When people hear about Irish food, they often automatically think about potatoes, because potatoes used to be such an important staple for the Irish. The potato blight that struck in the mid 19th century, combined with the high reliance on this vegetable as a main food source lead to the disasterous Irish potato famine from 1845-1852. While potatoes were, and still are, an integral part in Irish cuisine, you would be mistaken in thinking that there is not much variety besides the humble spud. Thanks to an increase in immigrants from other countries and the return of the Irish diaspora from around the world, you will also easily find dishes with global influences in Irish restaurants and homes alike. Let's have a look at some of the dishes you should try while in Ireland – or try to cook them in your own kitchen at home.
The Irish Stew is a great dish for a cold day, and tastes delicious if you get the spices right. Core ingredients include some sort of meat (usually lamb or mutton, but sometimes beef is used) and root vegetables such as carrots and parnsips. Of course potatoes are also a very vital ingredient, either cooked in the stew itself or mashed with butter and salt and pepper as a side dish. There are different recipes for this stew, and some Irish people can become quite passionate about which combination of ingredients is the right one. Some are very traditional, while other Irish dare to experiment. We recommend that you go for what sounds most appealing to you (while making sure you include some guinness to add richness to your dish!)
Bacon and Cabbage
You guessed right, the main ingredients in this one are bacon and cabbage, but it is more exciting than you might think. It is a very simple, but very tasty, dish. Potatoes, and sometimes turnips, are served as a side dish. The bacon can be smoked or unsmoked, with the vegetables accompanying the dish being boiled in water alongside the bacon to give them a distinctive, salty flavour. The dish is usually smothered in a delicious white sauce, similar to a French béchamel sauce, with parsley replacing nutmeg, along with a pinch of salt and white pepper. Executed well, this dish is a real Irish gem.
The dish with the funny name Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake that is usually served as a savoury dish, again sometimes as part of a full Irish breakfast. The main ingredients for this dish are finely grated raw potatoes (which of course are cooked while the pancake is fried), mashed leftover potatoes and flour.
Each country has its own version of a leftover dish: the kind of dish you usually cook when you have food left that you want or need to use up, but you can't really think of something. In Ireland, this dish is called Coddle, but it has a few ingredients that often are part of it, like sliced pork sausages or fatty back bacon, potatoes and onions. Barley is usually also found in the more traditional recipes. Apart from that, anything can be added: carrots, parsnips etc. Coddle is mostly connected with Dublin, even though it is also eaten in other parts of Ireland.
Soda bread – griddle bread – griddle cakes
Soda bread, is a bread that is made from plain or wholemeal flour (or a combination of both), buttermilk (which can be replaced with yoghurt or guinness), baking soda, and salt. Eggs can also be added to lighten the loaf, with treacle or molasses often being added to add a slight sweetness and depth of flavour. The soda bread is usually done in a savoury manner, but it can also be baked with sweet ingredients such as sultanas or raisins. One very interesting and tasty version is the wild garlic soda bread. All forms of this bread are best served warm form the oven, slathered with good quality Irish butter. Irish soda bread is often used to accompany an Irish fry, stews, soups or with some jam and a steaming cup of Barry's tea!
Black pudding has seen something of a resurgence in recent years in Ireland due to the renewed emphasis on using excellent local ingredients. The main ingredient in the black pudding is blood (usually from pork) and the next ingredient is oatmeal, but a blood-free form known as "white pudding" is also available, comprising mainly of pork meat and fat. Originally black pudding was popular with the poor in the past as it is a dish that can be made very cheaply. Today, it is still popular as part of the traditional full Irish breakfast but is also often found in savoury tarts and even on pizzas or in burgers! One of the most well-known brands of black pudding - from Clonakilty in county Cork, actually uses beef instead of pork, with its spice blend, like that of many of its counterparts, remaining a closely guarded secret.
This is a potato based dish and basically consists of mashed potatoes mixed with kale. When kale is not in season cabbage can be used. The mashed potatoes are made with potatoes, milk, butter and seasoning as desired (salt and pepper are the usual basics, but you can also experiment with it). In Ireland, this dish is usually served with some ham or bacon.
Rosemary and garlic roast lamb
The Irish also like their roasts. A nicely roasted lamb with fresh rosemary and garlic is a favourite combination, and is usually served with boiled or roasted potatoes and vegetables. This dish is often served as part of a celebratory meal on Easter Sunday, with lamb hailing from counties Kerry and Wicklow known for its high-quality and excellent flavour.