Eating & Drinking in Ireland
Lamb stew with soda bread.
Although Ireland’s cuisine is not globally celebrated, perhaps because of its similarity to that of the neighbouring island, Irish cooks can avail of excellent meat, fish, poultry, game and delicious fresh vegetables to combine in a surprising number of tasty dishes. See Irish Food & Drink.
Irish meals vary in name and contents, depending on locality / region / occupation / household / social class / lifestyle etc.
Breakfast usually involves bread / toast, butter, jam and / or orange marmalade, tea or coffee, milk and / or orange juice.
Most people in Ireland have cereal with milk and / or yoghurt. Boiled eggs are also very popular.
Traditional Irish breakfast
A full Traditional Irish breakfast is a big meal; those who partake won’t really need to eat again until the evening. On the other hand, it needn’t be eaten in the morning, as it is often served all day, especially in cheap cafés.
- It is quite like a full cooked breakfast in any English-speaking country, so you can expect to get fried or scrambled eggs and fried or grilled bacon, sausages and black (blood) pudding, plus fried tomato, mushrooms, potato cakes or hash browns and toast.
- What makes it Irish is the inclusion of white pudding, a version of black pudding without the blood, somehat akin to Scottish haggis. The best black and white puddings are said to come from Clonakilty in County Cork.
- Chips, baked beans in tomato sauce and / or pork / lamb chops, regarded as British desecrations, are nonetheless popular additions.
- A full Ulster Fry also includes “farls”, delicious fried soda bread. The nickname for this breakfast is “heart attack on a plate”!
A “Continental Breakfast” usually comprises coffee and a croissant.
A traditional “Big House” breakfast could involve liver & kidneys or kedgeree (Anglo-Indian dish of kippers with rice, raisins, hard-boiled eggs and – sometimes – cream).
Kippers are no longer widely consumed, but smoked fish are often served in hotels for the benefit of northern European guests.
Porridge used to be a common winter breakfast dish, best eaten with salt and butter (but nowadays usually replaced by a product called Ready Brek with sugar).
North American breakfast dishes such as pancakes with maple syrup / “biscuits with gravy” / hominy grits etc., delicious though they may be, are virtually unknown in Ireland.
Brunch, an American invention combining breakfast and lunch, is popular in some circles, especially at weekends. It basically comprises a big late breakfast served with salads, snacks and alcoholic drinks, e.g. Buck’s Fizz (champagne with orange juice). Popular alternative brunch dishes include Eggs Benedict (with Hollandaise sauce) or Florentine (with spinach), smoked salmon / trout.
Midday & Evening Meals: Lunch vs. Dinner
Lunch, a word commonly used to refer to the midday repast, is regarded in some circles as a relatively light meal, perhaps just soup and a sandwich or a salad. It should not be confused with the almost archaic word “luncheon”, which referred to a formal event.
Dinner usually refers to the main meal of the day or evening, and traditionally comprises soup or salad – often skipped – followed by a dish of meat, chicken or fish (especially on Fridays), potatoes and one or two vegetables, followed by dessert. Some people have their dinner in the middle of the day, others in the evening. The usual accompaniment is water or tea, although wine has become very popular with evening meals.
The Sunday Roast is rather splendid family Dinner tradition that can involve beef, lamb, pork or chicken, usually eaten in the early afternoon. Christmas Dinner is an elaborate variation on the same theme, featuring turkey or goose.
Tea is not only a beverage that can be drunk at an time of day (but, contrary to common Continental perception, hardly ever nowadays at 17:00!), it is also the name of a meal. In this sense, it usually refers to a family / children’s early evening meal, eaten around 18:00, with e.g. sausages or fish fingers and chips, tea, bread and butter, sometimes called High Tea in England. In posh circles, Afternoon Tea, eaten around 16:00, is a relatively formal snack with dainty sandwiches and cakes.
Supper: In many families, the adults and older children have a meal at 19:30 (or later for city sophisticates), which some call Dinner and others call Supper. It is usually taken instead of, and is a bit more sophisticated than Tea, and may involve one, two, three or even more courses, often accompanied with wine or beer.
Supper in some households refers to bedtime milk/ cocoa / Horlicks and biscuits / toast with Marmite.
Snacks are widely consumed to supplement or replace meals, and people can be seen at all times of day eating anything from crisps, peanuts or chocolate bars to take-away sandwiches / baguettes / wraps, hot dogs, burgers, kebabs, stuffed baked potatoes, pizzas or fish and chips.
Wine, beer, whiskey etc. can only be bought in an “Off-Licence”, i.e. a shop licensed to sell alcohol for consumption “off the premises”. These are often attached to pubs and supermarkets.
Until quite recently, Irish food was only eaten at home or at gala dinners in hotels, and going out for a meal was regarded as quite exotic. As a result, most restaurants feature foreign cuisine.
Resort hotels often provide good home cooking, while those catering mainly for commercial travellers tend to be very mediocre.
Top class Irish restaurants can be found scattered around the country, often in isolated locations. Some only open in the evenings. You can eat fantastic country-house style meals prepared according to traditional recipes, or partake of imaginative creations worthy of serious attention from the Michelin guide. However, most such restaurants are not cheap.
Many expensive restaurants are of French inspiration. Price does not always reflect quality.
Self-service buffets are on offer in some hotels and pubs, but are not usually very inspiring.
“Carveries” are a variation on the same theme, with uniformed chefs slicing joints of meat before your very eyes! These are often rather good.
American style eateries, steakhouses, diners, grills and pizzerias are usually OK.
Vegetarian options are available in almost all restaurants as a matter of course.
- “Ethnic” restaurants (other than Chinese) are rare outside the cities, but can be excellent.
- Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous, and some are very good indeed.
- Indian / Pakistani restaurants are not as common in the Republic as in the UK, but tend to be good.
- Thai restaurants are currently very fashionable, as are Japanese eateries, especially those serving sushi etc.
- Spanish Tapas have caught on in a big way, although they are not quite as good as Spain’s.
- “Fusion” cooking has become very popular.
Avoid pretentious Italian pasta joints and second-rate kiddies’ pizza / burger palaces.
Most fast food joints are awful, but exceptions include traditional Fish’n’ Chip shops and “greasy spoon” cafés, often run by families of Italian extraction (and of course Dublin’s famous Burdock’s). Avoid most other “take-aways” , particularly vans, and especially those selling kebabs.
“Café” can mean almost anything, ranging from old-fashioned coffee houses to “greasy spoon” eateries – the latter serve reasonably cheap, unwholesome but often delicious meals. It’s hard to beat a good Mixed Grill, which should resemble a full Irish Breakfast without the egg and with the addition of a steak or pork chop, liver, baked beans and chips, served with the inevitable tea, bread and butter, and followed by a Knickerbocker Glory!
Teahouses can be very pleasant, especially those with gardens. They usually have delicious home-made soda bread, scones and cakes.
Picnic hampers are supplied by good hotels and guest houses. Some are also prepared to cook any (reasonable / legal) fish caught / game shot by guests.