Food for thought

Natalie McCambridge at the Galway Food Festival
Natalie McCambridge at the Galway Food Festival

Ahead of the fifth Galway Food Festival next month, Doug Whelan caught up with Natalie McCambridge of iconic Shop Street retailer McCambridge’s to talk about upcoming events and the historic store itself, which has been in business since the 1920s



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18 February 2016

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In case you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of months, you’ll know we’re in the centenary year of the 1916 Rising, and as such there are events planned to commemorate the occasion up and down the country all year long. It’s a fine occasion to take a look back at our country’s dotted history, to see where we came from, where we’ve been and where we’re going.

With that in mind, the organisers of this year’s Galway Food Festival have selected as a theme for the event, ‘100 years of Irish food’, to tie in with the centenary but also to shine a light on Ireland’s rich history of food, and in particular that of Galway itself.

Looking back on this era, it’s easy to forget that for much of the 20th century, food was a basic fuel for life rather than the diverse and ceremonious cultural celebration it is today. The festival’s organisers say reflecting on food traditions of the past might help us learn something, and help secure a brighter future for food in Ireland – as if it’s not bright enough already!

Importance of tradition

Someone who knows a thing or two about both food tradition and the Food Festival is Natalie McCambridge, proprietor of McCambridge’s. The family-owned fine food shop, restaurant and deli has had pride of place on Galway’s Shop Street for exactly 90 years, and has been a proud supported of the festival since its inception five years ago. The shop will be once again involved in this year’s festival with events, themed nights and talks across Easter Weekend.

“We’ll be part of the Food Trail,” she says, “and we’ll have a coffee cupping event too.

“Since the whole weekend will tie in with the centenary, we’re going to do a themed night in the restaurant; we’re thinking of shaping the menu around real food from the 1920s, without any modern preservatives or additives. Unprocessed food, basically.

“We want to serve the kinds of dishes our grandparents would have eaten,” Natalie continues, “when they first opened the store. Our chefs are working on their plans right now and they’re going to come up with some amazing dishes. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Heather Flaherty, McCambridge’s executive chef at the launch of the Galway Food Festival

Heather Flaherty, McCambridge’s executive chef at the launch of the Galway Food Festival

Jam-packed events schedule

Across Easter Weekend, Galway city will host dozens upon dozens of events as part of the Galway Food Festival. “There’s a big food market at the Spanish Arch,” Natalie says, “and the participating restaurants will have special menus on all weekend. On top of that, there’s to be talks and discussions on specific topics.”

Natalie’s father Pat McCambridge and her brother Eoin (with whom she runs the shop) will take part in a talk entitled Galway Food Through the Years, and there will be several more on similar topics. “The programme is always jam-packed,” she says. “You really can’t get to everything, there’s so much!

“It’s a really huge weekend for us. I would actually compare it to Christmas, it’s that busy. Galway is such a destination city anyway, so town will be extra busy all weekend.”

Historic retailer

There’s no better place than McCambridge’s when it comes to celebrating Galway’s food history. The store opened way back in 1925, and marked 90 years in business with a big celebration in store last July. “The place has gone through lots of changes over the years of course,” Natalie says. “It was established in 1925 by my grandfather George McCambridge. Eventually my father took over the business, and Eoin and I are here now.

“We’re the third generation of McCambridge’s to run the place,” she says proudly, “and we have the fourth generation lined up and ready to go.”

Natalie recalls how she essentially grew up on the shop floor, and feels proud to work and run somewhere that she has so many childhood memories from. “I’m always on the shop floor,” she says, “and I love the social aspect of the business. It’s really lovely to receive visits from the people who have worked with our family over the years. Long may that continue!

“We’ve had our ups and downs too,” she adds, “we fell a bit behind when Shop Street was pedestrianised, we lost our way a bit. But we moved in to the hospitality area with the coffee bar and the restaurant, and we’ve come full circle now. We’ve had a great few years and the place is a bit of a destination now; it’s a very sociable place.”

The Galway Food Festival, celebrating 100 years of Irish Food, takes place on 24 – 28 March. For a full listing of events, visit





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