Italy has pasta, Spain paella, America has burgers and France has escargot. So what about Ireland?
Aside from Irish stew (which has always been a hit), our island’s food hasn't exactly been famous throughout the world. Now, though, the island’s smartest eateries and best chefs are rediscovering Ireland’s culinary heritage, with respected artisan producers turning out everything from award-winning black pudding (Kanturks) to acclaimed raw milk cheese (Durrus).
The result? Our produce is hitting the shelves in some of the world’s most salubrious delis and department stores (Fortnum & Mason in London; Dean & Delucca in New York), and a wave of Irish chefs are reawakening traditional recipes.
“In recent years there has been a renaissance on the Irish food scene,” famous Irish chef Darina Allen told the Irish Independent newspaper. “Irish chefs have become more adventurous and many have a greater appreciation of quality Irish produce, giving them the confidence to serve Irish food proudly.”
Foods that have been ignored for years are being revived and served up in hip cafés and restaurants all over the island, with regional specialities.
You can try a "blaa" (a soft white roll) in Waterford; tuck into an Ulster fry for breakfast in Belfast; snack on dulse (salty seaweed) in coastal areas; or discover your adventurous side with some fried Lough Neagh eel. Then there’s soda bread, potato farls, Irish stew, crab claws and seafood chowder. And that’s not forgetting the potato…
“People sometimes make fun of the fact that we are still so obsessed with the potato,” says chef Liz Moore, formerly of Belle Isle Cookery School in Fermanagh. “But look at the amount of amazing dishes that are derived from it: champ (oniony, buttery, pure comfort food), fadge (potato cakes), boxty, colcannon and more. There are so many versions of soda and wheaten breads that cooks have written volumes of cookery books about it."
Pop into any café, restaurant or pub and you’ll still see traditional Irish dishes on the menu, from a side of rich, treacly soda bread to indulgently buttery crab claws, to newly cool bacon and cabbage. Tradition is alive and well throughout the island, and in a world where food trends are becoming homogenous, it’s good to know that you can kick back and taste Ireland’s authenticity without any effort at all.
Want to sample traditional Irish food? Here's a few to get you started
Gallagher’s Boxty House, 20/21 Temple Bar, Dublin 2
Specialising in traditional potato pancakes or “boxty”, Gallagher’s also serves up classic Irish dishes including seafood chowder, spiced beef, bacon and colcannon, and the Dublin classic coddle.
Goosers, Killalloe, County Clare
Enjoy Atlantic mussels, Irish stew, and beef and Guinness casserole in a traditional riverside thatched-roofed pub.
An Súgán, Clonakilty, County Cork
Local is the name of the game at this celebrated pub, with delicious seafood chowder, a West Cork artisan cheese and meat plate, and Bantry Bay mussels.
The Plough Inn, Hillsborough, County Down
Choose from the public bar or the more up-market restaurant, this place has lots of international dishes with some classic Irish favourites thrown in, such as dry-cured bacon chop with curly kale colcannon.
Crown Bar, 46 Great Victoria Street, Belfast BT2 7BA
Victorian elegance mixed with classic pub food makes this city centre icon an enduring favourite. Enjoy black pudding potato cake, ham and cabbage, sausage and champ, and pies to beat the band.