No Half & Half !

“I feel glorious, glorious
Got a chance to start again
I was born for this, born for this
It’s who I am, how could I forget?
I made it through the darkest part of the night
And now I see the sunrise
Now I feel glorious, glorious
I feel glorious, glorious”

 – Ben Haggerty / Holly Hafermann / Joshua Karp / Tyler Dopps / Tyler W Andrews

Chinese food in Ireland bears absolutely NO resemblance whatsoever to Chinese food in …anywhere else really. This was brought into sharp focus to my brother Stephen and I when we found ourselves in a ‘proper’ Chinese restaurant on the Old Kent Road in London many moons ago. They did not have a menu in English, but one of the menus did have photographs of the dishes. I selected what I thought was duck. What I received was indeed a part of a duck, just not a part I’d ever considered eating before. You don’t want to know what Stephen got. Even if you did want to know I couldn’t tell you, and neither could Stephen. We reassured ourselves at the time that it was chicken. The only thing I could tell you now with any degree of certainty is that it was not chicken.

On another occasion I was entertaining two friends , Manny from Australia, and John from Montana, in a Chinese restaurant in Monaghan. I can still see the look of bemused horror on their faces when I ordered chips to go with my chicken curry and fried rice. Mind you they changed their tune after they tried some of my chips with their dishes.

Having a side dish of half rice , half chips in a Chinese restaurant or take away in Ireland is so normal that I was shocked to see in a take away in Sligo once , written in block capitals on the large menu bolted to  the wall “NO HALF & HALF !” . I thought that having already been forced to cook what Irish people considered to be his native dishes, perhaps the half chips half rice combo was just a bridge too far for this particular chef.

Similarly ‘Chicken Balls’ don’t seem to appear on Chinese menus anywhere except Ireland. For my non- Irish readers, I should point out that Chicken Balls are little lumps of heaven, consisting of a larger than bite size piece of chicken, dipped in batter and deep fried until a state of Nirvana.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. For years this saying always brought our dear brother John to mind and his penchant for wandering around the corner from The Squealing Pig on a Saturday night and making his way up the stairs on Glaslough St. to the Treasure House, where he always, without fail, ordered the same thing, the Burger Supper. This wonder of creation was served in a silver tin foil carton and consisted of chips , peas, and onions with two burger patties layered on top and then they poured in gravy until the burgers started to float. They sealed this goodness in with a cardboard lid, folding down the tin foil to secure it. By the time John got home the chips and burger had soaked up most of the gravy and he ate it with a spoon…a metal spoon I hasten to add, not a plastic one, he wasn’t a Philistine.
He swore that this was manna from heaven and we didn’t know what we were missing. We were quite content , watching him slurp his burger supper, that we knew exactly what we were ‘missing’. But never being one to dismiss something completely until I’ve tried it myself, the following Saturday night I followed John both into and out of the Squealing Pig, and up the stairs where we both ordered the burger supper. It was divine !

In hindsight it may have tasted so delicious because at least 5 hours had passed between our entrance and exit from the Pig.

In any case, we come from a long line of gastro explorers. Our Dad introduced us to the wonder of sugar sandwiches when we were very young. Then as we got older he educated us in the ways of both the Tayto crisp sandwiches, and the still wonderful chip butty. But only John dared follow him all the way to Chef brown sauce sandwiches.

When my Soulmate and I lived in Clane it was our Sunday night treat to order a take away from the Flaming Wok , Chicken balls and chips, and chicken with green peppers in black bean sauce, with fried rice. We would divide everything equally between us and…Well my friend, if you have yet to try half a chicken ball coated in black bean sauce, then delicately rolled in fried rice, before being garnished with a chip, or two if they’re small, and then devoured…well you haven’t truly lived.

Another treat, regularly enjoyed by my old friend Barra and I , of an evening/early morning, having taken part in some robust debating, and pints in The Squealing Pig, or McKennas, or the West, or all three,was to stroll down Park St. and order chicken curries, with rice and chips, in the Hang Fung. Then , as we waited for those, we casually make our way up to Pizza D’Or , where we each ordered a Garlic Supreme , and had those eaten by the time we made it back to the Hang Fung to collect our ‘main course’.

What put this into my head this week was a chat at home last night about our favourite meals, with starters , main courses, and desserts. Robyn, Jake and Elliott recoiled when I said that my starter would be scallops with Clonakilty black pudding and marmalde. “Marmalade ???” they exclaimed. I discovered this dish by accident when I was making it for guests and couldn’t find any mango chutney so used marmalde instead and it was delicious.

I imagine most dishes are originally discovered by accident. I mean, the first person to see a mushroom and go “I bet they’d be gorgeous , fried with a little bit of butter .”

What’s butter ? his friend would ask.

“Oh, didn’t I tell you, I’ve been drinking some white stuff from that hairy four legged thing over there.. don’t look at me like that, it’s nourishing, and it was too far to go to the river for water…anyway, I left some of the white stuff in that bowl and after a bit it went hard and for no reason whatsoever, I ate it. “

The first person to try an onion ? Celery ? Snails ? Liver? Radishes ? Oysters ? Or worse still , Rocky Mountain Oysters ,aka Cowboy Caviar ? Or actual caviar ?And who the heck came up with grits ???
Anyway, don’t limit yourself, be open to new things, and never, never, never rule out half & half, it may be the best thing that ever happened you.

Tell me your favourite dish that others don’t appreciate, or your guilty pleasure, a Sugar Puff sandwich perhaps ? Again, best answer will , eventually, receive  a mystery prize.


P.S. This is a wonderful video to accompany a Glorious song 

Author: paul

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