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St. John’s Eve: An Old Irish BBQ Tradition

Looks like I got signed up to cook the barbecue at this event at Kelly’s school. I’ll be grilling Irish pork and apple sausages and serving them on buns with mustard, red cabbage and apple chutney.

St John’s Eve is an ancient Irish fire festival celebrated at sunset on June 23rd, the night before the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Read more about the old rites.

Texas Joe’s London Tex-Mex Fiesta

It’s great to be back in London!

Texas Joe invited me to sign books and give a Tex-Mex talk for a big Cinco de Mayo fiesta at his BBQ joint.

The Uber drive from London’s Gatwick airport to the South Bank neighborhood where we rented an Airbnb apartment took longer (a hour and 45 minutes) than the flight from Ireland to London (one hour and ten minutes).

The weather was outstanding–bright, sunny and mild. The event drew a large crowd of London Longhorns, Aggies, and a lone Baylor Bear for a fabulous lunch.

There were sighs of nostalgia all around as the margaritas, chips and salsa, nachos and flautas were passed around. The main course was a Tampiqueño Plate–steak and a cheese enchilada with beans and rice.

The Feast

The Drink: Cadillac Margarita

To Start

Nopales Quesadilla- Smoked cactus and oaxaca cheese with tomato, green onion and jalepeno

Smoked Brisket Nachos- Texas style individual nachos topped with refried beans, USDA brisket, jalepeno and cheese

The Main Attraction

Smoked Chicken Flautas

Tampiqueño – Grilled skirt steak with grilled onions served with a cheese enchilada topped with chili con carne, rice and refried beans.

Tacos al Carbon – rolled soft tacos served with pico de gallo and guacamole, smoked fajita chicken.

Dessert

Milkshake “No Minors” Brandy & Kahlua kick your milkshake up a notch.

Many thanks to Texas Joe and his hardworking crew for the Party Party weekend,

 

 

Cinco de Mayo in London!

ROBB WALSH’S TEX MEX CINCO DE MAYO LUNCH

We are pleased to welcome fellow Texan Robb Walsh to Texas Joe’s on Cinco De Mayo this year for a proper Tex Mex food feast and discussion of the history of Tex Mex and the Mexican influence on Texas BBQ.

Tex Mex is a dirty word in the UK as it was used as a catch all term for the distinctly non Mexican variety of food that was being passed as such. The real history of Tex Mex is cuisine is a story as old as Texas itself. We are here to give you a taste of what we have back home. Specifically the home of Robb Walsh, the El Real Tex Mex Cafe in Houston, TX.

 The Feast

The Drink: Cadillac Margarita

To Start

Nopales Quesadilla- Smoked cactus and oaxaca cheese with tomato, green onion and jalepeno

Smoked Brisket Nachos- Texas style individual nachos topped with refried beans, USDA brisket, jalepeno and cheese

The Main Attraction

Smoked Chicken Flautas

Tampiqueño – Grilled skirt steak with grilled onions served with a cheese enchilada topped with chili con carne, rice and refried beans.

Tacos al Carbon – rolled soft tacos served with pico de gallo and guacamole, smoked fajita chicken.

Dessert

Milkshake “No Minors” Brandy & Kahlua kick your milkshake up a notch

TICKETS

https://texas-joes.com/news/robb-walshs-tex-mex-cinco-de-mayo-lunch

 

Houston: The New Creole City of the South

Shrimp & Grit, the 2018 Foodways Texas Symposium, has concluded.

I had a grand time!

The World Premiere of Donut People, a short food film by Keeley Steensen & I on Friday afternoon was the high point for me. I will post the film here as soon as it is released publicly.

The movie offers a glimpse into Houston’s Cambodian culture. Through chain migration and family business building, Cambodian immigrants and their offspring have come to own some 95 percent of Houston’s donut shops. Keeley and I interviewed several donut shop owners and went to a Cambodian karoake party. Few people in our audience realized that neighborhood donut shops, all over Texas, are Cambodian-owned.

I think its fair to say that the Cambodians have been flying under the radar.

I was the moderator of a Cast & Crew Q & A following the film with panelists (from left) Sam Phan, Keeley Steensen and David Buehrer.

On Saturday morning I did a talk about the curiously creolized breakfast: Boudin Kolaches.

Gumbo, with its African, French, Spanish and American Indian ingredients is often used as a symbol of New Orleans Creole. In my talk, I contended that jalapeño boudin kolaches, with French, Cajun, Czech, Texas-Czech, and Mexican ingredients are an icon of Houston creolization.

