The most important tip I can give you on Ireland local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Ireland, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in Ireland
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last ten years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers’ market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.
Cuisine Irish stew and a pint of Guinness Irish cuisine can charitably be described as hearty: virtually all traditional meals involve meat (especially lamb and pork), potatoes, and cabbage. Long cooking times are the norm and spices are limited to salt and pepper. Classic Irish dishes include: Boxty, potato pancakes Champ, mashed potatoes with spring onions Coddle, a stew of potatoes, pork sausages and bacon; a speciality of Dublin Colcannon, mashed potatoes and cabbage Irish breakfast, a famously filling spread of bacon, eggs, sausages and white and/or black pudding, a type of pork sausage made with blood (black) or without (white).
Irish Breakfast is often just refered to as a “fry”, and is usually available well past normal breakfast times in restaurants. Mixed Grill. Similar to the Irish Breakfast, but with added lamb chop, chips, and peas. Irish stew, a stew of potatoes and lamb (not beef!), with carrots, celery and onions in a watery broth full of flavour Bacon and Cabbage, popular and traditional meal in rural Ireland, found on many menus Seafood Pie, a traditional dish of chunky fish pieces topped with mashed potato and melted cheese Note that the first four listed dishes (and their names) vary regionally, and are not common throughout the entire country.
But the days when potatoes were the only thing on the menu are long past, and modern Irish cuisine emphasizes fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented (sometimes with some Merranean-style twists). Meat (especially lamb), seafood and dairy produce is mostly of an extremely high quality. Try some gorgeous soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself! Etiquette Only basic table manners are considered necessary when eating out, unless you’re with company that has a more specific definition of what is appropriate.
As a general rule, so long as you don’t make a show of yourself by disturbing other diners there’s little else to worry about. It’s common to see other customers using their mobile phones – this sometimes attracts the odd frown or two but goes largely ignored. If you do need to take a call, keep it short and try not to raise your voice. The only other issue to be concerned about is noise – a baby crying might be forgivable if it’s resolved fairly quickly, a contingent of adults laughing very loudly every couple of minutes or continuously talking out loud may attract negative attention.
However, these rules are largely ignored in fast-food restaurants, pubs and some more informal restaurants. Tipping Traditionally, tipping was never considered to be a necessity and was entirely optional. However, recently it has become common to tip up to 10% of the bill total. Some establishments will add a 10-15% service charge on top of the obligatory 13.5% Government VAT charge, especially for larger groups. If a service charge is levied, a tip would not normally be left, unless to reward exceptional service. If you were unhappy with the service, then you would normally leave no tip.
What to Drink in Ireland
Alcohol is very expensive in the republic. Pints of Guinness start at 3.60 per pint, can get as high as 7.50 in Dublin, and does not become less expensive until you reach Northern Ireland. While in the North, pints of Guinness instantly become cheaper by 1.50 euro on average. Ireland is the home of some of the world’s greatest whiskey, having a rich tradition going back hundreds if not thousands of years. With around fifty popular brands today these are exported around the world and symbolise everything that is pure about Ireland and where a visit to an Irish distillery is considered very worthwhile. Another one of Ireland’s most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer.
The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy’s and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy’s is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O’Hara’s in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork.
Ales such as Smithwick’s are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as ‘Magners Cider’) is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. Nearly all the pubs in Ireland are ‘free houses’, i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country. There are a small number of ‘microbreweries’ in Ireland, pubs which brew their own speciality drinks. They are a recent occurrence and can mostly be found in Dublin. Despite the (sometimes negative) reputation about Irish people loving their drink, most pubs in Ireland will have the same small collection of drinks.
All pubs (and nightclubs) in Ireland by law have to close by a certain time, depending on venue and the day. This varies from 11:30pm to 1:30am, to 3:30am. The owners will flash the lights (or less commonly sometimes ring a bell) to signal that it is almost ‘closing time’, this is ‘last orders’ and is your last chance to get a drink. When the pub (or club) wants to close, they will frequently turn on all the lights as a signal for people to finish up and leave. It is important to note that it is illegal to smoke in all pubs and indeed places of work in Ireland.
Many pubs and restaurants have provided ‘smoking areas’ outside their premises where space has allowed them to. The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don’t drink tea, you drink coffee!)
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.