What springs to mind when you hear the word culture?
Does it conjure up images of the arts and theatre, dahling?
Or does your mind turn to those things that help to define a shared national identity?
Or do you think, instead, of buttermilk? (in which case your view of culture would appear to be rather more bacterial than regional)
Culture (in the not necessarily high-brow and decidedly non-bacterial sense of the word) is a many-faceted thing and food is most definitely one of those facets. Aspects of what we eat, how we eat it and who we eat it with can bind us (culturally speaking) to some and differentiate us from others. Ditto for drink, of course.
And it’s not just Lyons and Barry’s tea (or maybe even Campbell’s) but it’s the ritual of tea-drinking and the desire of a Mrs. Doyle-like host to ensure that you have a cup of tea at all costs. Even if you are on your way out of the building, you will be offered “a cup of tea in the hand” to swallow as you make your exit.
Neither is it simply our liking for a floury spud but, deep down, there is a connection to a defining period in our history. That and the fact that we know that Tayto are the best crisps going. Plus there’s the whole eating crisps with chocolate thing, which others seem to find strange. It could be said that, in a cultural sense, we are both what we eat and how we eat it.
What put me in mind of this, of course, was the fact that Culture Night will be upon us soon – Friday 25th September to be exact. It’s an evening where some of our nation’s towns and cities throw open their doors to the public and host events that encompass arts, music, architecture and, yes, some food and drink too (though I have yet to see any mention of tea or tayto). Events are free (though some require booking in advance) and, in Dublin, Dublin Bus are providing a free shuttle service within the areas where events are taking place. You can get the full low down here.
On the food and drink front in Dublin, you can visit the Guinness Storehouse (fresh from the Arthur’s Day celebrations the night before), sample some (presumably French) wines at the Alliance Française, or check out some artisan foods at the RDS, including a lecture by Peter Ward, a longtime promoter of artisan food production. If you’re in Cork, the very fine English Market will be open late for the occasion.
If you want a break from all of that culture and you’re in the Galway area, there’s what sounds like an interesting event the following day, titled Taste & Smell: The Chemical Senses, with presentations and demonstrations exploring the chemistry, physiology and psychology of taste and smell, lead by food scientist David Jackson. If you care to bring your buttermilk along for a deconstruction of its aroma, that’s probably as close to culture as you’ll get when you’re there. You can find out more about the event here.