We had Roth Ouch at Donald’s Donuts in Webster bake up a large batch and we passed them out to the audience so everybody could eat some boudin kolaches while we talked about them.

Did I mention that boudin kolaches were invented by Cambodian donut shops?

(Photos by Kelly Yandell)

Foodways Texas Symposium in Houston

Shrimp and Grit: A Foodways Texas Symposium

April 12-14
Houston, TX

The 2018 Foodways Texas symposium, “Shrimp and Grit: Food and Community Along the Texas Gulf Coast,” focuses on the joys and struggles of life on the Texas Gulf Coast as seen through its foodways. From Port Isabel to Orange, Gulf Coast Texans fish, farm, ranch, eat, celebrate, and regularly rebuild. With “Shrimp and Grit,” we will explore the effects of hurricanes and other natural calamities on the food supply chain and the communities along the coast, we will note the histories of prominent and hidden food industries, and meet folks who make food and feeding communities their life in the region.

Join us April 12-14 in Houston, where we will hear talks about Cambodian donut shops, boudin kolaches, and the role of food in disaster response. We will enjoy meals from Hugo Ortega (Hugo’s), Bryan Caswell (Reef), and Rebecca Masson (Fluff Bake Bar), among others. Meal and talk locations include the Windburn Mess Hall, the Armadillo Palace, and OKRA Charity Hall, and more! We look foward to seeing y’all there!

Get Tickets Now!
We have also secured a hotel block, for our guests from out of town. See below for details. Please note: the last day for booking at the guest rate is Wednesday, March 28.

Houston Marriott Medical Center/Museum District
6580 Fannin Street
Houston, TX 77030
Phone: 713-796-0080
Booking Line: 1-800-228-9290
Go here to reserve your room: Booking Link
Rate: $99 per night

Starting Over: An East Texan in Western Ireland

Storm Fion, the third named storm of the season is hitting the West Coast of Ireland at the moment. (And we thought we were getting away from Galveston’s tropical storms!) Temperatures are near freezing and the wind is howling like a choir of banshees. We can’t light a peat fire in the stove because the wind is so strong it blows the smoke back down the chimney and into the living room!

We are under a Yellow Snow alert, which my wife finds hilarious.

A Status Yellow snow and ice warning for the entire country remains in place until 9am on Wednesday morning.

A Status Orange wind warning for Donegal, Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo, Clare, Cork and Kerry is in place until 3am as Storm Fionn will bring wind speeds of 65 to 80 km/h and gusts of up to 120 km/hr.

The move from Texas to Ireland hasn’t been an entirely smooth transition for the family. There’s the weather, there’s the television withdrawal (we don’t have a TV set in our rent house), and there’s the lack of hot and spicy food. Worst of all there was the Basset affair.

After asking for an insane amount of paperwork and charging us a hefty fee to transport Frances, the family Basset, Air France personnel in Paris suddenly announced that, no, Air France doesn’t fly dogs. My darling wife had to stay behind while the rest of us flew to Dublin.

Her hair-raising account of that adventure and her feelings about Air France can be found here.

 

Finally, Frances arrived via cargo flight last weekend. We drove to Dublin airport to pick her up, and we are now joyfully reunited and living in 200 year-old stone cottage on the foothills of The Burren.

Yes, we have snow, sleet, hail, driving rain and wind for the last few days, but then it will inexplicably turn sunny and beautiful for a few minutes. Schizophrenic weather, Kelly calls it.

Thankfully, my  total immersion into the Irish food scene is keeping me entertained. More about that at IrelandEats.com — my new website for Irish food tourists.

Traveling Ireland as a tourist has a familiar feel about it. In the year 2000,  I took a job as the anonymous food critic at the Houston Press. I moved to Space City knowing nothing about the local food scene. What a joy it was to drive around and discover all all the innovative eateries, old barbecue and Tex-Mex joints, and mom and pop multicultural spots the city is famous for.

Today I am full of that same innocent enthusiasm as I travel around Ireland discovering all the cool things to eat. The lamb and pork here are amazing. I have never seen so many varieties of bacon in my life.

And then there’s the seafood! I went from the bounty of Galveston Bay to the riches of Galway Bay. Lucky me!

My new home in Western Ireland is famous for oysters (like these natives I got at Monk’s Seafood in Ballyvaughn) and lobster (like this one from Linnane’s Lobster Bar in New Quay, three miles from my house).  I am making a pig of myself in both of these categories. I am also eating a lot of seaweed! Much more about that later.

