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The Soul in the City Festival runs in the increasingly famous Victorian Quarter of Cork and surrounding streets from June 2nd-4th. There will be a heady mix of soul music in various venues but in addition you will not go hungry because the chefs from many of the famous eateries and bars in the area have their soulful hats on and have come up with a mouth-watering array of soul dishes.
But where and how did soul food begin? It has a long and significant history. It can be traced back to Africa and to the start of the 1400’s when European first colonials set foot in this hitherto largely unheard of continent. The history is far from wholesome but it saw a merging of some foods native to the Europeans with that of the local African populace. By the 1600s slave ships brought crops from Africa to North America in addition to their human cargo and so a latter day fusion food was created.
The ingredients today still echo the social conditions of those centuries and you will have a chance to sample the real deal all over the bank holiday weekend. Historically the slaves had limited rations and had only the least expensive vegetables and meat to use. History has recorded that in the evenings after long back-breaking days in the heat of the sun they would sit down at a table in their one-room log cabin to eat together and to recite oral histories. Few could read and write. And so the stories as well as the actual recipes were handed down by word of mouth over many years.
Stews were popular (cheap, you see) and frequently featured the less popular cuts of meat discarded in the kitchens of the wealthy, white planters where the African women worked. And on this bank holiday weekend you too can sample this fare like a gumbo, Louisiana-style, in Star Anise on Bridge St. A slow-cooked casserole of meat and fish, served over rice – a true Soul food classic. This famous dish has strong French influences too because creole and Cajun cooking is to the fore in Louisiana and is heavily influenced by French cooking to begin with.
The White Rabbit will be serving up traditional Smothered Pork Chops, black-eyed peas with smoked ham hock and Cornbread. Some will say it’s not soul food unless there’s an element of pork somewhere! Black-eyed peas, also known as hoppin’ John, are a staple. These are actually beans, a light tan colour with a back eye in the centre and related to cow peas that are native to Africa. “ The slaves in the deep south of America had to make something tasty out of the cheaper food items. They literally had to put their ‘soul’ into cooking to create the rich flavor,” says Stephen Vaughan, proprietor of the White Rabbit.
The Gourmet Burger Bistro tells us “ We will have a spread of soulful burgers and dishes designed especially for the festival and featuring among others double stack Cajun beef burgers with jack cheese, spicy black bean salsa and smoked sour cream”. In Greene’s Novecento Pizzeria will face the challenging task of putting a soulful twist on their Italian menu resulting in a spicy sausage panino with chilli and onion as well as a pizza special for two featuring Cajun chicken and spicy salami.
Next door the recently opened Cask, one of Cork’s most stylish cocktail bars, will deliver upmarket street food and small bites. Manager Andy Fererra tell us that “Soul is more than a genre of music. It is a way of looking at food and looking at music and the festival is a great opportunity for Cork people and tourists alike to sample something new and different in terms of food and music throughout the weekend.”
Gallagher’s, Son of a Bun and many more are re-working classic dishes which they assure us will surprise us with the inventiveness and ingenuity.
For those with a sweet tooth Harley’s Coffeehouse will offer traditional deep south pies and pastries alongside its Gourmet Coffee all weekend. Tara’s Tea Room will provide a cosy spot to rest your legs in between trips up and down the Victorian Quarter while nibbling on a selection of southern desserts like Hummingbird Cake, a banana-pineapple spice cake common to this day in the Southern United States.
And of course, that is only a sampling of the vast array of soul delights on offer all weekend. A word of warning though. Come to Soul in the City on an empty tummy. You will be neither hungry nor disappointed. Maybe you would like to join in the sentiment of one Rev Williams (dates unknown) who is recorded as saying ‘Bless this bread, bless this meat, bless this belly ‘cause I’s gon’ eat.’