What to eat when in Ireland
Updated: Oct 10
I wonder, does every traveler actually plan what food to eat when traveling? Do they plan their trip around food? Or they just eat whatever they crave at that moment wherever they are? I know food is an attraction by itself. Those delicious, mouth-watering and decadent photos posted on social media make you salivate don’t they? They give you ideas and the next thing you know you are in a different place, eating the same food someone has posted on line.
On our recent travel to Ireland and Scotland we were at the mercy of restaurants and B&B’s. Ireland and Scotland have similarities in food - being neighboring countries it was not a surprise. Same thing when we traveled in Portugal and Spain. But this article is about food in Ireland. Everybody knows corned beef and cabbage, bangers and mash or Irish stew, right? But there are other foods to try in Ireland other than the well known Irish foods cooked during St. Patrick's Day.
Below are some of the best foods we had while exploring Ireland. I will not overwhelm you with photos but CAUTION! Whatever is in here will make you drool. They sure makes me hungry. GOOD EATS!
FULL IRISH BREAKFAST
I’ll start with the Full Irish Breakfast, also known as "fried breakfast" or "Ulster fry". I wonder if the locals eat this every day, but we surely ate this breakfast almost every day while exploring Ireland. But delicious as it is, it can get old, no to mention the result it will have on your weight, if not your system. But of course you don't have to eat the same breakfast every time. After you had your first initiation of what the Full Irish Breakfast is about, you can have your own combinations, as well as the amount. There are other lighter and healthier choices too.
Each B&B (hotels have buffets) we stayed in had a different variation of Full Irish Breakfast, but this is the typical combination: an egg of two (fried or scrambled) and sausage. Then bacon (back rashers/Irish bacon not the American style), a piece each of black pudding (pork meat, fat and blood mixed with barley, suet and oatmeal) and white pudding (same recipe but without blood). Plus mushrooms, baked beans, grilled tomato and potato or fried bread which is fried in oil or butter, lard or bacon drippings - gosh! Don't think about the fats clogging your arteries when you eat this bread - just enjoy it.
Also, included with this enormous fare is white or brown toast with jam or marmalade, served together with tea or coffee while you wait. One article said it is a "heart attack on a platter"; indeed it is, but quite sustaining especially when you have a whole day of exploring. You can actually skip lunch, which we did, most of the time. We treated it like brunch, had an afternoon tea, then we splurged on dinner.
If you get tired of the Full Irish Breakfast, you can have scrambled eggs served with thin slices of smoked salmon. A good combination I tell you. We love it and actually have it sometimes for breakfast at home.
Pancakes are also one of the breakfast choices. I did try it one time for a change, but the landlady probably thought it’s not enough breakfast for me, so she added a couple of bacon rashers, LOL! She was such a sweetheart. Well, sweet and salty always goes together doesn’t it? Can’t complain.
If you want an even lighter breakfast, hotels serve oats. It is the Irish staple food after all, well until the 17th century. The locals eat it with salt and of course, butter.
If we eat a light breakfast then we eat lunch, a light lunch that is. Soup and brown bread and sandwich panini and chips, good enough to sustain you until dinner - if not, go have an afternoon tea. We had this lunch to accompany the free beer provided while visiting the Guinness brewery museum in Dublin.
What is brown bread?
This is different than Irish Soda Bread. If you haven't had brown bread, it is chewy and nutty. In Ireland you will get brown bread with your soup, most particularly the seafood chowder. Restaurants sometimes give it to you as a pre-dinner snack while you wait for your meal. It is good spread with butter. Making this bread is on my list of foods to make during winter time.
AFTERNOON TEA & SNACKS
Europeans like their afternoon tea, and in Ireland the locals drink four to six cups a day? Traditionally they drink tea in the mornings, at 11:00 am, between 3-5 pm and 6:00 pm, which is called the "High Tea". They drink tea with milk and actually have a traditional way of making it. Does that include the herbal teas? Anyways, I like my tea plain and unsweetened, herbal or not.
