While Ireland hasn’t traditionally had quite the same reputation for cuisine as some other European nations, that’s beginning to change. Thanks to the country’s lush green pastures, its beef and lamb are widely regarded as the best produced anywhere in the world, and the Irish chefs of today are doing exciting things with simple native ingredients. Here are ten traditional dishes you need to try, along with where you can find them.
An Irish Breakfast
Though the original version of the cooked breakfast was invented in England, the Irish have made the ‘fry’ their own. An Irish breakfast will generally consist of some combination of bacon, sausages, eggs, fried tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, white and black pudding – pork meat with oatmeal and blood sausage respectively – and baked beans. Toast and tea are essential sides for this national favourite, which is also known to be a guaranteed hangover cure after an evening drinking Guinness. The Woollen Mills Eating House in Dublin do one with Offaly-reared sausages and bacon, beef tomato, O’Doherty’s black pudding and a fried egg and toast.
Traditional Irish stew comes in many forms, but the most widely used recipes usually revolve around lamb, potatoes and onions as the central ingredients. This dish dates back many centuries, and before lamb became common, mutton or kid goat would have been used. Especially popular during winter months, warming Irish stew is comfort food at its very best. Herbs like thyme and rosemary make it even tastier. Try it at one of Ireland’s oldest pubs, The Brazen Head in Dublin.
The West of Ireland has the country’s best oysters, and those harvested in Clarinbridge, County Galway are known the world over for their superior taste. Lovers of seafood should definitely try to make it to the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival at least once, where they can watch the Irish and World Oyster Opening – or ‘shucking’ – Championships, and taste some of the finest shellfish to be found in the Atlantic.
The Irish love their bread, and soda bread recipes have been passed from parent to child for generations. Soda bread is a form of quick bread, meaning it is leavened with something other than yeast, in this case baking soda. The other ingredients are flour, buttermilk and salt, and it comes in both brown and white varieties. Many who make it put their own twist on the recipe, adding extras, but one of the best recipes to follow is the simple but wonderful one from Ballymaloe House.
Cockles and Mussels
You don’t have to travel to the Wild Atlantic Way to taste great seafood. Made famous in the song ‘Molly Malone‘, the quintessential Dublin dish of cockles – small saltwater clams – and mussels can be found at The Winding Stair restaurant next to the Ha’penny Bridge in the heart of the city. Their menu boasts steamed cockles and Roaring Bay mussels from County Cork with Clogherhead crab, brown shrimp mayo toast and chips.
The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Ireland, +353 1 872 7320
Barm brack – generally just called brack in Ireland – is a sweet type of bread made with sultanas and raisins, traditionally served with tea. This dessert is especially popular around Halloween when objects used to be added to the dough to make a kind of festive fortune-teller game. Items like a coin, a pea and a ring were traditionally added, and whoever found the ring was thought to be likely to marry within a year. Today, Halloween barm bracks with a toy ring can still be bought in supermarkets. Brack can be found in many cafés, but if you’re feeling brave, you can try and make it yourself, following celebrity chef and Youtube star Donal Skehan’s recipe.
Another entrée championing the humble potato, colcannon is a mixture of mashed potatoes, cabbage or kale, milk, butter, salt and pepper. Generally served as a side with boiled ham, it has inspired a nostalgic song of the same name, with poetic lyrics like, ‘Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake / Of the creamy, flavoured butter that your mother used to make?’. Oddly, this is another dish with a strong tie to Halloween when people used to, again, hide a ring and other surprises inside it. The Oliver St. John Gogarty restaurant in Temple Bar serves colcannon with all of its main courses.
Oliver St. John Gogarty, 18-21 Anglesea Street, Dublin 2, Ireland, +353 1 671 1822
Few things are more Irish than Guinness, so a cake made with the dark stout is the ultimate Irish dessert. A rich, moist chocolate cake, it is iced with cream cheese to look just like a pint of ‘the black stuff’. The best one in Dublin can be found at the delightful Cake Café on Pleasants Place.
A boxty is a type of pancake made of finely grated fried potatoes. The best place to try this native Country Leitrim staple is at Gallagher’s Boxty House in Dublin’s Temple Bar – an entire restaurant dedicated to championing the distinctive Irish dish. Founded by a man described as ‘a recognised potato expert’, the Boxty House’s signature dish is a Gaelic Boxty with medallions of Irish beef in a whiskey and mushroom cream sauce. They also make them with chilli and mixed beans, chicken and smoked bacon, or roasted walnuts and Corleggy Drumlin cheese. Other must-try Irish dishes here include the shepherd’s pie.
Gallagher’s Boxty House, 20 Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland, +353 1 677 2762
Strongly associated with Dublin, coddle is generally made up of leftover items from other meals like sausages, bacon, onions and potatoes. Made by simmering stock and steaming the ingredients inside, this dinner might sound like something of an afterthought, but it is beloved by Dubliners and even has literary connections – coddle is reported to have been the favourite meal of playwright Seán O’Casey and Gulliver’s Travels author Jonathan Swift. The true mark of a Dublin tradition, it even appears in works by James Joyce. O’Neill’s Pub is so well known for its coddle they even have the recipe on their website.