Taste of Christmas
For a true taste of Christmas, you can't beat the festive markets, writes Tanya Sweeney
Forget about Santa, mistletoe and presents – for some, the true meaning of Christmas is the epic gastro-marathon element. When else during the year do we get to scoff rich, calorie-laden fare with relative impunity?
In the run-up to this Christmas, we've been encouraged to sidestep the retail giants and throw our custom towards local businesses instead.
Your nearest food market is the place to support local food producers and sample the best in quality artisan fare. Yet sometimes, finding locally produced bargains as Christmas nears can be less hunger-inducing and more 'Hunger Games'. Happily, Ireland is teeming with atmospheric, European-style markets, complete with carol singers, fairy lights, mulled wine and the standard-issue chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
If you're a gourmand on the lookout for one-of-a-kind foods to make it a Christmas to remember, you need look no further.
Airtricity Dublin Docklands Christmas Festival
International Financial Services Centre (IFSC), Dublin Docklands, December 12-23, times vary, free admission; ddda.ie
For many, a visit to the popular Airtricity Docklands Christmas Festival (formerly known as 12 Days Of Christmas) event marks the beginning of the festive season.
In-the-know gastronomes wouldn't miss the chance to get their hands on the market's handmade Turkish baklava, German sausage or traditional roasted chestnuts.
Some of Irish cuisine's heavy-hitters and hip new gunslingers will be bringing festive cheer and bargains aplenty to shoppers.
Among them are Canard Sauvage, Fatima's Kitchen Artisan Pasta and the ubiquitous Slievebloom Farmhouse Foods.
And when the gift-hunting all gets a bit much, repair to the on-site Airstream Bar for mulled wine and hot whiskies.
Bord Bia Christmas Market
The CHQ building at the IFSC, Dublin, December 12-15 (Thurs-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm), admission free; bordbia.ie /christmasmarket
The people at Bord Bia know a thing or two about Irish artisan food, which is why they've invited more than 40 local producers to showcase their wares at this indoor market situated next to the Airtricity Docklands Christmas Market.
Expect the ever-popular names to be there: Brady's Ham, Corleggy Cheese, Mella's Fudge, Couverture Desserts, Ballymaloe Foods and Keogh's Crisps.
Those with a nose for something extra special will be sniffing out the Silver Hill Foods stall for duck meat, The Scullery's stand for Christmas specials and Natasha's Living Food for treats to offset any excesses.
Add the usual favourite festive accoutrements – mulled wine, mince pies, Santa, live music – and this indoor event is a great way to get the party started.
Continental Christmas Market, Galway
Eyre Square until December 22 (Mon-Wed noon-8pm, Thurs-Sun 10am-10pm), admission free; galwaychristmasmarket.ie
Galway-based foodies needn't miss out on the action – Eyre Square has been transformed into a winter food wonderland.
Evoking a European feel, retailers set up shop in traditional wooden chalets. The food on offer from the 14 catering stalls offers a true taste of mainland Europe and beyond – Ripp's Pretzels, baklava, steaming hot Italian coffee, gluhwein and authentic Czech chimney cakes.
At the market's German bierkeller, enjoy Oktoberfest-style booze and revelry (lederhosen optional).
And to top it all off, the best of the West will be taking up residence, from seaweed specialists Ri Na Mara to fudge makers Man Of Aran.
There's also a Christmas choir, carousel, seasonal storytelling and live music to add to the festive feel in the main square.
Winterval Festival, George's Street, Waterford
To December 23 (times vary), admission free; winterval.ie
As backdrops go, the heritage city of Waterford is a rather fitting one for Christmas cheer. Between the Viking Christmas, toy museum and the ice rink, there's plenty to keep families occupied.
Those in search of goodies for grown-ups, however, will find much to love here as the producers from the Waterford Local Market move across town in the run-up to Christmas week.
Stock up on delicious delicacies including Comeragh cheeses, pig on a spit from local butcher Jack Molloy, organic juices, funnel cake (thanks to newcomers Fun-Nel Cake) and that all-important gluhwein.
Crepes and hot chocolate should help fortify the masses. And at the 12 Tastes of Winterval, meanwhile, informative and entertaining cookery demonstrations by local chefs will take place beside the Bishop's Palace on the weekends.
National Crafts & Design Fair, RDS, Dublin
Tomorrow, 10am-7pm, admission €10; nationalcraftsfair.ie
If you feel it's better to give than to receive, this craft fair offers a great opportunity to stock up on unique gifts. With more than 500 designers, artists and craftspeople showcasing their wares, the Crafts & Design Fair is the perfect place to solve your shopping dilemmas in one fell swoop.
At the food emporium you'll find more than 100 stallholders offering an array of local and exotic treats: Dominick Kelly's Artisan Butchers, The Scullery, Greedy Puds, the Roscommon Chocolate Company, Boutique Bake, Pandora Bell, Foods Of Athenry, the Merrion Hotel Dublin and Miena's Handmade Nougat are all putting their best food forward. And if hampers are your go-to gift this Christmas, Hampers & Co can take care of all your needs.
Christmas Celebration, Bishop Lucey Park, Cork
Until December 22 (10am-8pm), free admission; corkchristmascelebration.ie
The way most foodies tell it, Cork's renowned English Market is the jewel in the city's crown, and the nearby Grand Parade becomes a hive of activity in the run-up to the big day.
Glow Christmas Food Market offers the best from Cork's rich culinary scene. Think locally-produced spiced beef, organic herbs and local cheeses.
The Crepe Man will be bringing crepes and waffles to hungry revellers. Also setting up shop are Barracuda Barbecue Company, Glanmire Ices, Candy Rock Lane, Rainbow Delights and Choc Amore.
Shop 'n' Spraoi at Spraoi Na Nollag, Westport, Co Mayo
December 13-15, times vary, free admission; westportmarket.ie
James Street Car Park may sound an unlikely spot for a slice of Christmas magic, but you'll find no shortage of festive charm at this free outdoor market.
Fifty stallholders will be showcasing the very best of what Mayo has to offer. And local food heroes such as Cherry Blossom (gluten-free goodies), Lilly Ryder (cakes and pastries), Reek View Farm (lovely veggies) and The Creel (jams, soups and chowder) will all be in attendance.
Adding to the market's appeal, musicians will play lively jazz so those on the hunt for bargains don't get stressed.
Christmas Fair, Duckett's Grove House AND Estate, Carlow
Tomorrow, noon-5pm, admission free; carlowtourism.com
The historic and romantic surroundings of Duckett's Grove House and Estate are a rather fitting location for Carlow's seasonal food extravaganza.
Seventy local retailers and artisan food producers make up this crafts and food market. Amid the jewellery and knitwear, visitors can stock up on yule logs from Daisy Cottage Farm, homemade burgers from Coolanowle Organic Meat, gingerbread men from Api's Chocolates, mulled wine from Hot Irishman, and cupcakes from Kathy Brennan's Fabfood. Or you can visit the tearooms and sample Toblerone cheesecake or gluten-free treats.
More information at discoverireland.ie