Limerick’s gastronomic gems are part of an enjoyable new trail, discovers Nick Rabbitts
it’s a brisk Saturday morning in the city centre - trade is just commencing for the start of the busiest shopping day of the week.
While most people will start their Saturday morning taking their time over a hearty breakfast at home before venturing into the city, myself and six others are here early, and will be cramming in three meals – and then some – at a selection of Limerick’s finest culinary establishments over the next few hours.
I am on Limerick’s first food trail, hosted by Bowman Street lady Valerie O’Connor, a food writer, blogger, restaurant critic, and baker among many things.
After seeing the success of food walks in Dublin and Cork, Val used her connections with Limerick’s restaurant industry and Milk Market traders to put together her own route.
Over the course of the next few hours, we will try some of the finest locally sourced produce the city has to offer.
Val set up the trail last month, and has already seen a steady stream of customers.
“We take our time. It is a food trail. But I like to market it as a night out in the morning. We are all together, here for the same reason, and are having a nice time,” she said.
We start the trail at Cornstore at Home, a spin-off of the Cornstore restaurant on Thomas Street.
Headed by Padraic Frawley, it is one of the few retail outlets in town selling local artisan produce.
A cup of fresh coffee after a heavy Friday night is the order of the day.
It is followed by a mini-breakfast, comprising sausages and black puddings sourced from Caroline Rigney’s farm and bed and breakfast at Curraghchase.
Also part of the meal is pork marinated in wine - quickly christened ‘drunk pork’ by many present.
But before we get too excited, Val warns us: “You don’t want to overload yourself - you will be eating for the next two hours.”
There are a huge range of people on our tour - from golf professionals to off-duty journalists - but there is no doubt we are all foodies!
Dietician Suzanne Seery from Mungret joined the trail with friend, RTE journalist Petula Martyn, formerly with the Limerick Leader.
Suzanne said: “I love everything to do with food and health. I love mixing food, and learning about new good. There is a lot to be said for the quality of locally produced food, and there is so much going on in Limerick.”
Digital marketing expert Pat Carroll, from Corbally, added: “I think it is great to promote positive initiatives like these. Other parts of the country like West Cork are brilliant at promoting their food. We have a brilliant good tradition here in terms of Pigtown,” he said.
His words are prophetic: as we are speaking, O’Connell’s Butchers in Little Catherine Street slips into site.
The only butcher in Limerick which claims to sell real Limerick ham, Tommy O’Connell serves us this, as well as marinated spiced beef, roast beef and turkey crowns.
After this, we headed towards the Milk Market, which is bustling as usual.
On the way in, Declan Gaffney serves us hand-made organic bread sourced from Cloghjordan.
This is followed by a pick-me-up of a ‘superjuice’ made from wheatgrass, and served by Kilcornan woman Maggie Hanley.
Maggie grows wheatgrass indoors in her conservatory, and boasts that it is “the only legal high you can buy”.
Dodging crowds - and many enthusiastic traders - we enter the covered market, where we meet Alan and Nadine Buttery of Out of this World.
They supply arts and crafts sourced exclusively from within 100 miles of Limerick.
We are not being introduced to food here: but we are given air fresheners as a gift, and plenty of ideas for Christmas gifts.
We move on to Mari’s cheese shop, before Teresa Storey - who has traded in the Milk Market since 1971 - serves us up with a delicious range of preserves.
Apricot, orange, and the unconventional chocolate and raspberry jam - which she claims is broadcaster Ray D’Arcy’s favourite - are tasted, and approved. The apple-flavoured mulled wine also goes down a treat, warming this reporter’s hands in the chilly weather.
A fishy treat was next on the list, provided by Kirsty O’Kelly (nee Tiukannen).
She sources her fish from Killybegs, and serves us with recipes befitting of her Finnish heritage, including red herring, and star anise herring.
There was more fish on offer at one of Limerick’s longest-running traders Rene Cusack.
Paul Cusack says his company reflects Limerick’s multicultural status in it’s offerings.
Indeed, the fish may be sourced locally, but it is fried in a mix made by a Polish man, and noodles are made by a Filipino employee of his.
After visiting further cheese stalls - where coffee cheese joined Effin cheddar on the menu - there was a welcome change of palate, as we headed to the back of the market.
Sefike Dikyar, who hails from the Turkish city of Izmir served us with some delicacies from his home land, including baklava, a rich pastry, sweetened with honey.
Next door, Billy Mulqueen, who has opened a pop up pizzeria, allowed us to sample a desert and dinner in one, in the shape of a pizza made from Gorgonzola, caramelised red onion, plums and figs.
Patricia Farrell, of Wilde Irish chocolates provided us with further treats in the shape of a peanut butter slice.
Better was to come though, with chilli-flavoured hot chocolate.
After we left the Milk Market, we took a bracing walk over the Shannon to meet the Strand Hotel’s executive chef Tom Flavin, who gave us a walk through his kitchen.
Duck eggs, and a unique Christmas scone - stuffed with mincemeat rather than raisins were on the menu - although by this stage I was struggling to fit all the food in!
Indeed, I did not eat for the rest of the day!
At the moment, Val is funding the popular trails with what she describes as “housekeeping money”.
However, in order to go further in 2014, she is seeking funding, and mentoring.
“There is funding out there for food tourism. But it is not just funding I need, it is mentoring. I need people pointing me in the right direction. There is a lot of expertise out there, including from Failte Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation,” she explains.
For more information, contact 087-9199456, or visit Val’s Kitchen.