Afternoon tea is not only accompanied by sweet pastries and cakes but also with savories such as little sandwiches. Hermann and I treat afternoon tea like an after-dinner dessert - that way we can skip having dessert after our meal, well, some of the time. Tea and cake or scones are very common if you want an easy afternoon fix. But if you want something fancy and have some time (and money) to spare, hotels and resorts offer them.
My husband's choice of “tea” is cappuccino - you don’t have to have tea, right? He acquired a liking for it when we traveled in Portugal and Spain. As for me, I acquired a taste for herbal teas. Enjoy the moment - afternoon tea is a good time to unwind after being on your feet most of the day. Also, you get to indulge when on vacation, all those carbs and sugar will burn off as you go about exploring the country. If not, worry about it later when you get home.
To lay off on sugar, try the smoked salmon, thinly sliced with brown bread and butter and salad on the side. We had it at a restaurant in the little town of Baltimore overlooking the ocean. Boy! If the thought of eating healthy will make you feel better then go for it. This is a good choice of snack for health-conscious buffs.
Craving for something savory for a snack? Try the calamari and potato fries, or fish and chips, which you can buy at a food truck - we found several in the town of Dingle. We tried the squid/calamari drizzled with vinegar; it was good but was loaded with fries with only a few pieces of squid.
For a really quick snack, try a gas station serving hot fast food. I tell you, you can't get any cheaper snack and be satisfied with it. The sausage roll was good! It was a good find. I didn't say it was healthy, but it will truly satisfy your tummy if you are craving for some "unhealthy" fast food.
GOURMET MEAL ON THE CHEAP?
Yes! They call it "Early Bird Dinner". Food is not really as expensive as we expected in Ireland, but you can actually eat a gourmet meal without paying too much. The "Early Bird Dinner" is to entice diners to come early to ease up the backlog in the kitchen - which happens when diners come all at the same time. They don’t want diners to wait for their food of course, not good for the business at all. Anyhow, eating early is not a problem to me or to Hermann since we like to eat early so that we can sleep and wake up early.
For carnivores: Do I need to say anything? Just look at the pictures and drool. Well, I should explain something, at least this lamb shank and salmon salad we had at the Wicklow Restaurant outside Wicklow Mountains National Park. This food was a good introduction to the many mouth-watering meals we had in Ireland.
If you haven't tried duck before, you should try it. I first had it in Germany and it was really good. In Ireland we had it in the town of Ennistymon, at Byrne's restaurant located along the Cullenagh River where water flows over the rocks creating a beautiful waterfall.
Another duck meal to try is at the China Sea Restaurant located in the town of Cobh. The roasted duck in garlic and black bean sauce is highly recommended. They serve it still boiling in a pot - you have to be careful not to burn your tongue.
FOR SEAFOOD LOVERS
When it comes to seafood you don’t have to look far, or go far. Pretty much everywhere in Ireland they serve good seafood. One that I liked very much was the seafood chowder. It was delicious and I ordered it whenever a restaurant had it. We took advantage eating seafood while in Ireland especially fish - salmon, hake, sea bream and sea bass, all good grilled or pan-fried. Fish was fresh though some meals could have used a little drizzle of something, but it was delicious all the same. Mussels were also good.
The “pub grub” is also an option for delicious dinner with a cheaper price. Most pubs offer great food, but menus are limited though the food is delicious and served really hot. If you are in Kilkenny, go to Kytelers Inn, their bangers and mash and Irish stew are the best. Also, the chicken wings at the South Pole Inn in Annascaul was a good appetizer for hungry travelers, like us, while waiting for the main meal.
As we all know, Ireland is known for their Guinness beer, but my husband, Hermann, found an equally good local beer called Murphy's in the port town of Cobh, though you can only find it in County Cork unlike Guinness, which is pretty much everywhere. Hermann was in his element while in Ireland, his "happy place" when it comes to beer. So, of course we had to visit the Guinness Storehouse (museum) which is really a cool thing to do when in Dublin.
Whisky has its own menu or list, which is longer than any wine or beer menu in Ireland. To the locals, it is the “water of life”; its meaning comes from the Gaelic word "uisce beatha". One thing they don't commonly serve in Ireland is cocktails (or even mocktails) and that was a surprise to us. Maybe in Dublin they do, but we didn't have a chance to find out.