For years Sligo was Dubliner Catherine Byrne’s secret place. It was where she spent weekends with college friends, at the Sligo Arts Festival, out on the town and socialising. It was where she was drawn to for a first foray into her own food business. Now, it is where she calls home and where she runs her fabulously named food business, The Sushi Sisters with her (real) sister Mary.
Regulars at Strandhill Market will be very familiar with the Sushi Sisters cheerful market stall selling the unlikely combination of delicate sushi and robust Middle Eastern and Greek food. It’s a genuine labour of love for the two sisters who made independent lifestyle choices to move from the metropolis. Born in Beaumont on Dublin’s north side, Catherine has always had an interest in good food. She fondly recalls their summers spent in the family caravan in Rush where she first discovered the joy of sea fresh fish. Surrounded as they were by the market garden belt, they were spoiled for choice with field after field of vegetables, herbs and sun ripened tomatoes. To her the new potatoes from Rush just can’t be beaten for taste.
Catherine studied Design in college, going on to a career as a lecturer in DIT. Weekend student waitressing work in Conway’s Pub opposite the Rotunda Hospital was a great experience as the pub was well known for great food. She built on this experience over two summers waiting on tables in Cape Cod and New Jersey, learning all about the very different demands on front of house staff in America.
The generous summer holidays in her lecturing job gave her the opportunity to travel and Greece was the country of choice. She’d been there as a student but as a young adult she began exploring outside the tourist traps. Having heard that Sifnos Island had the best olive oil in all of Greece because of its volcanic soil, that was her first port of call. It turned out to be the start of a long affair with the island which is renowned for its quality food. Catherine spent many summers there camping with her young son Patrick. She describes the glorious weather, the scenery and the amazing campsite boasting marble bathrooms, with enthusiasm. Making Greek friends led her to another island where they had a holiday home. Easter there was a treasured experience, spent with her friend’s mother preparing goat meat for the feast. This included making ‘puddings’ from the innards and bringing the raw dishes to the vast communal wood fired oven in the village square. Further ceremonies and dyed eggs were all part of this traditional Easter celebration. It’s easy to see where Catherine’s inspiration for Greek cooking came from!
Mary ‘s travel lust introduced her to sushi first. Catherine’s interest was piqued and the pair headed for Dublin’s only sushi restaurant. While the sushi was delicious, Catherine wryly recalls the rookie error of mistaking hot Wasabi for cool avocado and suffering the consequences! However she was smitten with this ethnic food.
Taking a career break gave Catherine the opportunity to lease part of a restaurant (Laura’s of Carney) for a few summers. There she served simple but delicious seafood and vegetarian dishes too. The food industry was getting a grip on her. Her first foray into a market was when the Cairde Festival were looking for stallholders and Patrick was looking for money to go inter railing. A deal was done and Sligo got its first sushi stall which was a roaring success – Catherine got her market research done and Patrick got the cash he needed.
In 2009 she took the plunge, taking early retirement and moving to Strandhill lock, stock and barrel. Within a few years she had begun Sushi Sisters with Mary and they have been regulars in Strandhill Market every Sunday since.
Patrick now lives in New Orleans giving Catherine a welcome excuse to discover new and fascinating cuisines. A recent course in the New Orleans School of Cookery saw New Orleans Gumbo with Rice and Chargrilled Buttered Corn Cob appear at Sushi Sisters. It went down a treat with the adventurous clientele … who knows what Catherine will introduce next. #SligoFoodTrail