In recent years, Irish cuisine has undergone a bit of a renaissance as chefs across the nation—from Belfast to Cork and Dublin to Galway—experiment with new takes on traditional Irish dishes. It’s an era of exciting culinary innovation that, when combined with the island nation’s well-stocked seas and shores, is the stuff of every food-loving traveler’s dreams.
Ireland’s wealth of farm-fresh and sea-to-table ingredients can be attributed to the country’s temperate climate and its 360-degree access to the salty North Atlantic Ocean. While delicacies, such as prawns, oysters and scallops, are harvested from the sea, estate venison; grass-fed, free-range beef; prized Comber potatoes and other locally-produced agricultural items are reared and raised across the country’s far-reaching farmlands.
This breadth of ingredients then finds its way into the kitchens of Ireland’s humble pubs and Michelin-star restaurants to be prepared in typical, yet modern, Irish fashion: hearty, void of too much seasoning or spice and entirely satisfying. Think slow-cooked roasts, stews, delectable shellfish, grass-fed beef, sausage, potatoes, cabbage, homemade cheese and dense breads slathered with homemade butter.
With its astounding freshness and originality, Ireland’s gastronomy scene is sure to leave lasting memories on your taste buds.
The Dining Experience in Ireland
The dining experience in Ireland ranges from humble gastropubs in the Irish countryside to Michelin-rated fine dining in the capital. Wherever you choose to eat, however, expect to find a menu brimming with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, where sustainability and organic fare are the standard.
The main meal of the day for locals is dinner, meaning making reservations is a good idea, especially if you’re planning to dine during peak Irish dinner hours (from 8:00 p.m. onward). Lunch often consists of a bowl of hot soup alongside freshly baked soda bread, but a heartier lunch menu can be found at the local pubs, where typical Irish plates are served around the clock.
Backroads Pro Tip
Dining out in Ireland can be quite expensive. To save a few euros, ask if the restaurant does a set-price menu or if it offers any early-bird specials. Alternatively, pubs are always a good option for a tasty meal at a reasonable price.
Traditional Irish Dishes
No matter where you are in Ireland, make sure to try these quintessential Irish delicacies:
- Irish Stew - Found on pub menus all over Ireland, stew is one of the most traditional Irish foods you could try. A classic Irish stew is made with onions, potatoes and lamb, but you’ll find beef stews are popular as well.
- Irish Soda Bread - Eaten any time of day, Irish soda bread is a staple on tables throughout the country. Slather it with butter and marmalade for breakfast, or eat it alongside a steaming bowl of Irish stew at lunch. It’s versatile and said to be healthier than most other breads. For the best bite, stick to bakery versions or those from artisan restaurants where it’s cooked on-site.
- Colcannon and Champ - Colcannon and champ are separate dishes with one differentiator. When the hearty mash of potatoes and green onions includes cabbage, it’s called “colcannon.” Without cabbage, it’s called “champ.” Both versions are year-round staples in Ireland, but the best colcannon and champ can be found during the autumn and winter months when cabbage is in season.
- Black and White Pudding - Black pudding is a combination of pork meat, blood and fat mixed with barley, suet and oatmeal. White pudding is all those ingredients minus the blood. When Irish breakfast tradition is being followed, you’ll find a slice of both on your plate in the morning.
Regional Foods & Specialties
There are a couple of regional Irish specialties to track down when in Waterford and western Ireland. Unsurprisingly, two of them are breakfast foods. (Breakfast is a meal the Irish have irrefutably figured out!) Here are some regional specialties you absolutely can’t miss in Ireland:
- Waterford Blaa - Legally, blaa can only be called such if it’s made in County Waterford. What is blaa? It’s a doughy, white bread bun coated in flour, and it’s best enjoyed as a sandwich with a smear of Irish butter and ham or some red lead (a luncheon sausage) as the filling.
- Boxty - A western Irish dish mostly found in the counties of Leitrim and Cavan, boxty is essentially a potato pancake. It’s the perfect addition to any full Irish breakfast plate. Enjoy it as the locals do by topping it with a good portion of butter.
- Shellfish - Coming into season around September, the west coast’s shellfish—from Galway’s plump oysters to Connemara’s clams to Dublin Bay prawns—are absolutely delectable. Shellfish season is definitely something to celebrate in Ireland, and in fact, they do! Festivals along the coast take place throughout most of September.
Irish Dining Terms: Glossary
Words to Know on the Menu
- Pan: Bread
- Bangers and mash: Sausages and mashed potatoes
- Chips: French fries
- Rashers: Irish bacon made from a pig’s back
Words to Know When Dining Out
While English is the common language in Ireland, more than a few local terms will likely be new to your ears. Here’s a primer on some of the more popular Irish dining (and drinking) slang terms:
- Cheers: Sláinte
- Dessert: Afters
- Beer or Alcohol: Gargle
- Mashed Potatoes: Pandy
- Potatoes: Poppies
- Tea: Scald
- Drinks (especially alcoholic drinks): Scoops
As a rule, plan to tip 10 percent at restaurants where you received good service and up to 15 percent at higher-end locations. As a rule, though, always check your bill to see if a service charge was already included. It’ll usually be listed just before the bill total. As for tipping at the pub, bartenders don’t expect tips, but, of course, they always welcome them.
The Irish value hospitality. This often translates to generous portions, spontaneous conversations with those dining (or drinking) next to you and turn-taking when buying the next round of Guinness at the pub. It’s best to keep your phone, or any other distraction, tucked away and to embrace the friendly and social atmosphere that is dining out in Ireland.
Want to Know More about Ireland?
Read the full “Ireland: Travel Guide Overview”.
What is Backroads
Established in 1979, Backroads is a pioneer in active, immersive and off-the-beaten-path travel. Now operating adventure tours in over 50 countries, our passion for discovery and our desire to experience the world in original ways continue to inspire our pursuit of new adventures. We hope this guide will be enlightening to you as you plan your next great Ireland adventure!