(insert "life is a journey" cliché here)
This photo memory has food memory attached. Food memory is quite evocative; it might be an unexpected culinary experience; a meal raises the bar for the foodstuff in question. Or it might be at the “yuck” end of the spectrum – but read on.
Back to the photo, taken at Slea Head, on Irelands’ Dingle Peninsula. On the ocean horizon, past the sign usefully warning one of the principle danger of walking on a crumbling cliff edge, you can see the profile of ‘the Sleeping Giant’, a Blasket Island land mass that is thought to have inspired Jonathan Swift into the penning of Gulliver’s Travels.
My friend Sophia had flown from London to join me for a weekend as I backpacked around the Emerald Isle. We’d hired a car for a Dingle Peninsula day trip, which commenced in a bookshop café in the town of Dingle. Many things inside were brown; large musty leather volumes, the cafe walls, the old notices and photos on the wall, the coffee cups. My cappuccino featured a swirling blob of oily cream on the surface. We passed on their authentic breakfast – I’d had cereal at the hotel, and Sophia doesn’t until eat until she finds croissant.
Picking up a hitchhiker, we passed Slea Head, took the Sleeping Giant photo, and soon were persuaded by our yet-to-be-satisfied stomachs to stop at the Dunquin Pottery Café. Here, as there were no pain au chocolat in sight, Sophia was persuaded to break her fast with a muffin, while I got some passable caffeine into me.
Our car journey continued with a marvellous ocean view on one side and steep green hills on other, studded with rocks and rock walls typical to Irish scenery. We passed a large house apparently owned by the singer of The Cranberries, and eventually decided to stretch our legs and have a toilet break at the village of Ballyferriter.
It was here that it happened. The most amazing cooking smell was wafting down the road. If we had been cartoon characters, we would have risen into the air and floated dreamily in a flying position, our nostrils inhaling and following a visible stream of aroma into the doorway of the local museum. We did follow the smell, to the Ballyferriter Museum’s own Gaelic bookshop café. In this small room with a high wooden ceiling, we found the source of this sensory pleasure: a huge Wild Salmon Quiche sat on the counter, not long from the oven. We glanced at each other. There was no doubt about it—it was lunch time.
The simple meal of Wild Salmon Quiche, with fresh baked crusty bread and a Greek side salad, is one of my most enduring food memories. I can see, smell and taste it now, and recall the Little Golden Books in Gaelic on the shelves beside us, and the beaming matronly apron-wearing figure who dispensed our meals and chatted warmly in Gaelic to a couple of elderly ladies.
Nothing would be able to top that meal, but we gave it a go. Mid-afternoon, we stopped further along the coast for afternoon tea, and a highly amusing ‘planning meeting’ about the Oyster and Champagne party Sophia was planning to hold, at which I was going to play French maid, taking guests’ coats and dispensing said treats. The proprietor of our afternoon tea venue looked annoyed at us after a while—we must have outstayed our welcome with our merry laughter and long occupation of table without ordering anything further.
It was time to turn inland and loop back to Dingle township across mountainous Connor Pass. The way was long, winding and foggy, and when we got into Dingle, we were – surprise surprise – ravaged by hunger which was eventually satiated at some sort of loft restaurant. I have vague memories of a Seafood Chowder, good but still eclipsed by the Wild Salmon Quiche.
The day closed on a less palatable note. Strolling around town after dinner, we decided to brave, as dessert, the “delicacy” known as the Deep Fried Mars Bar, and ordered one to share from a takeaway joint. The batter-smothered thing was divided in half and sat between us, oozing oily fat onto the plastic plate; a cholesterol-laden, artery-hardening monstrosity. I believe we tried maybe one bite each. It was a far cry from Wild Salmon Quiche; very far.