Heading to the Emerald Isle and wondering what to eat in Ireland? Or adding more and more items to your Irish foods list – foods to try, foods to bring back – on your travel planning notebook? Option number two sounds very much like me when I was planning my trip to Ireland! I strongly consider the local cuisine as one of the main attractions of a destination so even for my Ireland trip I did have my own Irish food bucket list. My Irish foods list was full of classics and Ireland delivered just what I was looking for.
It goes without saying that I very much enjoyed the food in Ireland. So much that I was eager to share this post on my blog as a guide on what to eat in Ireland to truly appreciate the local cuisine as a visitor. We spent one week road tripping the whole island and I had a total ball eating my way around Ireland. Many people immediately think of potatoes when asked to mention one Irish food. Potatoes are indeed a huge staple and a delicious side to many meals, but there’s more to Irish food than just potatoes. Classic Irish cuisine is pretty big on meat, too. Of course, many eateries offer vegetarian alternatives and it is possible to enjoy food in Ireland as a vegetarian. Still, if you want to do a proper exploration of classic Irish cuisine, as a vegetarian you may have to skip a few meals.
What to eat in Ireland beyond potatoes, then? Meat, fish, dairy are the foods that first come to mind thinking of my Ireland road trip. Irish soda bread was a total discovery and I loved it paired with some delicious Irish butter. Drinks are no less famous as the Emerald Isle is a famed producer of some of Europe’s finest beers. Not to mention Irish whiskey, which was actually one of the main reasons we visited Ireland. Our road trip included stops at three world-famous Irish whiskey distilleries, and we treated ourselves to samples at all of them.
Read more: touring Irish whiskey distilleries in Ireland.
What to eat in Ireland
My Irish food bucket list was pretty basic. There’s only a certain amount of meals you can have during the course of a week and I needed to stick to that. Well of course you can always choose to forget it and bring back a few pounds (of your own flesh, I mean) but that was not my intent. Besides, too often restaurant meals are something I’m happy to skip in favour of much cheaper self-made lunches when I travel. I know I miss out, but budget is a key factor when on the road. In Ireland I decided to make an exception and ate out most of the time.
Since I’m a budget eater, I did not include in my itinerary any expensive restaurants. We visited Ireland on the occasion of our 5th anniversary, but the whole trip was a treat and we didn’t need a Michelin starred restaurant to make our Irish holiday more special. What’s great in Ireland is that most pubs serve traditional food and that is where we got most of our eating done. We did have a couple of more refined dining experiences in Northern Ireland when we treated ourselves to afternoon tea and to an à la carte dinner. Otherwise, we mostly ate at gastropubs.
Fish and chips on the West coast
My Irish food adventure begins in a pub of the beautiful city of Galway. The most famous city on the Atlantic coast, Galway may as well be classified as the most beautiful as it is as pretty as everyone describes it. It was in Galway where we chose to sample one of the most famous delicacies of the British Isles: fish n’ chips! After exploring the colourful downtown we checked into a pub for dinner. We ordered a couple of pints of Guinness beer and the house fish and chips, that came with tartare sauce and minted pea mash.
We barely spent a half day in Galway but the city totally captivated me. Trying to see all of Ireland in one week we were forced to cut some destinations off. One of them were the Aran islands, we just didn’t have the time to get on a ferry and explore those. So we made our stop in Galway pretty quick, with the promise to come back and find enough time to also visit the beautiful Aran. And spend some more time in beautiful Galway. And have some more of that ridiculously good fish and chips!
Where: Busker Brownes gastropub, Galway.
In search of red ale beef stew
With beef accounting for 21% of Ireland’s food and drink export, Ireland is the largest exporter of beef in Europe (source). I often cook Irish beef myself, as it is quite common to find in supermarkets in Sweden. Animal husbandry and beef production in Ireland is serious business, so I was eager to taste some beef while there. Think Ireland and food and drink exports and the other item that might come into your mind is beer. Beef stewed in beer seems quite a logical combination for a signature dish in the Irish culinary tradition.
I had sampled Guinness beef stew in Dublin on my first trip to Ireland many years before and I was eager to have it again. Strangely enough, for a good couple of days in a row I ended up in restaurants that did not have it on their menu. The reason was in the fact that they served the traditional Irish stew, made with lamb and no beer (a specialty that did not make it to my personal Irish food bucket list as I’m not the biggest fan of lamb). Finally, after a few days, I was able to find red ale beef stew at a pub in Tullamore. We went into this pub hungry as wolves right after a tasting class at the Tullamore DEW distillery. Guess what, that night the stew I wanted was offered as special of the day. It felt like a very Irish thing to experience when I say that the proverbial luck of the Irish was bestowed on me!
Where: Tanyard Lane, Tullamore.
Burger and chips, aka more beef and more potatoes please
When researching what to eat in Ireland beef will be high on your list. So why not try it in a favourite form of mine: burger! Hamburgers are one of those foods that possess a very wide spectrum ranging from oily patties in unimpressing buns to top-notch gourmet combinations of meat, vegetables and sauces. It’s all in the quality of the ingredients, the proper way of cooking the meat and thoughtful blending of the flavours. In my life I was lucky to have a few memorable burger experiences and one of the best ones was in Ireland. For once we did not eat at a pub, but went for a place that our host recommended.
