In recent years, Galway's food scene has boomed.
Throughout my time at college, I would return home to Galway for a visit only to find new restaurants, cafes and bars popping up all over the place.
From the finer dining of Loam, KAI and Aniar to the more casual Dough Bros, Papa Rich and Bite Club, my list grew and grew, with more places to try every few months.
And while I adore each of the above, one Galway restaurant will always have my heart and my full, undistracted appetite and attention.
Originally known as Da Tang Noodle House, and now known just as The Noodle House, I have been eating here for at least 19 years and consider it not only my favourite restaurant in Ireland, but probably in the world.
In September 2013, I set off to The Big Shmoke for college and remember having one last family meal in The Noodle House at the end of summer before I packed my bags and flew the nest.
Everything was going swimmingly in Dublin until I got a call on one dark November day back in 2013 to tell me that Da Tang was closing its doors and that head chef, owner and family friend, Han Tuo, was hanging up his wok for good.
I was genuinely so upset that friends who were with me at the time asked, "Who died?"
A restaurant called CHI Asian Bistro replaced The Noodle House and while its food was really decent, it just wasn't the same.
I grew up eating Han Tuo's food weekly. We would hit up the Galway Market every Saturday morning and then head to The Noodle House for a massive feed.
At the age of six, I was fluent with chopsticks, whole-heartedly addicted to Asian cuisine and even remember sitting downstairs in the tiny restaurant kitchen watching Han Tuo tossing noodles in a wok.
I really did feel like one of the biggest constants and traditions in my life had just vanished.
Han Tuo making fresh noodles
In final year of college, I still missed The Noodle House but would attempt to satisfy my cravings in the likes of M & L Chinese in Dublin.
Then, last year, I got the great news that Han Tuo had returned from his two-year sabbatical and that The Noodle House would soon reopen.
I was over the moon.
Upon immediate re-opening, I must say that the food did leave a lot to be desired. While the dumplings were pretty much exactly the same – juicy and bursting with perfect flavour – and the noodles were still perfect, something was definitely missing.
And it was frustrating because when you know how good something can be, it can be hard to settle for anything less.
The original flavour, the tenderness of the meat and delicately seasoned sauces, they just weren't there. And neither was the menu.
Half of my favourite dishes had disappeared completely. The Hong Dong soup, the coriander and tofu salad, the chilli chicken noodle soup. All gone.
Luckily, I returned during the summer and was delighted to see that the menu had grown, with my favourite pickled carrot and chilli salad back on the list!
I popped in last weekend to sample some of the new menu, opting for the pickled salad, chilli chicken noodle soup and some lamb dumplings.
The soup was so flavoursome. The chicken was tender and soft, the green chillis gave it a kick up the arse and the NOODLES. Oh, the noodles were perfect.
The salad had been made minutes before it was served so it was fresh, cold and crunchy. Doused in a lovely vinaigrette with plenty of coriander, I demolished it.
And the dumplings were barely put in front of us before they were gone, gone, gone.
The Noodle House really is the kind of restaurant where you don't leave a morsel on your plate for fear of regretting it later. Their food tastes like more.
I brought my housemate from Chicago and she has been talking about how good the food was ever since.
If you're looking for complicated, flashy food, you're not going to find it here. The Noodle House is all about keeping dishes simple but packed with flavour.
It is light and healthy yet comforting and wholesome.
I have been eating this food for 90% of my life and hope to eat it until I die (morbid, but true). Try it. I would highly recommend the lamb dumplings, any noodle dish or the hot pot for sharing!
Top tip: If you ask real nicely, they will sell you their noodles and dumplings, frozen, to take home and cook yourself. The dream.
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