As I begin my first semester back at Bowdoin after studying abroad in Dublin at Trinity College last spring, I’m constantly cognizant of not falling into the stereotype of the “obnoxious senior back from abroad.” I’d like to think of myself as the kind of person that can be fully present where I am, and I’m wary of falling into pits of nostalgia that I won’t be able to climb out of. The downside to this is that I often find myself avoiding mention of my semester abroad entirely unless directly asked (which then leads to the inevitable exchange—of “How was abroad?” and “It was great!”—that doesn’t quite encapsulate the experience of living in Dublin for four months). The truth is that I don’t really know where to begin when summarizing the experience: do I focus on one particular highlight? Do I dive into my classes, my roommates, or maybe the traveling I did around Ireland? But if you really get me going in a conversation about my semester, I find that when I rack my brain for stories, the ones that emerge usually have to do with the food I ate.

An important disclaimer: Ireland is not a foodie destination. Unless you really love fried fish and Guinness (which, don’t get me wrong, I do love Guinness—and not just because I’m scared that the Irish won’t let me back in if I say otherwise), the pull of Ireland has much more to do with the scenery and the history than the culinary scene.

But even if “Irish food” is a bit disappointing, Dublin is a bustling city with its own vibrant, international cuisine. Having never really lived in a city before, I was constantly surprised and delighted by just the sheer number and variety of food options at every turn. I grew up in the far outskirts of Los Angeles, which meant I had access to phenomenal food from every cuisine you could ever imagine—if I drove 45 minutes on the 210 freeway. (That’s to Northeast L.A.; add an hour, or two or three in rush hour traffic, to get to Santa Monica.)

In Dublin, on the other hand, everything was right at my fingertips. I lived in the Liberties, on the south side near the city center. On my daily 20-minute walk to Trinity, I probably passed hundreds of restaurants, pubs and “takeaway” spots, as they say across the pond. Dublin certainly has its scene for high-end restaurants, but as a student on a serious budget (Dublin is consistently ranked as one of the most expensive cities in Europe, which I can attest to), I was much more interested in the cheap lunch spots.

Around two or three days a week, I found myself on campus for a full day without quite enough time to go back to my apartment for lunch. If I were a more dedicated chef, I might have tried to prepare meals for these days in advance and bring tupperware to campus. Instead, I usually ended up wandering around the city center looking for a cheap—and tasty—lunch I could bring back to campus with me. It eventually became a kind of game for me: how could I get the most flavor for the lowest cost? I’d challenge myself further by bringing only a five euro note with me for the day, forcing me to stick to a budget.

At first, I wasn’t very good at it—I’d resort to pre-made veggie wraps at the local Tesco (which, for 3.99 including chips and a drink, certainly aren’t bad), but as I got to know Dublin better, my food experiences improved dramatically. Through scouting social media, soliciting recommendations from friends and eavesdropping extensively, I found my way to a few spots that became quick favorites.

I returned frequently to Umi Falafel on Dame St, right in between my apartment and campus, where I became an avid fan of the Palestinian Falafel sandwich: pita absolutely stuffed to the brim with crispy falafel, hummus, tomatoes, eggplant (or aubergine, my bad), parsley and—best of all—tons of pickles. For seven euro, this ranks high on flavor to cost ratio.

meat, bread, gyro, sandwich, beef, vegetable, lettuce
Net Supatravanij

Another regular favorite was Mama’s Revenge Burrito Hut right on the edge of Trinity’s campus. Burritos are surprisingly popular in Dublin, and I’ve witnessed debates that bordered on screaming matches about which burrito spot in the city is best. Pablo Picante is good, but I stand by the five euro student price for a vegetarian burrito at Mama’s. Filled with rice, beans, sweet potatoes, peppers, onions, cheese and, if you’re like me, plenty of hot sauce, there’s no better cheap comfort food for those rainy Dublin days.

Hannah Bettis

The best part of this mission, though, was being able to eventually develop routines in an unfamiliar city. I came to Dublin knowing no one and absolutely terrified of navigating a new place; and, while I met plenty of people through my program and in my classes, what ultimately made the city feel like home were the little nooks that I stopped in once or twice a week. There was no better feeling than the baristas at my favorite coffee shop or the cooks at Mama’s recognizing me when I stopped in for a drink or a bite. While I hope I get to return to Dublin sometime soon and to go back to all these places, this mission was valuable for much bigger reasons. I’m now so much more confident in my ability to make anywhere I may end up into a home—at least there’s always a community around food.