From the coffee in Ireland to the cheese, butter, and joint of the day, it’s all good. And save room for some Irish fine dining, too.
Go ahead: Call me an eejit, but I had no idea how much I would enjoy the food in Ireland. I knew that it would fine—and probably better than what one might have expected 20 or so years ago. After all, there has been a shift upwards in food nearly everywhere one travels these days.
But what I didn’t expect was how much I would enjoy it in all its genuineness.
I expected that at the everyday, moderately priced level, food would be fine, but nothing to write home about. I figured, too, that splurges were definitely in order: Gastronomy has definitely made inroads into Ireland, and I was told that, specifically, Kinsale is a major hotbed. I planned to venture to this coastal town, but we were staying in Cork, and we liked that city so much, we just didn’t make the mere 20-mile journey.
Besides—as readers of this blog know—I’m less interested in food that begs to be gasped at and fawned over and more interested in well-crafted food that bears a sense of place and brings simple, everyday pleasures to the table. I definitely found the latter, nearly everywhere I went. And yes, the splurges were grand, too.
A few observations/highlights:
1. Nobody knows how to cook a breakfast egg like the Irish.
Every breakfast egg I had in Ireland was perfect. When it arrived at the table, it seemed less done than I usually like it. But the plates were burn-your-fingers-hot, so as you ate the breakfast, the egg set up and became irresistibly rich and jiggly without being runny. Brilliant!
2. The Irish Do Great Coffee—Nearly Everywhere
Most every single place we dined—little coffeeshops and cafes, pubs that served food, upscale restaurants—served espresso drinks. Really good espresso drinks, always made just the way I requested them.
Still, don’t go trying your Starbucks lingo in Ireland. I tried to order a “dry” cappuccino, and they didn’t know what that was. But when I explained (more foam than milk, please), it was graciously, perfectly served.
3. What to Drink: Guinness, Irish Whiskey, and….Prosecco!
I generally can’t handle spirits anymore…but for some reason, a glass of Jameson’s or Bushnell’s at the end of the night didn’t do me in as I thought it might. Perhaps that’s because the servings are small and the pubs are just so dang nice that you’re already “high” just sitting here, so it’s easy to sip rather than drink. Oh—and it’s good quality stuff, too. There’s that, of course!
And yes–it’s true: Guinness tastes better in Ireland. This non-beer-drinker found herself ordering it often. Avid beer drinkers will go nuts with all the other lesser-known options, of course….
Finally, Prosecco—that wonderful sparkling wine from Italy—is widely available and tastes great sitting outside on those warm (but never too-warm) days.
PS: They don’t “stick-it-to-you” on the wine in this country. The pours were generous, and usually cost around 5 to 7 Euros ($7.50 to $10). That’s incredibly reasonable, especially now that $15 glasses of wine are becoming the norm in well-traveled US destinations.
4. And The Award for Best Potato Chips on the Planet Goes to….Ireland!
The Irish are serious about their potato chips—there’s even a theme park devoted to one brand (Hiya, Tato Crisps!). Indeed, this country makes some seriously good potato chips (though, of course, they’re called “crisps” in Ireland). My favorite flavor: Farmhouse Cheddar and Red Onion. Dave (wisely) talked me out of bringing a case home.
5. Yes—You’ll See a Lot of Potatoes.
Potatoes are served with almost everything here, so don’t be surprised if you see them served where you don’t expect them (e.g.: with lasagna). But I generally got into the spirit of them, and began to think of them like bread—the Irish version of an all-purpose starch you eat with everything.
6. You’ll Love the Butter and Cheese.
Irish butter is legendary. In fact, the city of Cork made a fortune in the 19th century shipping Irish butter to Australia. It’s truly great stuff, and so is the cheese. While I didn’t see the kind of funky-smelly cheeses that I adore in France, I totally enjoyed the full, rich flavors of what I tried—including blue and cheddar-like cheeses—here.
7. Cafés and coffeshops are wonderful for lunch.
When traveling in the US, one of the hardest things to find is a truly pleasant spot for lunch—something better than a diner or fast food or chain, but not a splurge. Ireland has all kinds of these mom-and-pop spots, and they’re wonderfully gracious places to get freshly made sandwiches and salads. Often, the sandwiches would come with a great little salad and (wait for it)…chips. As such, one sandwich would often be plenty for two, and no one ever minded when we split a plate.
And most every single one of these sweet places served espresso drinks to get us back on the road in sharp condition.
8. Go for the Roast Joint of the Day.
Lots of cafés, restaurants, and pubs feature a roast or joint of the day, and these are great ways to fill up on good, honest, traditional cooking—at a great value (usual around 9 or so Euros). Pork was the most prominent joint, but I also saw some good Irish beef.
9: Yes—you can go light if you wish.
You’re in Ireland. Why wouldn’t you eat the potatoes? Yet just because I put on five pounds in Ireland doesn’t mean you have to. There are plenty of options for going light—salads here were fresh, fresh, fresh, and combined with creativity and skill.
10. Above all, be sure to splurge now and then.
We were thrilled with the fine-dining venues we tried; the above photo was snapped at the restaurant in the Killarny River Court Hotel. Here’s another:
Another favorite: The Malt House in Galway. I’m sorry not to have taken pictures of:
• ”The Best of Irish” Platter: A charcuterie/cheese platter of smoked kassler, smoked Connemara lamb (it was like lamb prosciutto–and divine), corned beef (Irish corned beef! Yes!), Cashel blue cheese and Killeen goat cheese.
• Grilled Irish Rib-Eye Steak with Maldon Salt Rub and (wait for it!) … chips! But these chips were hand cut and totally amazing.
It was all just the kind of food I seek when going somewhat upscale in another country—inspired, yet grounded in tradition. No foams, no foie gras ice creams. In every bite, you knew you were in Ireland—and so glad to be here.
All photos taken by me (or Dave), except the Full Irish Breakfast, taken by JaredFrazer via Flickr.
PS: So, how am I going to take off those five “Irish Potato Pounds”? With my French Salads Diet, of course!