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The Joy of Cooking (on a Finicky Hob)

January 31, 2019

Coming to another country, you expect there to be cultural differences, and there are. Even in Ireland, a largely Western and English-speaking country, there are little things. From the moment you walk into the airport, there are different snacks in the vending machines, a Gaelic language printed underneath English on all the signs, people driving on the other side of the road, and all sorts of small things. (My favorite difference that I’ve noticed thus far is, after a concert ended, the crowd began chanting “One more tune! One more tune!” rather than the name of the band to call for an encore.)

The difference that affects day to day life the most, however, is food.

There is a definite learning curve to cooking in the kitchens here, even though Ireland and the United States have so many similarities. At our flat, while cooking on the hob (which I had only ever heard referred to as a stovetop before), a timer goes off once every twenty minutes to turn the whole thing off as a safety mechanism. The oven itself, naturally marked in Celsius, had dials that neither myself nor any of my flatmates could figure out without a Google search. And, of course, the ingredients are a fair bit different.

Last weekend, with the plans of having a small dinner party, I set out to make layered brownies, with cookie dough on the bottom, Oreos in the middle, and thick, homemade brownies on top. Some of the ingredients to this dessert were easy enough to find. There is a grocery store just around the corner from the apartments where we live called Lidl, a cheap place similar to Aldi, and most of the baking supplies could be found there. But after a Lidl run, I was still left without chocolate chips, baking soda, and baking powder. These relatively common baking ingredients would, you would think, be easy to find, but you would be wrong.

I went to the Tesco Express, then the EuroGiant, then Lidl again, and generally scoured the neighborhood with time to start cooking running out. While there were great quantities of niche baking supplies, such as various chopped nuts and pastry shells, these three basic ingredients turned out to be impossible to find.

With very little time to spare, I asked for help and was told to go back to the Tesco Express, where, with a lot of diligent searching, I found “bicarbonate of soda” and the world’s smallest packets of chocolate chips in the back of the store, pushed to the back of the shelf. I ended up getting some bars of baking chocolate alongside the chocolate chips, cutting them into chunks to go inside the dessert as well, but the whole experience was an adventure in discovering the differences between cooking here and there.

There have been other fun kitchen experiences—for example, the pulp in orange juice being called “juicy bits,” the size of cartons of milk, my flatmate’s continued fruitless search for non-puffy Cheetos, and figuring out recycling in Dublin city—and the mild learning curve has been fun. Though, of course, it can be hard to dedicate any time to cooking in your flat when all the restaurants of Dublin are just steps away from where you live, but that is a whole other issue on its own.

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