“Our food. So good” is the subtitle of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board‘s free booklet listing a selection of “handpicked” cafes, bars, restaurants and hotels.
“It’s an exciting time for food in Northern Ireland” the authors gush in the introduction but the options are far from exciting if you are vegetarian and positively desperate if you are vegan.
Having just spend a week in Belfast and County Down, I can confirm that there are plenty of reasons why it’s a great country to visit but would also give warning that healthy and ethically correct food is not one of them.
The page of symbols used in the guide’s entries is the first thing that alerts you to this problem. There’s an icon to indicate which places have parking, conference facilities, disabled access or are child friendly and there’s also one for those looking for gluten-free meals. However, there is no symbol for patrons seeking meat free alternatives.
In the Belfast section there are 42 listings, a page for each, and only one of these seems to genuinely acknowledge that not everyone wants to stuff their face with sausages, steak and meat burgers. Take a bow The Salt Bistro which offers up a “superfood salad” as well as a “lentil and bean burger with tabasco mayonnaise”.
Elsewhere “veggies”, as we are chummily called, find very slim pickings indeed. The Beatrice Kennedy restaurant has “meat, fish and game on every menu” so the final sentence – “veggies will be pleased too”– seems to be something of a puzzling afterthought. How? and Why? I ask myself.
Practically all the other “quality eating establishments” in the guide do not trouble to acknowledge the existence of non-meat eaters and none give any indication they have even heard of veganism.
On the contrary, the relish for the flesh they so fancifully fry is all too apparent. “Is there ANYTHING better than the smell of pork roasting on a split?” asks the writer enthusing about the offerings of The Wild Hog in County Derry . Too bad if you are inclined to answer this question in the affirmative!
Broughgammon Farm in County Antrim serve Billy Burgers made, if you hadn’t guessed, of goat and other ‘delicacies’ include Free Range Rose Veal and seasonal wild venison burger “fit for a king”.
Most horrific of all is the entry for The Morning Star in Belfast , the third paragraph of which reads: “It’s safe to say it’s one of the most eclectic pub menus we’ve ever seen. You can eat pan-fried kangaroo and crocodile as well as emu, ostrich and bison” . It’s also safe to say that none of these bizarre ingredients derive from a traditional, home sourced “local larder” that the guide’s authors are keen to highlight in the introduction.
I’m sure that there are worse places on the planet for vegetarians/vegans but the sizzling selections and “bodacious breakfasts” in this pocket-sized guidebook give notice that if “veggies” are planning to visit Northern Ireland they’ll do well to pack sandwiches.