Monday 26 August 2019

Festive food to make you retch

Each winter, an array of 'festive' food and drinks spring up on high street cafe menus. Just what is the appeal of an eggnog latte

Where's the mistletoe and wine?: Ian O'Doherty tries a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich, washed down with a ginger and cream latte Photo: Frank McGrath
Where's the mistletoe and wine?: Ian O'Doherty tries a turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich, washed down with a ginger and cream latte Photo: Frank McGrath
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I don't know what I've done to irritate my various bosses down the years here at Indo Towers. But every Christmas they seem to come up with some new and ridiculous way to ensure that I can't spend the last week before the break doing sod all.

In fairness, the tasks have become rather easier over the years. Certainly, they've been easier since the first time I worked for this paper - my then boss had me spend some time begging on the streets for a special Christmas feature.

That was eye opening in more ways than one, not least when a former neighbour walked by and said to her friend: "That's Phil Gibbons' boy, Ian. I always knew he was a waster."

Then there was the time I was forced to go lingerie shopping, a challenge no man should ever either volunteer, or be conscripted, to do.

To be frank, when that piece appeared, it caused nearly a sacking and a divorce. But not necessarily in that order.

Then last year, I was tasked with tracking down reindeer meat.

What I thought was a travel junket to Lapland to shoot some Bambi, actually involved traipsing around every Lidl and Aldi in Dublin, and some of the more adventurous butchers I could think of.

Eventually, I got some vacuum-packed packets of reindeer meat which elegantly explained why it is so unpopular - each slice was sweating like a fat bloke in a pie factory and tasted of sadness and despair. I felt guilty after eating it, because an animal as fine as a reindeer deserves to be turned into something better than vaguely sinister jerky.

This year's now annual let's-irritate-Ian contest was meant to be a simple affair - find the best, and the worst, seasonal sandwiches and silly coffees on offer to the average harried, hassled shopper.

Now, to be clear, a good sandwich is a thing of beauty. Sandwiches are, in fact, the most underrated foodstuff available.

A good one can be a thing of beauty. I'm old enough to remember a time when Marx Bros on George's Street did a salad sandwich which made a carnivore like me forget there was no meat.

Similarly, I've eaten lots of pastrami and rye in my time, but the first time I was served hot pastrami on plain white with a soft fried egg oozing out the side was a moment of revelation.

I've tried to recreate it dozens of times, but only ever manage to make fried egg sambo with a bit of meat. Y'see, a good sandwich is hard to make. But a bad sandwich is hard to eat.

And, if yesterday was anything to go by, 'tis the season not so much of Bad Santa, as Bad Sambo.

So when you're rushing around like the proverbial blue-bottomed insect, where to go?

Some things don't change - the first place I tried was an O'Brien's sandwich shop. Exactly the same as the last time I entered, I got bored after waiting more than 10 minutes without even getting to order. Their sandwiches are only ever okay, at the best of times, but nobody who is losing their marbles as they run around picking up stuff they can't afford for people they don't like should ever have to wait more than five minutes for a sandwich and coffee to go.

On to Costa, which was a whole lot better.

The charming woman responded simply to my simple query - gimme the Christmasiest s*** they had on their menu.

So, one massive ginger and cream latte and a turkey and cranberry toastie to the good, I was also down over a tenner, €10.40, to be exact.

I'm a fan of ginger in all its forms except its original, for some reason. But it usually works in coffee and it did here. The toastie, on the other hand, was vile.

Cranberry sauce is rank at the best of times. This was not the best of times. The turkey was better, but not by much and the cranberries in the bread made it look like some old fly catching device from the 70s. It was a nasty toastie; a bold toastie that made me want to spit it out and stamp my foot.

Then onto Marks and Sparks because... well, why wouldn't you?

Their turkey feast, with bacon and stuffing, at €4.80 was the best sandwich by far - in that it wasn't mildly disgusting.

It was, however, perfect for those who like their chicken and bacon sarnies but who want their lunch a little more festive, the mad bastards. It was fine, it did the job. It was the best of a distinctly unappetising bunch.

Starbucks is always boasting about its happy clappy gimmicks and cheerful young people brimming with positivity - which is why I've never set foot inside one.

In fact, I can remember all those times in all those countries walking past a Starbucks and sneering at the deceitfully smug people inside, with their hopes and dreams and optimism.

But, intrepid hack has to do what intrepid hack has to do and so, having avoided the place all over the world, I bit the bullet and went into a Dublin store to order a spiced beef sandwich with an 'eggnog latte grande and origins shot'.

All I can say is that I have tasted evil before, and it was spiced beef, a meat so spongy and gross that only Cork people eat it and even then they only do it out of mad Leeside spite.

This sandwich wasn't as soul-crushingly awful as the first time I tried spiced beef, simply because it was merely a bad regular beef sandwich, with precious little spice.

The eggnog whatjamig, though - all I can say is... wow.

Imagine a condemned man asking for his perfect coffee. Then imagine someone drinking this and asking to be executed just to get rid of the taste.

It remains genuinely one of the most singularly unpleasant taste sensations I've ever encountered, and I've eaten worms and ants in Zimbabwe.

It didn't slide down my throat, it spread like an infection. And yet I kept going back for another sip, then grimacing.

Frankly, it was the equivalent of repeatedly sticking my tongue onto a live socket, just not as pleasant.

Retching from that wretched concoction, I was once more filled with righteous generational contempt for the young people and the silly coffees they buy, but I can imagine the chaps with silly beards raving about it.

Last stop was Butler's - not for a sandwich, but for a hot chocolate.

Praline hot chocolate with cream was, for €3.80, by far the best purchase of the day. It could have been hotter, but was the only drink that I could imagine bringing home, putting into a mug and pretending I'd made myself.

So, I'm down the guts of 50 yoyos, I've consumed enough caffeine to keep me bouncing off the walls for the rest of the week. There's enough sugar in my system to give diabetes to half the kids in my area, and everytime I think of the eggnog latte from Starbucks, I just burst into tears - I sold out my principles for this?

Thanks Indo - you've outdone yourselves again.

Irish Independent

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