There are two things missing here in Ireland that are quite popular back in the States: Mexican food and Thanksgiving. Now, the first is something that Matt and I have had to learn to live without. I’m not the biggest fan of Mexican food, so it hasn’t been a huge adjustment for me. However, I do miss chips and salsa from time to time and don’t even get me started on chili con queso. For Matt’s born and bred Texas taste buds, it has been a huge adjustment. As for Thanksgiving, it may not be a fixture in this country for obvious reasons, but it’s definitely something I can recreate when the holiday rolls around. However, its absence begs the question: what marks the start of the Christmas season in Ireland? The answer to this question was blatantly answered today in conjunction with our first Mexican restaurant experience.
Recently, an American friend of mine and Matt’s recommended a Mexican restaurant to us, but until today we hadn’t checked it out. I woke up this morning after a rather late evening out, craving chips and salsa like I’ve never craved them before. I could not get the idea of the salty and crunchy goodness out of my head, so I basically demanded we try this restaurant recommendation. We made our way over to the Town Centre in the gloomy rain, on foot I might add, with a determined focus to satisfy our craving.
Cortina’s was everything we could have hoped for, minus the cost. Since it is the only decent Mexican restaurant around, their prices were not cheap. It was easy to ignore, though, when a basket of tortilla chips and salsa were placed right next to my Corona and Matt’s margarita. The ambience of the restaurant was fun, with bright colored cushions on the seats and a huge U-shaped bar. Our tacos were on the upscale side, with fancy sauces and cheese, which ironically was a bit of a bummer, as I was hoping for greasy, traditional cuisine. How can I complain, though, when it was all so tasty and about as close as I’m going to get to Tex-Mex? We declared the meal a success and decided it would definitely be worth our while to return in the near future. Did I mention their advertisement for a Chipotle-style burrito? Yeah, awesome.
Cortina’s is situated in a courtyard just outside of the mall, so we decided to do a little shopping/browsing before making our way home. On our way up to the mall entrance, the answer to my original Christmas question slowly took form. We first passed a temporary ice-skating rink, housed in a small building, with large windows to watch the skaters. I didn’t think too much of it, though, because it’s already cold here and it seemed an appropriate setup for the season. It wasn’t until a Christmas tree mascot (yes, a person inside of a Christmas tree costume dancing around) stepped in front of Matt and started to do a little jig. Flanked on either side were his polar bear friends, taking pictures with little kids. Matt and I stopped walking, looked at each other, and burst into laughter. I’m kicking myself now for not having my picture taken with one of them.
The inside of the mall was its very own spectacle. A humongous Christmas tree stood at the entrance, with smaller trees placed at the front of all the stores. In the largest, most open part of the mall, a display from floor to ceiling of dancing polar bears and reindeer stole my attention for the entire escalator ride. To top it all off, a mini choo-choo train transported children from one end of the mall to the other. Everywhere I looked, Christmas stared back. Without Thanksgiving to mark the start of the holiday season, our Irish friends obviously choose November 1st as their kick-off day. I was in a bit of shock and awe, because it all seems so over the top! Plus, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, so for me, it feels unnatural to start thinking about Christmas before our blessed day of food and football.
It was altogether a fulfilling and strange day. I think it’s a bit soon to be sitting on Santa’s knee asking for a pony, but since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I can understand the haste to put a little cheer into a season riddled with cold, gloom, and rain. In the meantime, I now know I’ve got good Mexican food nearby to remind me, and more importantly, Matt, of home.