When you think of eating in Ireland you probably think about fish & chips, a hearty stew, potatoes (in many forms), and a pint of Guinness. And all of these are so, so good.
But Irish food goes beyond the traditional items you see on St. Patrick's Day menus or featured in Irish pubs across the world.
According to Irish Food Champion, chef Padraic Og Gallagher, Irish cuisine is simply food made with Irish ingredients.
Eating in Ireland
One of the best parts of travel, at least in my opinion, is eating local.
Ireland, because it is an island, has been practicing ‘farm to table' as a way of life. Sure, you will find some imported items, but the very best Irish food is local – from just down the road, right out of the ocean, or even the chef's backyard polytunnel.
Forget what you've heard about bland Irish food. Chefs across Ireland – from pubs to top dollar restaurants – are creating meals that will delight all of your senses.
Traditional Irish Foods to Try in Ireland
I'm a firm believer that you should try everything at least once if it's local. Even if it's something you have tried multiple times before in other places. (I can't tell you how many times I've tried salmon hoping that, one day, I will like it.)
Full Irish Breakfast
Known as the ‘Full Irish' in the Republic and the ‘Ulster Fry' in the North, this is a breakfast that will see you through a full morning – and much of the afternoon – of touring.
The traditional Irish breakfast includes eggs, bacon rashers, bangers, black & white pudding (sausage slices), broiled tomato, fried potato or potato cake, beans, brown bread and toast (the Ulster Fry has soda bread and potato bread aka boxty) and plenty of strong black tea or coffee to wash it all down.
The ‘scariest' piece on this plate is the black pudding, ‘aka blood sausage'. Don't let the name put you off – it's delicious!
Fishing villages dot the Irish coast. And every morning those fishing boats go out you know they are returning with a fresh catch that will appear in the local markets and on restaurant menus that afternoon.
Galway and Sligo are known for their oysters. Dublin Bay is famous for prawns. Smoked Atlantic salmon from the North and west. Clams are raised in Connemara. And you'll find mussels on pub menus in every coastal village. Trout, monkfish, cod…
And you really can't visit Ireland without at least one meal of fish & chips.
All the potatoes
How many ways can you use a potato? The humble spud was the staple of Irish diets in the mid 19th century (the potato blight leading to the Great Hunger), and you'll still find it served with every meal in multiple forms (often multiple times in a single meal), across Ireland.
A simple mashed potato becomes more complex Colcannon (mashed potatoes with chopped cabbage or kale) or Champ (mashed potatoes with chopped nettle or scallions). Roasted potatoes appear with breakfast or dinner. Cut into chips (fries) or crisps (potato chips). Baked into farls (potato bread).
A ‘Tayto sandwich' is a top snack in Ireland.
Yet another way to us the potato. Boxty is a potato pancake that uses both raw shredded potatoes and mashed potatoes. Pan fried boxty can be served beside meats or stews at dinner, with eggs & sausage for breakfast, and even makes a lovely afternoon snack when topped with fresh jam.
Traditional Irish breads are heavy as they don't use yeast to rise, instead relying on the chemical reaction created by the mixing of buttermilk and baking soda.
Irish soda bread is sweeter and a bit dryer, often pebbled with raisins or sultanas, and is made using white flour.
Wheaten bread, also called brown bread, has a rich, nutty flavor and is made using whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and other whole grains.
The floury, soft roll can only be made by certain bakers – and only in Waterford. (Much like champagne can only come from the Champagne region of France).
If you want to sink your teeth into a blaa you need to grab it before mid-day as they are best when fresh and often sell out.
Soups & Stews
Nothing will warm you on a cold, wet day like a hearty Irish stew. Made with potatoes, root vegetables (including the potato), and lamb (sometimes beef), this slow simmered meal is best eaten in a pub near a fire.
Steak & Guinness pie, stewed beef with potatoes, carrot, peas, and onion, baked in Guinness gravy and enclosed in pastry is another warm and filling meal.
If you're looking for lighter fare opt for a cup of seafood chowder, a creamy soup with chunks of local seafood.
Dublin coddle is another stew-type meal filled with chopped sausages and bacon cooked with potatoes and onions in a beef stock.
Ireland's 40 shades of green contribute greatly to Irish food production. Sweet Irish grass makes Irish milk some of the best you'll ever taste. And the products made from that – the fresh cheeses, butters, yoghurts, and ice cream – are absolutely incredible. Buy local wherever you are.
Local beers, whiskeys, and ciders
Guinness definitely tastes better in Ireland. And if you enjoy a Magner's hard cider it is known as Bulmer's in Ireland. Jameson is behind every bar.
