Mungo Murphy's Seaweed Company offers one of the most interesting tours in Ireland for seafood lovers. At their mariculture operation on the Connemara coast the Japanese species of abalone is farm-raised in large tanks full of seawater.
Abalone flesh is a luxury in China that might show up on a banquet buffet alongside shark fin soup. It's also a rare and expensive treat at Japanese sushi bars. Nearly all of Mungo Murphy's abalone is sold in Hong Kong and Vancouver, Canada.
Visitors can tour the farm and then enjoy an abalone tasting. You can also add an optional shore walk to your tour package if you'd like to learn about the different varieties of seaweed harvested here.
The tasting menu starts off with abalone sashimi served in lovely abalone shells.
Then there's a seaweed and carrot salad with a sesame oil dressing.
Finally, there is an elegant whole abalone lightly cooked and served with two kinds of seaweed.
The farming operation also produces sea urchin, a favorite sushi bar item, which is available for tasting. Try some! It's deliciously creamy.
Probably the strangest critter in the mariculture tanks is the sea cucumber. No, it's not a plant. It's actually an animal. It tastes okay after a bit of stewing, but it has a chewy texture that's hard to get used to.
The mariculture operation is run by Cindy O'Obrien, a transplanted Southern California who studied Marine Biology at UC Long Beach and worked in the experimental mariculture program at the University of Miami. The abalone farm was one of six in Ireland when it was built. It's now the only one remaining.
Cindy's daughter Sinead O'Brien leads the tours and helps develop seaweed spice blends and beauty products.
Any restaurants in Ireland serving abalone?, we asked.
"We ship some to Chinese restaurants in Dublin," Cindy O'Brien said.