Sat 7 Jan 2012
I remember back in the early days of living in Ireland – Drogheda, Co. Louth to be specific - I often felt helpless. There were so many unfamiliar things and places and people; from laser cards (don’t have ‘em in the U.S.) to bagging your own groceries at the shop, everything was a learning experience.
As time went on, I started to figure it out and things got easier. But much like a videogame, there are many, many levels of adjustment and understanding that don’t end after mastering the basics. Sure I figured out the rules of the road and that the post office doesn’t deliver on Saturdays and how a storage heater works. But it’s those little, only-locals-know type things like the quickest route from SuperValu to the dry cleaners or what park is good for a Sunday stroll that takes a while to learn.
Then there’s the food-related stuff: Where can I buy fresh bay leaves? Does anyone in Dublin serve authentic tacos? Is there a shop that sells that super light airy French roll for Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches? These are things that I’ve had to dig for, and only recently do I feel I’ve gotten a good understanding of where to get what I’m looking for. It’s taken a lot of research – Twitter, Facebook, Google and just plain ol’ going around Dublin personally trying bits and bobs here and there and talking to shop clerks and asking my food blogging friends for advice. But it’s all worth the effort when I find what I need.
After moaning for the first year about a serious lack of good Mexican food (OK, I was in Drogheda – not exactly the culinary gem of Ireland), I’ve found some solid places I can highly recommend. I absolutely adore Pablo Picante for its Cali Carnitas burrito, filled with black beans and tangy, shredded pork and red pickled onions; it reminds me of burritos I used to have at taquerias in San Francisco. For tacos, it has to be Taco Taco on Lower Abbey Street in the Epicurean Food Hall. They’re made in the proper street taco style, with small corn tortillas, shredded lettuce and a nice heap of fresh guacamole.
For Chinese, there’s really only one place: China Shichuan in Sandyford, Dublin. Yes it’s a big higher-end, but this is truly authentic Chinese cuisine, not that watered-down chicken curry served with chips that you’re used to getting at most takeaways in Ireland. The dishes are loaded with chilies and authentic spices and the variety is mind-boggling. For Thai, I haven’t had better than Kin Khao in Athlone – it’s worth the trip. My favourite Indian is Spice Restaurant in Wexford. Whenever Mountaineering Man and I go visit his parents there, we take one evening to sneak off to Spice for our jalfrezi and naan bread fix!
I’ve yet to locate a great Vietnamese place with the perfect banh mi here in Dublin, and as far as I know there is no sushi restaurant with an actual sushi bar in Dublin. When I go to sushi, I want to sit at the bar in front of the sushi chef and order piece by piece, and the sushi rice has to be done just right (not too warm, not too cold, not mushy or too al dente, and definitely not packed tightly – one thing most sushi restos in Ireland seem to do quite often). There’s nothing worse than choking down a big mashed-together ball of rice under a nice piece of raw fish.
But there are a few places where I can get the ingredients to make my own sushi or tacos or whatever it is I’m craving: The Asia Market on Drury Street is fantastic for seaweed sheets (nori) and brown sushi rice and miso and tons of spices; Oriental Emporium at Jervis has an amazing selection of fresh seafood and Asian produce like bitter melon and lemongrass. The aforementioned Taco Taco sells big tins of proper, Mexican beans (black and pinto) and hot sauces and real, no-wheat-added corn tortillas.
I’m still looking for a great Cubano sandwich, a Korean barbeque place that does proper bulgogi, and a truly-inspiring Spanish paella. But I know I’ll eventually find them, as I have many other things that once eluded me. In time, I’ll be a wise local myself.
Spicy Shrimp Tostada
This is my take on the tostada, which is usually a fried flour tortilla shell filled with lettuce, beans and either chicken, beef, pork or shrimp. It has all the flavours I associate with Mexican food, and it happens to be healthy and gluten free – thanks to those lovely corn tortillas I got from Taco Taco.
12 small corn tortillas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced into thin strips
12 large prawns, raw (I get mine from Oriental Market with the heads on and in shells, but you can get them shelled/deveined/beheaded from your fishmonger)
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
1 15-ounce tin of Mexican black beans (get at Taco Taco!)
For cilantro crema:
5-6 tablespoons natural yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
1/2 clove garlic, minced
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Chopped fresh coriander
Preheat your oven to 170C. Lay out the tortillas on a baking tray, and brush lightly on both sides with the olive oil. Place in the oven and bake for 5 minutes, then turn once, and bake for another 2-3 minutes or until the tortillas are crisp. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan, heat up the 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or vegetable oil) over medium-high heat. Toss in the sliced onion and cook for about 2-3 minutes, then add in the shrimp. Cook for 1 minute, and then add in the cumin, coriander, chili powder and oregano. Add a pinch of salt and pepper as well and cook – stirring frequently – for another 4 minutes. It’s important not to overcook the shrimp or else they will get very rubbery.
In a separate pan, heat up the Mexican black beans. The ones from Taco Taco are already seasoned, so all you need to do is heat them up.
To make the crema: Simply blitz together the yogurt, fresh coriander and garlic in a food processor (mini works best; you can always make a bigger batch of this by using more of each ingredient, it makes a great salad dressing!).
To assemble: Lay out three tortillas on a plate. Top with the beans first, then with the shrimp/onion mixture, then top with the lettuce, fresh coriander and crema.
Makes 4 servings.