten free people [which I thought was super cool and accommodating of them].
Our group’s first stop was Tigh Nachtain, one of the oldest family-owned pubs/restaurants in Galway.
A cozy maze of tight turns, “snugs”, knick-knacks, paintings, and bars, Tigh [meaning “house”] Neachtain [the proprietor] is one of the oldest pubs on the intersection of Cross and Quay Street and a hotspot for artists and musicians alike. The exterior features vibrant art depicting animal rights activist Richard “Humanity” Martin, & the name stamp of family ownership on a trademark blue & yellow building. It was here that we got to taste a variety of foods, from clams, to new and inventive sushi, to a hand-crafted stout.
The next stop was Griffin’s Bakery. Home to the “masters of bread”, Griffins boasts a baker that’s been around since 1876. Now running for 143 years, the 4th generation continues the legacy of the of serving the local community and providing artisan goods, one of which is the famous “monster loaf”.
Crazy story about the monster loaf, though: Jimmy Griffin, the shop’s owner, had a nasty run-in with a conger eel while scuba diving in 2013, a skirmish that left Jimmy horribly scarred when he lost most of his left cheek and lip. As a bit of a revenge move and therapeutic experience, he bakes the Monster Loaf, the same length of the conger eel, and enjoys cutting it up into pieces for amused customers local and visiting, who are enthralled with the recipe and the story.
Our next stop was McCambridges. It’s kind of like a really nice general store, with a variety of foods [esp. meat and cheeses] and drinks [including some outrageously expensive boxed-under-lock-and-key whiskey aged something like an insane amount of years].
Established in the 1930’s, McCambridges is a renowned destination for high-end artisan food & drink for over 91 years [4+ generations!] They have since expanded into a cafe and restaurant to further enhance their business and promote their specialty goods. Inside, Gosha handed us lots of sliced cheeses and meats to try, all strategically paired with samples of whiskey and poutin, which I’ll explain more about in a later post.
After McCambridges we headed to Hazel Mountain Chocolate, an almost-boutique looking shop cafe with a wide variety of chocolate on the shelves and coffee/hot chocolate selections. They use cocoa beans from all over the world for their chocolate, however their process, “from bean to bar”, as they say, is completed in their quaint little factory.
According to their website & our tour guide, they roast the beans, “cracking and winnowing, before grinding the cocoa nibs in their stone mills in the traditional method for two days, all before aging the chocolate for 3 weeks”. I am a HUGE fan of dark chocolate [Hazel Mountain’s specialty], so when Gosha passed around the samples of all the uniquely crafted dark chocolate I was ecstatic. Some pieces held nutty flavours, while others, fruity and light. Oh, and we were wrapped in the warm, comforting aroma of chocolate the whole time as well. Heaven.
We made our next stop at Cupãn tae, an *adorable* place preserving the high tea tradition. Known as “the ultimate Afternoon Tea experience in Galway and Westport”, the venue has a massive selection of custom tea blends and pastries, some of which are hand-picked by the owner to compete in tea competitions all over Europe. When we were there, we tried a lemon/zucchini muffin tiny tea-infused cake thing that was absolutely delicious. The ingredients all seemed unsuspecting, but it was really quite refreshing and light.
Our last stop was Merrow, right on the ground floor and part of the Pálás Cinema. It was beautifully modern inside, boasting a craft bar and a colourful, modern menu of Ireland’s freshest ingredients.
We had a sampling of pork chop, with some micro greens on top of potatoes and apple sauce. It. Was. Heaven. My mouth is watering thinking about it, but it also took me back to every time ever in which we had ham at home and I always asked my mom if we were going to have apple sauce, too. [For me, ham and apple sauce go hand in hand— you can’t have one without the other.]
We ended the tour there, and quite honestly, I was quite full. Crazy. We thanked Gosha and she gave us a list of all the places we had visited, as well as some recommendations for other places in the area. She talked with some of our professors and also wrote down a list of people and places we could talk to and interview for our food waste/food sustainability project. According to Gosha, Galway [even sans tourists] is a bit of a small place. Although it’s a humming city, it’s built on the interdependence, giving back, and camaraderie between local businesses through generations. Even amidst the rapid growth of Galway as the European Cultural Capital, locally owned and operated businesses continue to hold their own as beloved, iconic cornerstones of the Galway community spanning many generations. It’s very easy to make connections and keep them, a kind of allure that makes people who maybe only intended to “stay a little while” end up planting their roots and growing them out.
After the food tour, we thanked Gosha for all of her help and guidance, and dispersed into our own agendas for the day. my roommate and I got a bit lost around Eyre Square, but ended up lingering there for a while to look at the sculptures and statues, all defining parts of the civic space.
On our way back [once we had found our way back], we realized the weather was incredible, and since such weather is not always guaranteed, we decided, on a whim, to hit the beach at Salt Hill. It was a 20 minute walk to get there but it was SO worth it.
Salt Hill for me felt like an Irish version of the boardwalk at Ocean City, minus the actual boards— in its place is a concrete “promenade” that goes along the sort of sea-wall that overlooks the Galway bay. Depending on the time of day, the tide determines how much beach/sand/rocks are exposed. We were there earlier in the day, and the tide was low, so there was loads of sand exposed and children playing on the sandy parts and rocks.
The water was blue beyond belief, and it was just kind of a surreal experience to see the beaches themselves— when you think of Ireland you think “Emerald Isle”, not beaches. But I am so glad they exist.
We made our way all the way down the promenade, parallel to many shops and restaurants, and even a regional / national aquarium [which is on my to-do list!!]. We stopped at the Salt Hill diving tower at Blackrock beach, a yellow looking structure that extended past the shore.
Those brave enough to climb it can expect at least an 8 foot drop into the ocean. However, since we were there at low tide, we didn’t see anyone jumping [due to the water level being so close to the rocks below].
We decided instead of diving to take a chance at the ice cream truck parked nearby called “Mr. Whippies”, where we each got a cone of vanilla ice cream stabbed with a 99 bar, similar to the one I wrote about in the clam.
After a bit we made our way back, feeling hot [not something I expected to feel in Ireland, let me tell you— I packed for an “extreme” temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit].
Dinner consisted of a night in with pasta and tomato basil sauce, followed by another hefty helping [hehe :P] of ice cream and then an easy segue into sleep—all of the walking from today had taken in out of us. We had class the next day— we were going to discuss more in detail what was expected from our time here in Galway as well as get more details about our project with the Foroíge youth.
All in all, a very swell day.