samba band

The odd time I get my dinner from one of Drogheda’s many Chinese takeaways, I always request it “extra EXTRA spicy” as I find most food here to be too mild. Regardless of my vocal emphasis on the second “extra,” any spiciness is barely detectable. At the risk of offending my beloved new friends here, I will say that a lack of zing, fire, heat – whatever you want to call it – was, in my perception, true of the culture here in Ireland as well.

The Italians have beautiful olive skin and seem to be blessed with a natural swagger; the Spanish are known for their unapologetic bravado and incredible sun-drenched beaches. Ireland, while home to one of the world’s best beers and an undeniable passion for football, isn’t exactly the sexiest country in the world. The constant gray skies, cool temperatures and an obsession with one of nature’s homeliest vegetables (round, dirty, covered with craters) doesn’t add up to the most erotic of equations.

So I was pleasantly surprised to see a different side to the Irish when the Samba Festival came to Drogheda this past weekend. When I first saw the ads for the festival a few weeks ago, I will admit I was skeptical. Irish doing the samba? But as the town came alive with the sultry and risqué beats of samba music so did its people, and all weekend long I witnessed the locals literally kick off their shoes and let down their hair and dance and drum and play with wild abandon. Observing the crowd at McPhail’s Friday evening, I could tell some people didn’t even realize they had it in them; at first, they sat nervously, maybe just tapping one toe while watching the band. But many were eventually coaxed to their feet by the hypnotic beating of drums, and before long the whole crowd was moving and it was one, big party.

samba band 2

It wasn’t just an air of sensuality that the Samba Festival gave to Drogheda. It also brought pure, true joy. In front of St. Peter’s on Saturday afternoon, a samba group played for a crowd sitting on the church steps. A small child,  probably all of 2 years old, broke away from her mother and ran out in front of the band and threw her hands up and skipped around – her overwhelming delight was palpable. Later that day from my balcony I watched another group march up and down my street, pounding their instruments and encouraging people to join in their mobile celebration. This spontaneous parade was like one, big magnet; they emanated an electricity that literally drew people in and the small formation of musicians quickly stretched out into a rhythmic snake of dancing people, slithering down Dyer Street. In the evenings the streets were radiant with smiles and a sense of exhilaration filled the night air. Someone I met at the festival said simply, “Samba makes me happy.” I think it’s safe to say the entire town shared his sentiment.

It’s always the quiet ones that surprise, and this is true of the Irish. This year’s Samba Festival certainly proved that the Irish packs as much heat as the rest of ‘em!

*Here is one of my favorite super spicy recipes, a simple one-pot dish that’s also quite healthy. It’s not Brazilian but is my own take on beans and rice, which is a staple in Brazilian cuisine. Enjoy!


Extra, Extra Spicy One-Skillet Quinoa & Beans

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery or green or red bell peppers, depending on your taste
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup quinoa, washed thoroughly
1, 14-16 oz. can of pinto beans
1, 4-oz can of diced jalapenos (or if you prefer less spicy, use mild green chilies)
1, 14-16 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 cup water or chicken or vegetable stock
Sliced avocado and chopped cilantro (coriander) for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and celery (or peppers) and cook for about 8 minutes or until onions start becoming translucent. Add garlic, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper, and cook for another 3 minutes. Add in quinoa, pinto beans, jalapenos (or chilies), tomatoes and water (or stock). Stir all ingredients together, lower heat to medium low, cover pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 25 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the quinoa. Serve with sliced avocado and chopped cilantro (coriander).