It’s Sunday when I arrive in Dingle. It’s the last day of the Dingle Food Festival and the town is busy. I prowl around, staking out the stalls until I settle on South American fare. I sit down at a picnic table, stomach complaining about last being fed in another country, and tuck into my vegan superfood plate. It’s a little spicy.
“How’re yeh gettin’ on with that?” the woman sitting opposite me asks in her Irish west-coast accent. We’re eating the same thing.
She’s a sturdy-looking woman with wispy-white, shoulder-length hair, bright eyes, and a colourful cardigan. Her wooden fork rests on her plate. Her face is flushed. It seems the spice is a little too fiery for her.
I sing the praises of the corn bread and black bean stew, conceding the fact that I’ve just come across the spice. She wants to know she’s not the only one with a furnace raging in her mouth.
“Aye, it’s a bit hot isn’t it?” She gestures towards my now-half-empty plate, “You’re doing well with that though.”
Fork halfway to my mouth, I tell her my tastebuds are used to it. In some ways this is true. Eating Indian food since I could process solids and years of pouring healthy amounts of cayenne pepper and chilli powder into food has desensitised my mouth. I ask if she’s from Dingle and complete my fork’s journey.
She nods and smiles, “I am. I’ve been here since I was born 67-years ago.”
“67-years,” I think, “damn.” That’s a long time to live in a small town on the west coast of Ireland. Has she ever travelled elsewhere, seen the sun rise on the other side of her home island, flirted with the thought of leaving, like so many others did?
I have always yearned for travel, for new places, for different things. The idea that my dining companion has been here for 67-years sort of morbidly fascinates me. Why did she stay when so many others left?
I gesture around and extoll my surprise at finding such culinary diversity on Ireland’s west coast. I didn’t expect it.
“No, you don’t expect it but here it is,” and then quickly moving on, “perhaps I’ll get some of that champagne ice cream to cool my mouth down when I’m done!”
My plate and stomach have swapped: one is now empty while the other is full. She’s plucked up the courage to eat again. Spying a sweet treat of my own, I rise and wish her the most flavoursome ice cream possible.
“Enjoy Dingle!” she manages through a mouth of rice.