“Is it supposed to taste like that?” The man laughed as he cracked open another oyster with his knife. His hands worked skillfully almost sensually as he twisted the blade at the tip and gently prised them open. His wide smile and booming voice, alternated with the soft click and pop as he shucked oysters and laid them reverently on an ice covered platter.
The sweet, briny, salty, tangy, cold, wet oyster still coated the inside of my mouth and dribbled ignominiously down my chin. (How is it even possible to dribble an oyster shot?) It’s strange sea essence filling my nostrils. I had the feeling that I had been initiated in some strange ritual usually reserved for elegantly clad ladies, with Jimmy Choos and handbags that cost more than my monthly budget. I could picture myself with Don Perignon in one hand and a miniature poodle under my arm. I am sure that girl wouldn’t have dribbled an oyster shot, and in front of this charming man too, who had so generously offered me one.
“It was my first time,” I told him guiltily. “An oyster virgin?” He exclaimed with a wink. “That’s my favorite type!” I blushed heavily and ducked my head to hide it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had hated it, he might take it as a personal affront to his establishment or prowess as an oyster shucking Don Juan.
Rows and rows of scallops, oysters, and crustaceans lined the counter in front of me. Mounds of ice framing their pitted and shining shells. It was beautiful. The textures and colours reminiscent of the days I had spent as a child hunting for treasure at the seaside, my red plastic bucket filled with colourful shells and scuttling crabs.
I was in Howth. Located only a few miles north of Dublin Bay the small fishing village has a plethora of activities and sights from cliff walks, to seal spotting and of course, the fish markets, where you can buy the catch of the day brought into the little marina early that same morning.
Local pubs serve traditional fish and chips with a pint of stout and during the summer ice cream shops throw their doors open patiently waiting for that elusive 5-day summer that seems to be characteristic of Ireland.
I come back to Howth every time I am in Ireland. Even after all these years, I can’t help getting excited at seeing the seals in the harbor although I know that they will be there, bobbing patiently in the still water waiting for scraps from the fishing boats. I always take the cliff walk, winter or summer and stop to admire the view of Dublin each time like it’s the first.
Isn’t that what life’s about? Doing the same thing again and again yet experiencing it differently? We fall in love multiple times, eat the same meal, listen to the same song and yet each time its unique. It’s the first time. In Winter the gray water and barren cliffs are a challenge forcing you to push against the wind. The sound of the water crashing against the cliffs and the dark brooding clouds make you feel like you are on a quest into the badlands. In spring the gorse bushes are a riot of yellow flowers and transform the walk into a bright wonderland of colour, you could almost imagine fiery haired pixies flitting through the bushes. In Summer the glorious blue sky stretches on beyond the horizon beckoning you out to sea for an adventure. The green hills are perfect for a picnic while you watch the seagulls seemingly frozen in place as they float on the wind current.
And always the sea, Howth is all about the sea, from the succulent Oysters to the ropes mooring the fishing boats, the smell of salt and taste of rain it’s all around you, enveloping you in its arms, beckoning you away from the twisting alleys of Dublin to the open views and friendly smiles of Howth.
It’s well worth the effort to get there from Dublin city and it’s easy too, simply hop on the DART from the city-centre to Howth DART Station, or take the 31/a bus from Talbot Street.
After enjoying the cliff walk and taking in the views of Dublin Bay head down to the pier for the freshest fish, you can buy Dublin bay prawns and grill them at home or enjoy a glass of wine and tapas at one of the many restaurants. There is also a quirky coffee shop by the station called The Doghouse which is as you guessed dog-friendly and boasts the most unusual assembly of decorations, including a shark’s head and 4 poster bed.
Go you won’t regret it.