Travel

My life in food: Aisling Bea on potatoes, food waste and Mexican food in Los Angeles

The Irish comedian talks about her love of potatoes, her favourite vegan roast and the best cocktail of her life.Thursday, August 8, 2019

By National Geographic Traveller Food
Aisling Bea

My favourite Irish dish is mashed potatoes. No joke. In David Chang’s documentary series Ugly Delicious, he talks about how cultures that had fallen victim to famine always produced amazing cuisines afterwards — except for the Irish. We’re not known for overcomplicating things with flavour. A misconception is that we eat potatoes with everything; the misconception being the absence of the word ‘loads’. The fact is we eat loads of potatoes with everything. 

Growing up in a single-parent home, I ate lots of things from the freezer. Things in breadcrumbs, potatoes and frozen vegetables. It’s still the ‘home-cooked meal’ I look for when I’m feeling emotional.

Mexican food is so delicious in Los Angeles. It’s also very veggie-friendly. There’s a vegan restaurant called Gracias Madre, which would convert even the most hardcore carnivore. Plus, it’s a beautiful place and the staff, who are probably all actors, act fantastically happy to be there. 

The best cocktail I’ve ever had was in New York. It was at a speakeasy called Patent Pending, at the back of a coffee shop, and the cocktail was called ‘Odd Love’ [made of rye, Spanish brandy, Patent coffee, cherry, walnut and absinthe].

I think food waste is one of the developed world’s greatest sins. People are becoming increasingly dependent on food banks to survive. At 14, I worked as a waitress for a catering company; the amount of food waste at events is shocking and frankly disgusting. My sister recently had an eco-conscious wedding — it was an Irish/Indian affair in London with bamboo cutlery and traditional Keralan dishes served on banana leaves. She sourced a company to come and take away the leftover food for composting. It can be done, but some companies don’t make it easy.

As a pescatarian, I could easily go vegan. For the most part, I avoid meat. This is mainly for environmental reasons as we’ve gone too far in our consumption — but even fish is over-farmed. Because I travel so much — I’ve just spent nine months eating on sets between NYC, London and Rome — it can be really hard when it comes to dietary restrictions; you have to widen things a bit so you don’t starve. When I’m at home, I generally cook and live quite a vegan/veggie existence. 

My last meal would be a veggie roast dinner. I’d want Yorkshire puddings and a nut roast. There’s a place near me in Islington called The Canonbury Tavern, which does the most amazing roasts, even vegan ones. One of my favourite things is a roast with friends.

Food is a way for refugees to keep a sense of home when they’re far away. I visited the Calais refugee camp last year with The Guilty Feminist podcast and a group called the Refugee Community Kitchen. The latter is run by a fantastic London chef called Steve Bedlam, along with a team of volunteers, who cook the most amazing, healthy food for refugees living in dire conditions. He uses flavours that remind them of home, and for many that’s the only good meal and connection to kindness that they get during an awful time in their lives. It’s well worth looking up, donating and volunteering.

Aisling Bea’s new series, This Way Up, airs on Channel 4 in August. Living With Yourself will be on Netflix later this year. Interview by Farida Zeynalova

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