All in all, we are getting our new lives sorted out. Kelly and the kids are in school and I am doing a lot of cooking. There’s plenty of EU red tape to deal with, but the Irish people are so kind and friendly, you just don’t mind it much.

I will see ya’ll back in Houston for the 8th Annual Foodways Texas Symposium, April 12-14, where Keeley Steensen and I will be presenting our new short film Donut People, about the Cambodian community in East Texas and their ubiquitous donut shops.

Buy your tickets now!

 

 

Next Chapter: Moving to Ireland

Dear Friends:

I’ve been doing a lot of fishing lately. Spent three weekends in November on Galveston Bay, Matagorda Bay and the Lower Laguna Madre. I didn’t catch a lot of fish, but that’s okay. It was my way of saying goodbye to the Coastal Bend of Texas, my home for the last few years.

On November 15, we sold our lovely house in Galveston. (I will truly miss it along with lots of other things about the Texas Coast–including all our wonderful friends!)
I’ll celebrate my 65th birthday on December 11 in our temporary digs in Houston’s Historic Third Ward.

Then, on December 31, the adventure begins. The entire family (including Frances, the Basset Hound) will embark on a one-way flight to Europe. After toasting the “Happy New Year” aloft, we will land in Paris, hop a flight to Dublin, rent a van, and drive to Ballyvaughn on the West Coast of Ireland.

Herself


On January 8, 2018, my exceedingly talented wife, Kelly Klaasmeyer, will begin a 4-year PhD program in studio art at the Burren College of Art, which is affiliated with the National University of Ireland at Galway.

Abbey View House


For the first 6 months or so, we will live in Abbey View House, an 18th century stone dwelling in Oughtmama, a stone’s throw from the ruins of three old churches and an abbey from the 10th century.

The Burren in Springtime


The house backs up to a cliff of karst, part of the weird and wonderful geological formation and Irish National Park called The Burren. The karst formation of the Burren is connected to the karst outcroppings of the nearby Arran Islands at the mouth of Galway Bay.

Arran Islands


Hopefully, the kids will attend school in the charming fishing village of Kinvara. That’s where we may eventually end up living.

My cell phone number will change, so texts will be unanswered for a while. Email: robb@robbwalsh.com
Please follow @robbwalsh on Twitter and Instagram.

And /robb.walsh on Facebook.

Forwarding address, should you wish to send Valentines or unmarked Euros:

Robb Walsh
1321 Upland Dr. #8928
Houston, Texas 77043

I’ll be returning to Texas frequently for gigs including my annual talk at BBQ Summer Camp at Texas A&M Meat Science Center. I will also be continuing my affiliation with El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, including some intensive recipe testing this summer.

Otherwise and for the most part during my time in Ireland, I intend to roam the island and the continent blogging about good things to eat and drink. (A surprise, I know.)

Blogs:

Philosophical musings and Tex-Mex stuff: Robbwalsh.com

BBQ discoveries: ZenBBQ.com

Tips for food tourists in Ireland: IrelandEats.com.

Also, watch for my many upcoming articles in the world’s most prestigious newspapers, magazines and literary quarterlies. (Right?)

Above all: Don’t be a stranger!

Remembering Jon Rowley and Small Good Things

John Rowley, the man who taught me how to shuck oysters, passed away on October 4, 2017. I will always remember him. He forged his zeal for life out of an enormous sadness.

Photo by Kate McDermott

Here’s a story about him:

Sex, Death & Oysters, Chapter Nine: Will Shuck for Food

…It was a chilly overcast day, and we hadn’t gone far before Rowley pointed out a two-story house built in the 1920s that was much fancier than any of the others in the neighborhood. “That’s Raymond Carver’s house,” he said.

I didn’t remember Raymond Carver’s short stories right away. But Rowley reminded me about Carver’s bleak strain of fiction and the spiritual emptiness of the people who inhabited it. After a miserable alcoholic life, Carver had spent his last ten years at the house in Port Angeles, staying sober and writing stories about the shabby lives of hopeless middle-class families in a semi-rural landscape not unlike Port Angeles, Washington.

Rowley identified with Carver. When I asked him about his ethnicity, he told me he didn’t have one. He grew up in Alaska and Oregon with two alcoholic parents, he said. When he left home, he became a commercial fisherman. For ten years, he spent summers fishing in Alaska and winters bumming around Europe, mostly France. He had bouts with depression and heavy drinking.

In the mid-1960s, Rowley’s first daughter was hit by a drunk driver and died a slow death. He and his wife moved to Portugal and had another daughter. But the marriage didn’t withstand the tragedy.