But as you're enjoying an evening in the local pub be sure to ask about regional beverages, as well. Ireland is filled with small breweries, distilleries, and cideries so try something you (probably won't) find anywhere else.
Best Places to Eat in Ireland
I'm not really sure how anyone decides what is the ‘best' when it comes to dining. Everyone has preferences, of course, but to say one is ‘the best' or even better than another… I'm not willing to say something like that.
That being said, I do have my own favorites that I love to return to when I can.
Murphy's Ice Cream – Dingle, Killarney, Dublin. Small batches made fresh in Dingle. Wonderful natural flavors – you'll want to try them all. I eat it daily when I can.
Gallagher's Boxty House – Dublin. This is where you go for boxty. Period.
Gus O'Connor's Pub – Doolin. Hands down the best fish & chips I've eaten. Ever.
Anthony's at the Doolin Inn – Doolin. The most memorable breakfast you'll have.
Hooked and Eala Bhan – Sligo. Innovative flavors created with hyper-local foods. Both restaurants are owned by Anthony Gray. Go. You won't be disappointed.
Avoca food hall – multiple locations across Ireland. Always fresh. A perfect spot to grab your picnic fare.
Food Experiences in Ireland
Try a food tour to experience multiple flavors of Ireland. These tours are led by a guide who will not only lead you to terrific restaurants or small food producers, but will also share history, culture, and amusing anecdotes as you explore.
Food Tours to Try:
Irish Food Trails – Dublin
Kinsale Culinary Tour (County Cork)
Dingle Tasting Tour (County Kerry)
The only thing better than sitting down to a fresh baked treat is baking your own – and then sitting down to enjoy it!
Baking Experiences to try:
Traditional Bread Making at Tracey's Farmhouse Kitchen (County Down)
Some of Ireland's top chefs operate accommodations that also provide cookery classes. Dunbrody House (Kevin Dundon), Ballymaloe House (Darina Allen) and Ballyknocken House (Catherine Fulvio) are just a few of note.
If you want to try a more relaxed option check out these shorter cooking experiences:
Seaweed Foraging & Cooking (County Waterford)
Skerries Market Tour & Cooking Class (Dublin)
Cook Traditional Irish Stew (Galway)
Irish Cooking Class on a Boat (County Leitrim)
Quite a few regions in Ireland have created food trails – highlighted food producers and restaurants that exemplify the taste of the local area.
Grocery shopping in Ireland is an experience I think everyone should have. It's just so much fun to try different foods and flavors!
Fun fact – you won't find grape flavored anything in Ireland – but you will find blackcurrant.
Also try the hot deli offerings – pasties, sausage rolls, and sandwiches…
Don't overlook local butcher shops and farmstands!
If you are in Cork be sure to visit the English Market and when in Belfast do not miss St. George's Market.
Tip: visiting a food market is the easiest way to eat cheap in Ireland!
Though the tradition of afternoon tea began in England the Irish have adopted it and made it their own.
You'll find afternoon tea experiences across Ireland at upscale hotels and small tea shops.
One of my favorite experiences is Vintage Tea Trips – afternoon tea served as you cruise through Dublin or Cork on a vintage double decker bus.
Eating in Ireland with Food Allergies
It's easier than you think to enjoy meals when you have food allergies in Ireland.
Ireland has been listing allergen information on prepackaged foods since 2005, and in 2014 allergen information was added to restaurant menus.
4 Tips for Eating in Ireland When You Have Food Allergies
- Most menus will have some sort of allergen notation.
- If you don't see allergen information listed ask your server if an allergen guide is available.
- Remember than many smaller restaurants and pubs change their menu daily based on what is fresh & local. Because most meals are made to order they can be altered to suit dietary needs- just ask!
- Ireland is a friendly place and people are happy to help. When in doubt about a meal or ingredient just ask!
Irish Food for Picky Eaters
Traveling with picky eaters? Don't worry – they won't go hungry!
You'll find plenty of favorites- from the humble French fry (chips on Irish menus) to chicken strips (gujons), hamburgers, and pasta.
But do encourage them to try bites of new things – sometimes just the experience of being in a new place can lead to an openness to try new things.
You'll find a few well known international brands in Ireland. When possible opt for a local restaurant. Instead of McDonald's try SuperMac's and opt for a local coffee roaster instead of Starbuck's.
Irish Recipes to Make at Home
Learn More About Irish Food
Podcast: Irish Food with Chef Jonathan Keane (episode 34)
Podcast: Irish Food with Food Champion Padraic Og Gallagher (episode 36)
Podcast: Hooked on Sligo with Restauranteur Anthony Gray (episode 66)
Podcast: Tracey's Farmhouse Kitchen in Down (episode 101)