When I first tell some people that I’ve made a TV series called Taste of Ireland, they quip back “is it about potatoes?” I retort “have you tasted those potatoes?” and anyway, Irish food is much, much more than that.
I fell in love, not only with Irish produce, but with those welcoming, warm, gregarious people who live there. Not only because there’s something about the lilt of the Irish accent which is enchanting, but as an Australian I now know where so many of our character traits come from: the sense of humour, the self-deprecating comments and the love of the craic (having a good time).
The climate may be cold but the hospitality is warm. It felt like home.
Belfast (Episode 1) was an eye opener. A city of optimism with a dark past. Drive past the murals of all the significant figures in the world who have fought for peace (why do we say “fought”?) and there is no graffiti. They are respected and there for all to enjoy. Not much further is the wall which once divided this city, where all are invited to write, and I read “in memory of my mother who never knew her city in a time of peace”.
Then on to the actual Harland and Wolff drawing room in which the plans for the Titanic were drafted to cook my version of a meal worthy of Titanic first class, Duck Breast with Madeira sauce.
So many chefs were generous with their time and recipes. Andy Rae from Mourne Seafood bar cooked what for me represented the very best of Irish tradition with a modern take: Roast Monkfish with Irish Style Cabbage, Potato Sauce and Scallion butter. Light, delicious and with a sense of humour showcasing fantastic produce.
We ate on a rare night off at James Street South www.jamesstreetsouth.co.uk where the food could proudly take its place on the world stage. Chef Niall McKenna’s focus is on local seasonal produce so for me that meant my first taste of grouse, as it was hunting season. Classical French technique is the backbone but with Irish flair and a more contemporary delicacy of touch.
My taxi tour of Belfast took me not only to see the city sights, but also to St. George’s Market. Here there were people singing, others plying their wares whether direct from France or a seaweed specialist selling the many dried varieties harvested in the north and which I was to cook with later.
Lyndey Milan’s Taste of Ireland screens weekly on 7TWO on Sundays at 12noon.
Lyndey Milan, Australian home cook hero, combines a thirst for life and a sense of fun with a love of good food and sparkling shiraz. A familiar face on television and in print, she been instrumental in changing the way Australians think and feel about food and wine for over 25 years.
Also: read More to love about the Irish by Lyndey Milan (episode 2 Taste of Ireland) << here