The Greenroom is a wine bar and café adjacent to Sage restaurant in Midleton. A more informal spinoff to the parent restaurant, it shares the same ethos to source the vast majority of the ingredients from within 12 miles. There I had one of the best burgers of my life, The Midletanna: a 6oz beef patty, Jameson BBQ sauce (of course!), caramelized onions and cheddar, served with a side of potatoes, a dip and a delicious salad. My boyfriend had The Cure, a burger that features among its ingredients Sage’s famous black pudding. He was as impressed with his dish as I was with mine.
Where: The Greenroom, Midleton.
Irish Coffee, what else?
If you’re a coffee lover Irish coffee should be high on your Irish food bucket list. At the beginning of this post I wrote that Ireland is, among other things, a producer of some fantastic dairy. All through the trip I kept buying gallons of milk and enjoyed all the butter that was served with the bread. Now imagine how wonderful cream tastes in such a big dairy country. Imagine that cream topping a coffee powered up with a splash of Irish whiskey. Can’t get any sweeter. To fulfil my Irish coffee dream I chose the best place where I could have it – a whiskey distillery.
My Irish food bucket list had it as to have Irish coffee at the Jameson distillery. Many will argue that Jameson is the Irish whiskey you want to use in Irish coffee. Unfortunately, since we had booked the last tasting class of the day at the distillery, when we arrived the café had already closed. So if you’re planning on doing the same, don’t make this mistake and check the opening hours of all the facilities within the Jameson Experience visitor centre. Oh well, the Jameson distillery was not the only distillery we visited, so I had a chance to enjoy my Irish coffee the following day at the Tullamore DEW visitor centre. To be honest, I really loved my Irish coffee with Tullamore DEW.
Where: Tullamore DEW visitor centre, Tullamore.
The perfect pint. Nothing more.
Planning your trip you need to consider what to eat in Ireland but also what to drink. Irish beer is glorious and there are so many to choose from. I have a favourite and I feel so unoriginal but Guinness just had to feature in my Irish food bucket list. All through our Irish road trip I had many a chance to appreciate the world-famous stout, Ireland’s most famous brand. I’ve been a huge fan of Guinness ever since I was a teenager and it is a favourite of mine especially to accompany fish dishes. I love its ebony colour, the milky foam that forms on the top and its coffee aftertaste. And I love seeing how it sets in the glass when it’s freshly poured, how the air rises to the top to create the thick foam.
We did not visit the Guinness brewery in Dublin, but it’s certainly something I wish to do next time. Once again, Dublin city would probably deserve a whole week alone and we spent that amount of time across the whole country. I like to say that it’s always good to leave behind a reason to come back. I want to go back to Ireland to have the time to properly explore Galway and the Aran islands. And the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Still, even missing out on one of the coolest experiences you can have in Ireland (everybody that has done the tour of the Guinness brewery says that), we did honour the famous Dublin brew all across the country. Guinness beer is indeed the perfect drink to Irish food.
Where: all over Ireland. Seriously.
Irish Breakfast: starting the day like a local
What to eat in Ireland if not a celebrated classic like Irish breakfast? The breakfast fry is a national institution and of course it could not go amiss on my Irish food bucket list. Since we started our trip in Northern Ireland, in Belfast I treated myself to a nice Ulster Fry. I obviously wanted to also try a nice breakfast fry in Dublin so that’s why I checked into Merchants Arch on the morning of my only day in Dublin. A charming pub located by the famous Ha’penny Bridge, the Merchants Arch has a large selection of tap beer. It was too early for a brew for us to appreciate the bar’s offer, but we went in with a big appetite for a proper fry. A full Irish breakfast features eggs, bacon, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, tomato, mushrooms and beans.
You know when you are reading a nice post on a food blog and suddenly you meet the words “I didn’t photograph the food this time because I was too eager to eat”. Yeah, I hate that, too. Every time I think: “Hey! That’s jour job! Show us the food!”. Well, eager eaters, humbly let me in to your club. While in Dublin I did the same thing. I was just too eager and as soon as the waitress lay the plate in front of me I dug in like there’s no tomorrow. So yeah, I’ve been guiding you through some wonders of the Irish cuisine, showing you what to eat in Ireland to enjoy a taste of the traditional local food, and I have no pictures of one of the key dishes of the Irish cuisine. Sorry.
Here’s the story. Halfway through the meal, happily munching on a mouthful of sausage and mushrooms, here’s a tiny thought taking shape in my brain. The guilty food blogger thought: I didn’t photograph the food!!! My then boyfriend (now husband) saw the guilt on my face and immediately knew what was going on in my head.
“It’s our last day in Ireland, just enjoy it!”, he said.
He was right. I just enjoyed it. Not that I did not enjoy all the other meals I had. But even food bloggers sometimes just want to dig in. So here’s to all the guilty food bloggers turned eager eaters. I hope you enjoyed my gastronomic tour of Ireland and my Irish food bucket list helped you figure out what to eat in Ireland on your next trip.