Rowley credits the passage about oysters from A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir of 1920s Paris, with changing his life. He was intrigued by the idea that something you ate could give you a positive outlook.

Rowley told R.J. Apple Jr. that after reading the passage in his shabby Paris hotel room, he resolved to “eat lots of oysters, as many as I could afford, and make it my quest to learn about oysters and how they are cultivated, distributed and consumed.”

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
— A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

He started by getting on the Metro and spending the last of his money on a feast of oysters and wine at Le Dome, he told me. When he returned in subsequent years, he educated himself, visiting oyster farms, oyster distributors and oyster restaurants all over France. Oysters gave his life a purpose.

When he started working with oyster marketers, Rowley was a purist who wouldn’t back down from his version of the gospel. When another Washington State oyster entrepreneur named Bill Webb started cultivating European flat (O. edulis) oysters and selling them as “Belons” in the early 1980s, Rowley was outraged. “I told him, you can’t call them Belons, because the Belon River is in France.”

The two men were asked to speak about oysters at various educational events, and their talks invariably ended up becoming debates. Eventually Bill Webb started calling his American-raised European flat (O. edulis) oysters “Westcott Bay Flats,” and the two became friends.

As a goodbye gift, Rowley gave me a copy of Where I’m Calling From, Selected Stories by Raymond Carver. Some time later, I picked up the book and read the story called “A Small Good Thing.” In the story, a mother goes to a bakery and orders a birthday cake for her son. The little boy is hit by a car on the way to school and is taken to the hospital, where he goes into a coma. The baker keeps calling, angry that no one picked up the cake. In the end, the boy’s mother and father go to the bakery in the middle of the night and confront the abusive baker. The man is chagrined and apologizes profusely. He sits the couple down and gives them hot cinnamon rolls and coffee.

“You probably need to eat something,” the baker said. “I hope you’ll eat some of my hot rolls. You have to eat and keep going. Eating is a small good thing in a time like this,” he said. The resemblance to Rowley’s tragedy was uncanny, and so was the small good thing of eating something as a way of coming back to life.

Just before I departed Port Angeles, Rowley took me for a ride in the car. We parked at Ocean View Cemetery, which is located on a grassy cliff high above the gray waters of the Strait of Juan De Fuca. We got out and walked around in the light drizzle. Over the cliff, I could see the shoreline of Vancouver Island in the distance.

In one of the rows of the cemetery, Rowley pointed out the low dark stone that marked Raymond Carver’s grave. While we stood there, he produced two oysters and a small bottle of Jack Daniels with an inch left in the bottom from the pockets of his Goretex coat. He spilled a little oyster liquor on Carver’s grave as he shucked. We toasted Carver with oysters and warming slug of whiskey. Then we set the oyster shells and the empty bottle on the grave beside Carver’s name and took a picture.

London Taco Tour: Top 5 Wrap Up

London is now a taco town! Over the last two years, some excellent taquerias and innovative Mexican restaurants have opened. And tacos have been deemed “the food trend of 2017” by some London food bloggers.

So we sent our correspondent, Julia Walsh, to London on a taco tour. We’ll be posting her London Taco Tour updates on Taco Tuesdays!

Here is her latest report: 

Over the last few weeks I’ve detailed the stops along the London Taco Tour, and have to say that I’m really impressed. Every one of the places I tried was a memorable experience and brought something delicious to the table.

It’s been very difficult to try and rank them from least to most favorite, because each of them was good for it’s own reason and offered a unique spin on what they were doing. I’ve based my decision on flavors, execution, and ambiance.

Top 5 Taquerias on the London Taco Tour:

Number 5: El Pastor

El Pastor’s alluring outdoor dining area in the thick of London and its selection of exotic Mexican libations make it a wonderful spot to grab a few tacos and a drink. The tacos are delicious, but unfortunately the day I went both the pork and the chicken were pretty dry, even accounting for the long cook time. I still recommend you try both the al pastor and chicken tacos, but maybe order some extra salsa.

Click here to read the full review of El Pastor.

 

Number 4: Mole

Mole provides an upscale taco experience from their location in SoHo. I haven’t been by in the daytime, but the restaurant has a relaxed club vibe at night. The menu offers exciting and interesting combinations, but I didn’t find it to be consistent across the board. The pulpo taco – a daily special – was an exceptional experience, but the highly anticipated shortrib taco left me feeling shorted on flavor.

Click here to read the full review of Mole.

