It is often said that food is one of the best parts of traveling to new places. In this summer following graduation, I gazed wistfully at my Instagram, as many of my friends and acquaintances from Yale traipsed around the globe on culinary adventures—eating gargantuan bowls of pasta on Italy, local pastries in the Baltics, and buying freshly caught fish from markets in Thailand. Living off of a diet of couscous, vegetarian chicken nuggets, and vegetables, I watched my friends’ antics with great anticipation for my own travels and my move to Dublin.
Though my prior experience studying abroad in the UK should have caused me to curb my enthusiasm, I was caught off guard by how difficult it has been to navigate traditional Irish cuisine (read: pub food) as a vegetarian. Even the charming atmosphere of many Dublin pubs cannot make up for the overwhelming lack of vegetables that are on the menu. When my grandmother came to visit, we wandered around the Temple Bar district of Dublin for about twenty minutes looking for a place that could offer me anything other than a salad. On another occasion, after a play at the Dublin Fringe, my friend and I exchanged panicked looks over our dinner table when the waitress announced that the pub was out of their only vegetarian entree. At a pub in a small town along the Ring of Kerry, I had no choice but to order a cheese sandwich, which was exactly what it sounds like: some bread with butter and Tesco branded shredded cheddar cheese.
Though it sounds like I’ve had only culinary misadventures in Ireland, moving here has elucidated the real reasons why I found all of my friends’ travel foodstagram posts so compelling: the experiences behind the food, not just the food itself. Looking back on these first few months in Ireland, I remember the conversations with my friends more than I remember the taste of the food we were eating. I remember laughing with some of the other Mitchell Scholars about how pathetic my cheese sandwich was, or how our friendships were strengthened when we commiserated over the ‘tropical chicken’ that Kathryn got from a horrible Chinese takeout restaurant in Killarney. I remember all of the mishaps that come from having to cook all of your own food for the first time: realizing you’re missing a crucial ingredient or totally failing at coordinating the timing of the different dishes. We even had a terrifying experience trying to cook ‘boil in bag’ rice that culminated in me screaming “Do it! Do it you coward!” at Kathryn as she struggled to pry the bubbling bag of rice out of the boiling water. Recently, we’ve gained some culinary confidence and have started making up our own recipes or patching together meals out of the random ingredients we have in our kitchens. Our experience in Ireland has followed this same pattern: there’ve been some blunders, but we’re making it up as we go along, together.