Friday, May 2, 2014

Dublin Bay Prawn Festival in Howth

We love food.

Love it, just adore it. We don't like spending money on it, mind, but we do occasionally seek out new and exciting foods when the opportunity (or excuse) arises.

And so it was in Howth at the 2014 Dublin Bay Prawn Festival. The three-day event celebrated all things prawn, and was well-attended even in some inclement weather.

We took the DART up to Howth on Saturday morning, after finally figuring out the touch on, touch off feature of our LEAP cards. We arrived at Howth station and were greeted with a chilly and blustery south wind coming in from the bay. No matter, we were on a mission for prawns.

First stop was to be a historic Howth village walk. The walk was to meet at the festival office for an 11 a.m. step off. We walked the length of the festival setup without sight or smell of any open festival office, and missed the beginning of the walk. Most of the festival tents were still setting up, so we took it upon ourselves to do a little Howth walk of our own.

We had done some exploring of the village when we visited in December for our hike, but had missed the fishing docks, fish markets, and general fish processing along the west pier. We jumped on it, and en route to the pier, saw some seals in the harbor, either sheltering from the whipping winds or begging for food scraps from the visitors piling into town for the festival. Having a very romantic and non-seagull-like view of seals, I will imagine they were just getting in from the wind...

Back of a Seal's Head Howth, Co. Dublin
Back of a Seal's Head

Looking in from West Pier Howth, Co. Dublin
Looking in from West Pier

Cory's Jacket Inflated by Wind Howth, Co. Dublin
Cory's Jacket Inflated by Wind

Ireland's Eye on a Windy Day Howth, Co. Dublin
Ireland's Eye on a Windy Day

Walking back down the pier, we stopped in to some of the many fish shops lining the pier. Fishing is still a booming industry in Howth, and some of the freshest, highest-quality, and least-expensive fish and shellfish can be purchased along the pier.

Fish and Prawns on Sale Howth, Co. Dublin
Fish and Prawns on Sale

European Atlantic Clawed Lobster
European Atlantic Clawed Lobster

After the fish shops, we were getting hungry. The festival tents and food vendors wouldn't be open for a while, so we checked out the Saturday Howth Market. Many townships in and around Dublin have weekend markets like this. Food, craft, and antique vendors were set up in the busy market. We couldn't resist buying two buns from a baker. Sara picked Bailey's Creme and I couldn't help grabbing an Oreo Bun. Just as a snack, now- not to spoil our lunch!

Sweet, Rich, Buns Howth, Co. Dublin
Sweet, Rich, Buns

Now it was time to get serious on this prawn thing. Two marquees were set up near the main pier. One was set up with prawn-centric displays and a cooking demo station, the other big tent was jam-packed, chock-a-block full of prawny vendors. Sated as we were with our buns, we watched the first demo of the day before grabbing lunch.

...And that demo was a fish and shellfish cleaning show by a local Howth fishmonger. He described the anatomy of the prawns, sole, salmon, and hake that he quickly and skillfully cleaned. The most impressive and difficult trick he showed the impressed crowd was removing the vein from the prawn tail by carefully pulling it in one piece from the central fluke of the tail. This looked much cleaner and easier than me sloppily cutting down the top of the prawn tail with a dull knife and rinsing it under cold water...

The Dublin Bay Prawn, as it it known, ranges from Spain to Scotland, and is eaten all over Europe. It is similar to what Americans know as Jumbo Shrimp, and is easily identified by its long pincers and large size. They are tasty and reasonably-priced in Western Europe, and enjoyed by many. Including us.

After the raw fish filleting and prawn peeling, our appetite had returned in force. We purchased two meal tickets, and explored the food tent. Howth restaurants and pubs had set up stalls in the tent, each serving a specialty of the house. We saw prawns (and other seafood) dishes prepared in every way imaginable.

Well, maybe not every way...

...But there was a lot of shrimp prawns being served. After two laps around the tent, both of us settled on the prawn and seafood paella, prepared in huge paella pans with mussels, squid rings, bacon, and, of course, prawns. The paella had plenty of prawns in the golden rice mix, but each was topped off with an additional (and beautiful) steamed whole prawn. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Grilled Prawns Howth, Co. Dublin
Grilled Prawns

Prawn and Seafood Paella Howth, Co. Dublin
Prawn and Seafood Paella

Paella Pan Howth, Co. Dublin
Paella Pan

After another partial cooking demo, the temperature was still chilly and the crowds were swelling, so it was time to make our way back to Dublin. We caught the first two hours of the festival in that magic time when lines are short and exhibits are clear. After a stop for a cup of tea and a pint of stout at the Fisherman's Bar, we caught the DART home, almost in time to beat the heavy rains moving in for the afternoon.


  1. Great, now my mouth is watering. This day sounds spectacular!

    1. It was a nice day despite the cold and windy weather. Lots of inspiration for more cooking! And remember, you got to try a prawn while you were here, I was just too timid and cheap to buy a whole meal of them!

  2. I LOVE Dublin bay prawns! It's so funny how Irish people don't know how to take the shell off... I wrote a post about it a few months ago, you can check it out :-)

    1. Thanks for the link. We really do love the prawns, but haven't had them frozen before. We'll have to look for that at Lidl.


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