10 Great Things to Know About Irish Food

Me, somewhere in in the Connemara (before I put on those five "Irish Potato Pounds").

Me, somewhere in in the Connemara (before I put on those five “Irish Potato Pounds”).

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 the closest we got was 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.

A "Full Irish."

A “Full 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

This is a macchiato--espresso with a bit of foam.

This is a macchiato–espresso with a bit of foam.

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!

When in Ireland....

When in Ireland….

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!

My adoration for Irish potato chips might explain why I gained five pounds in Ireland.

My adoration for Irish potato chips might explain why I gained five pounds in 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. 

Lasagna in Ireland...with chips.

Lasagna in Ireland…with chips.

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.

Cheese plate in Ireland, including a Guinness-veined cheese and Cashel Blue. Oh yes!

Cheese plate in Ireland, including a Guinness-veined cheese and Cashel Blue. Oh yes!

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.

A cute little cafe in a small town on the way from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher.

A cute little cafe in a small town on the way from Galway to the Cliffs of Moher.

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.

Roast Joint of the Day: Pork. Filling, tasty, traditional.

Roast Joint of the Day: Pork. Filling, tasty, traditional, and great value.

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.

With green beans, tomatoes, hard-cooked eggs, and potatoes, this was a little like a Salade Niçoise...but with wonderfully Irish bacon instead of tuna.

With green beans, tomatoes, hard-cooked eggs, and potatoes, this was a little like a Salade Niçoise…but with wonderfully Irish bacon instead of tuna.

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.

Pulled duck spring rolls, with fresh figs.

Pulled duck spring rolls, with fresh figs.

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:

Not a great shot, but it was a beautiful pork belly dish at the Killarny River Court Restaurant

Not a great shot, but it was a beautiful pork belly dish at the Killarny River Court Restaurant.

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.

UPDATE: I LOVE SOCIAL MEDIA! The Malt House–all the way over there in Galway–saw my posting and tweeted this photo of that fabulous Irish platter. Here it is: It was just so lovely..and GENUINE!!

The Best of Irish Platter at the Malt House in Ireland

The Best of Irish Platter at the Malt House in Ireland. I loved this thing. Especially the lamb prosciutto at the 9:00 position.

All photos taken by me (or Dave), except the Full Irish Breakfast, taken by JaredFrazer via Flickr and the Best of Irish Platter kindly shared with me by The Malt House in Galway.

PS: So, how am I going to take off those five “Irish Potato Pounds”? With my French Salads Diet, of course!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Facebook–I often post about traveling and eating (and drinking) well! I’m at: Chez Bonne Femme.

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11 comments to 10 Great Things to Know About Irish Food

  • Great post. Love the burn-your-fingers plate. Chef John says the best way to say you don’t care is to serve hot food on a cold plate. Since then I always warm my plates.

    I would love to try some Irish cheese and butter. Oh heck, the potatoes too.

    Madonna

  • Indeed, hot food on a cold plate is the sign of a rank amateur. Drives me crazy!

    And yes, eat the potatoes!

    XXOO

  • sherri

    I liked the post about the food. Did not know about the chips. Wish I could go someday .

  • I’m headed to Ireland for 2 weeks the end of this month. I’ll spend most of my time in Galway and along the southwest coast. Your post is SO timely!! Now I’m really excited about the food I’ll be eating as well as all the beautiful Celtic ruins and gorgeous scenery I’ll be seeing. Do I see an Irish cookbook in your future?? Thanks for sharing your food memories of Ireland.

    • Wini

      I adored Galway. Be sure to go out to Salthill, which has a lovely promenade (“the prom”) along Galway Bay. In fact, we stayed in Salthill, because it was easy to park the car out there and take the bus (the 405) into Galway center (about a 7-minute ride). Much less of a hassle than parking in Galway.

      Be sure to try the Malt House Restaurant.

      And enjoy! Let me know how you like it. I’d love to hear your experiences.

      • Peter Blyth

        FB posted this from one year ago..We are going to Eire and will stay in Salthill.. Will look for the Malt House while we are there.
        Any tips on what to pack for my wife Linda, we are touring with two friends for three weeks from September 15th?

        • Wini

          You are going to love Salthill! There’s a great little pub that has live music there. It’s the pub that’s choc-a-bloc with bric-a-brac. I can’t think of its name right now, but it’s fabulous for music. There’s also a “small plates/tapas” kind of spot in Salthill, and again, I can’t remember its name. It’s very modern; it’s on the main street that runs perpendicular to the sea—you can’t miss it. But again, it’s fabulous.

          As for packing, the Irish are very casual–I always wore easygoing trousers (jeans/cargo pants) and never felt out of place. I loved having a heavy cotton sweater–wool was too heavy for summer, but cotton was just right. And a nice, substantial scarf for the neck–it’s a great layering device that keeps you warm. I never wore a scarf as much as I did in Ireland.

          Salthill is very windy (or at least it was when I was there in July). But it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I just loved it.

  • Christine

    Really enjoyed reading this, Wini. The Irish culinary scene sure seems to have come a looooong way since I was there many moons ago!

  • Carla

    Wini, so glad you enjoyed the food in Ireland. We went for our honeymoon 14 years ago and the food was a revelation. I’d been to the Great Britain before so my expectations were rather modest. I have a few things to add to your list: brown soda bread (especially when made into sandwiches with coleslaw); real Irish stew which is a rather delicate broth based dish compared to the heavy flour/gravy version usually served in North America; apple pudding desserts (crumbles and such) with warm custard, and homemade soup. We ate the most delicious homemade soup for lunch everyday at little cafes — some very similar to the French potato/vegetable soup usually served with a chunk of brown bread slavered with creamy butter. Oh yes, and hazelnut yogurt. We had a few more memorable upscale meals and consulted the Blue Book to select our restaurants. I’ve since purchased some wonderful Irish cookbooks to recreate some of those delicious meals we enjoyed on our trip. I too came back with five extra pounds but it was well worth it.

  • Peter

    We’ve enjoyed ’em all this fortnight but what about Seafiood Chowder, smoked salmon, hot whiskey?

    • Wini

      So glad you enjoyed it all! But hot whiskey was not a thing I had in the summer….sounds good about now, though. Seafood chowder was probably also out of season when I visited in July. But Smoked Salmon? Somehow I missed it. My bad!

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