 

Number 3: Taqueria

Taqueria feels like a smiling neighbor, ready to help watch the kids or offer a beer. The restaurant is family friendly but just cool enough for young adults and couples to grab a bite and a drink. Despite their locally sourced ingredients and solidly good tacos, including the modern the soft shell crab and the unusual plantain tacos, they lacked the kind of flair that would take them from good to awesome.

Click here to read the full review of Taqueria.

 

Number 2: Corazón

Maybe it’s my Texan bias, but Corazón hit a lot of the right notes for me. The carnitas taco at Corazon was a practically divine experience of orange, cinnamon and pork, and the Baja fish was coated in a perfectly crispy batter. Unfortunately, the interpretation of barbacoa using lamb shoulder was hindered by the overcooked, crumbly liver cubes. (Fortunately, their excellent salsa helped to save the day/taco and bring the taste experience to the next level.)

Click here to read the full review of Corazón.

 

Number 1: Breddos

Breddos doesn’t just make good tacos, they make excellent food. The traditional flavors and hearty heat brought me right back home to Texas, but it was the execution of each item that really made this a memorable experience. From the miso and marrow butter to the spicy chimichurri, each plate had a signature finisher that elevated them from great to awesome.

Click here to read the full review of Breddos.

 

And that, ladies and gentleman, concludes the London Taco Tour! I know there are many more places that I didn’t even get to try, and I’m looking forward to the day I get to return and check out more of what London has to offer.

In the meantime, keep an eye out on the blog for more upcoming taco news…!

London Taco Tour: Mole

London is now a taco town! Over the last two years, some excellent taquerias and innovative Mexican restaurants have opened. And tacos have been deemed “the food trend of 2017” by some London food bloggers.

So we sent our correspondent, Julia Walsh, to London on a taco tour. We’ll be posting her London Taco Tour updates on Taco Tuesdays!

Here is her latest report: 

 

A few minutes walk from the Bond St. Station, I turned the corner from Wigmore onto James St., and found myself on a narrow lane surrounded by a throng of restaurants and patios. Mole is centrally located among these, with a very trendy vibe. The interior is dark and thumping dance music rolls from inside out into the street. There were only a few occupied tables when I arrived, I sat in one of the bright yellow chairs out on the sidewalk to catch the last, dying light of the day. As a Texan, the concept of daylight at 9 PM is strange and wonderful.

My waiter was upbeat and the bounce in his step matched the beat of the music. I thought I’d already decided which tacos I’d get, but when he mentioned the pulpo (octopus) tacos on special, I caved in and had to try them.

The pulpo tacos, on special for the day.

My taco looked like a chap with a feather in his cap! I had to ask what was sticking up out of the top and was told it was a baby corn shoot. The corn shoot tasted like a mixture of greens and super sweet yellow corn. It paired very well with the octopus, which wasn’t as meaty or chewy as I expected, rather it was delicate and silky like ceviche. The sweet corn taste plus the cilantro and onion balanced out the brine of the sea, making for a very light and fresh bite.

Chipotle short rib tacos.

My second taco was the chipotle beef short rib, which was piled high and served with a chipotle cream, and crunchy sweet potato hay and a couple of chile slices on top. The beef was incredibly tender but wasn’t the taco I had hoped. I’d imagined that the chipotle would be mixed with the short rib for a sweet and tangy kick, but instead, it was lost in the cream underneath. Maybe I was thinking too much of chopped beef brisket, but I had definitely had high hopes for this combo and felt slightly disappointed.

Sea bass ceviche with plantain chips, corn kernels, and sweet potato.

For my last meal in London, I wanted to have a little fun, so I also ordered the sea bass ceviche. The menu description included plantain chips, puffed/charred corn kernels, chunks of sweet potato along with the onion, cilantro, and lime juice. The additional ingredients were earthy and sweet in contrast with the lime and fresh fish, which made for a delightful mouthful. Ceviche is normally light, but the sweet potatoes and corn gave this dish a satisfying heartiness. I learned later that the sweet potato and corn are part of the traditional Peruvian ceviche presentation.

The tables had been steadily filling up around me as evening light finally gave way to the cool of the night. The street began to wake up. I sipped my mezcal margarita and watched as lights flickered on, the music started to stream in from all corners, and the block went from quietly busy to pulsing and lively. I could have easily stayed another hour and just watched people go by. I enjoyed my dinner and my evening at Mole, and would certainly return to do it again.

By the way, Mole offers their tacos in either a corn tortilla or lettuce leaf.