The cool weather and tendency to dump water on the head of anyone walking under Irish skies may not dispose this lovely island toward warm beaches and piña coladas, but hot drinks and delicious sweets are definitely on the menu! I have a few things that are on my regular schedule of indulgences. Here, then, is a sweet little taste of Cork for you. (Note: all links in here are totally and completely unsolicited. I just love everything too much not to share!)
Getting hungry just looking at this.
One of my absolute, most favorite things to do in Ireland is go out for tea and scones. In some regions of the world, this is known as "cream tea" or Devonshire tea. I always enjoy sampling local delicacies and specialties when I travel or live somewhere as an expat. Although it may be argued that it's not actually part of traditional Irish cooking, the ready availability of the components makes this one of the most accessible, as well as delightful, snacks for a rainy afternoon.
Best served: split, toasted, buttered, with jam and whipped or clotted cream.
And of course you must have hot tea with sugar and milk!
While I have not managed to sample scones from every establishment in the city center, I have tried a fair number. If you are staying in a self-catering apartment or other place with a kitchen, I highly suggest buying fresh scones from the English Market to take home. If you don't have your own kitchen, or you'd simply like to dine out, my favorite spot is The Natural Foods Bakery on Paul St. The scones are made from organic ingredients, the tea choices are wonderful, and the staff is lovely.
There is also a delectable selection of sandwich options and fresh soup available. I discovered our favorite Irish condiment, Ballymaloe Country Relish, while having lunch there. A visit may be well suited for a family outing, as the young ones can be encouraged to finish their soup and sandwiches more readily with the promise of cakes, cookies, and scones tempting them throughout the meal. ;)
The extra letters in the name are representative of the extra belt notches required post-indulgence.
One of the best things about the Irish is their complete willingness to indulge their sweet tooth. There are a handful of specialty chocolate shops along Oliver Plunkett Street, but I find Mr. Simms to be possessed of a particular charm.
There are shelves full of chocolates, sours, fudge, lollies (lollipops), and all manner of sugary delights. After nearly a year of questing, I even found my old favorite: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups! The meaning of that old adage, "like a kid in a candy shop" became clear when I stepped inside. I love going there for the experience as much as the candy!
Not too far from The Natural Foods Bakery, I discovered another place of sweetness and tasty beverages: O'Conaill's Chocolate Shop. Located on French Church Street, a pedestrian-only thoroughfare, the premises is comprised of a chocolate shop for take home treats and a small cafe for hand made hot chocolate and coffee.
The hot chocolate is, as far as I can tell, the best in Ireland. Part of what makes it amazing is that it's not made from powdered cocoa, but melted chocolate. It's astonishing in its richness, as well as all the flavor combinations available. I usually get something with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and I've seen friends get chocolate orange. You can choose white, milk, or dark chocolate, and it comes served with a small side of mixed chocolate chips. It's practically a meal in itself!
Just looking at this is making me feel full!
Finally, a post about the wonders of hot beverages in a cold climate would not be complete without a mention of Hot Whiskey and Hot Port, the cold remedies of Ireland. And by cold I mean both the sniffles and the shivers.
A Hot Whiskey consists of 1-2 shots of whiskey, hot water,
and a slice of lemon or orange pierced with cloves.
My second trip to Ireland did not start out with a bang, as I had a bit of a stuffy nose when I got on the plane in Rome. By the next day, I was sniffling and sneezing fit to blow the windows out of the house! A friend who had lived in Ireland for several years recommended that I head to the nearest pub and order a Hot Whiskey. I followed her advice and, whether or not there was actually any medicinal value in the drink, I certainly felt warmer and more cheerful!
Recent Hot Port deliciousness with a Hot Whiskey waving from the background.
Later, during a walk around the city on a rainy day (more fun than it sounds), I suggested we take a break and warm up inside a nearby pub. I mentioned getting a Hot Whiskey. My friend Paul asked, "Have you ever tried a Hot Port?" I confessed that I had not. He told me it was like a Hot Whiskey, but better. The only difference is that instead of whiskey, the recipe calls for – *drum roll* – port! After trying it, I had to agree with Paul. It was fantastic!
It's much sweeter and easier to down, in my opinion. Some of the alleged medicinal qualities may be lost, but the palatability factor (for one who only occasionally drinks whiskey, that is) is greatly increased. It's now one of my favorite adult beverages here in Ireland!
What are your favorite hot and sweet culinary indulgences?