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Irish Food Guide – 14 Traditional Dishes to Dine Like a Proud Local

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Irish food can most certainly be tried in Irish pubs found all over the world. But the cuisine at its richest and most humble has to be tried in Ireland itself.

Drawing on my time spent in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick, I’ve curated a selection of foods that are a big part of the soul of Irish cuisine and culture – and yes, there are plenty of buttery, comforting potatoes!

The richness and heartiness of Irish food are a true reflection of the warmth, friendliness, and sense of community in both Ireland and Irish pubs across the globe.

Pushed for time and need a top 3? Start your day with an Irish breakfast, enjoy Irish stew for dinner, and try an Irish coffee.


Irish Breakfast

We start our grand tour of Irish foods with an iconic British and Irish dish that has gained popularity all over the world: the full breakfast.

A full Irish can vary, depending on the region you’re in. However, crispy fried bacon rashers, fried or scrambled eggs, and delicious pork sausages are all beloved staples.

You’ll also commonly see hash browns, baked beans, fried tomatoes, and either black or white pudding too, along with a couple of slices of hot, buttery toast.

Plenty of Irish places have their own unique take on it. You may find liver, fried potatoes, and fried mushrooms on menus across the country.

The full Irish is the perfect way to start your day. It’s so popular, in fact, that most Irish pubs will offer it as an ‘all-day breakfast’ and serve it with chips.

Irish Breakfast
Irish breakfast © Nomad Paradise

Irish Stew

Irish stew is one of the native dishes closest to Irish people’s hearts. Centuries ago, sheep were the dominant cattle kept by farmers. Sheep produce meat, wool, and milk and can handle the cold Irish winters better than other cattle.

Hence, lamb or mutton was the core meat in a traditional Irish stew. Irish farmers would cook this wholesome stew in large cauldrons over an open fire for hours on end.

Purists stand by the traditional recipe that boils and simmers lamb or mutton, potatoes, and onions in a cauldron or pot of water. However, through the years, Irish stew has evolved to include other root vegetables and grains, like carrots, parsley, barley, and turnips.

The magic of an Irish stew is in its slow cooking time. This leads to a thicker, juicier stew, with lamb so soft it melts in your mouth.

On a cold winter’s evening or a spritely spring afternoon, few dishes can compare to the warmth and comfort of Irish stew.

Irish food: Irish Stew
Irish stew, Slawomir Fajer/Shutterstock

Soda Bread

Before soda bread, bread was cooked like a flatbread, as native flours had not yet been developed to rise when baked with yeast.

Soda bread is made from a simple mixture of flour, salt, buttermilk, and baking soda. The buttermilk and baking soda’s reaction gives the bread its iconic bubbled, uneven texture.

Once gluten flours were introduced to Irish cuisine, soda bread’s popularity as a mainstay food faded out.

But its popularity was revived in the middle of the 20th century when it became a must-try food on the menus of the Irish upper class, who dined in the country’s most luxurious and expensive restaurants and hotels.

Today, Irish soda bread is served all over the country. You can try a wide range of flavors, including versions made with walnuts and Guinness.

Irish food: Soda Bread
Soda bread, Liudmyla Chuhunova/Shutterstock

Boxty

Boxty is a simple and wholesome Irish potato pancake. It’s made of starchy Irish potato, grated into very thin slices.

Traditionally, the grated potato is added to a mixture of baking soda, flour, and buttermilk, then fried in a pan until golden brown and crispy.

Due to fine potato gratings and the common addition of leftover mashed potatoes, boxty has a smoother texture than other potato pancakes in the likes of Balkan cuisine.

Boxty can be eaten with many different creams, sauces, and cooked meats and vegetables. It’s one of Ireland’s simplest but most delicious dishes.

Irish food: Boxty
Boxty / Potato Pancakes © Nomad Paradise
Boxty Recipe

Cabbage and Bacon

A reminder of simpler, humbler times in Ireland, cabbage and bacon is a traditional dish that is deeply rooted in Irish history and culture.

Traditionally, Irish cooks would boil down both large slices, even slabs, of back bacon with plenty of freshly cut cabbage leaves.

Simple and wholesome, today, the recipe has evolved to incorporate a wide range of flavors. Many chefs now add spicy sauces for a kick or enrich the stew with additional herbs and root vegetables.

The Irish-American variation, corned beef and cabbage, was a result of the Great Irish Famine in the mid-19th century, where millions of Irish people were forced to escape starvation by sailing across the Atlantic.

Irish immigrants quickly discovered corned beef, which was inexpensive and easier to find, an excellent substitute for pork or bacon.

Irish food: Cabbage and Bacon
Cabbage and Bacon (Irish), Fanfo/Shutterstock
Irish food: Corned Beef and Cabbage
Corned Beef & Cabbage (Irish-American), Linda Parton/Shutterstock

Black and White Pudding

Both black and white pudding are British and Irish delicacies. Black pudding is a distinct type of blood sausage made from a mixture of pork blood, fat, and oats or barley.

Black pudding is one of the traditional ingredients of a full Irish breakfast. It has a strong, dense taste and a thick, crumbly texture.

While black pudding is thought to date as far back as Roman times, it’s believed white pudding was introduced later to Irish cuisine during the Medieval era.

White pudding is the same sausage mixture as black pudding, pork fat, and cereals, but it does not contain any blood.

While both are definitely an acquired taste, there’s no doubting the historical significance of both foods in Irish cuisine.

Irish food: Black and White Pudding
Black and White Pudding, Joerg Beuge/Shutterstock

Smoked Salmon

Ireland’s geography means its entire west coast is lapped by the wild waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Irish fishermen have been catching some of the Atlantic’s freshest, oiliest, and most tender fish for generations. You’ll commonly see tuna and mackerel dishes in Irish pubs.

But without a doubt, the jewel in Ireland’s seafood crown is its rare, melt-in-mouth cuts of smoked salmon.

Irish salmon has tastes so rich, enhanced by smoking techniques passed down through generations. Combined with its smooth texture, it pairs perfectly with a wide range of ingredients and foods.

Plenty of restaurants will serve smoked salmon with buttery potatoes and other root vegetables. To truly appreciate its taste, try it on a slice of thick-cut bread with a drizzle of lemon juice.

Smoked Salmon
Smoked Salmon © Nomad Paradise

Related: Scottish Foods You Need to Try

Coddle

Coddle is a hearty, tasty, and juicy Irish stew, which was born almost by accident, as it was first made with leftover ingredients from other dishes. Coddle bears a strong resemblance to Irish stew, but it does not have a definitive recipe.

However, traditionally, coddle was a wholesome, fatty stew of pork sausages, bacon rashers, thick-cut potatoes, onions, and seasoning. Because leftover meat was used in coddle, the broth was thick with the fat and juices from the discarded meat.

Coddle is braised in this delicious stock for hours on end, usually in a large pot sealed with a lid to keep the steam in.

Whether it be for nursing a hangover or to fill the belly on a cold winter’s evening, this is one of Ireland’s most beloved comfort foods.

Irish food: Coddle
Coddle, Nickola_Che/Shutterstock

Shepherd’s Pie

Pies are an essential part of Irish and British cuisine, and Shepherd’s Pie is arguably the most well know and enjoyed.

Due to Ireland being a predominantly sheep-farming nation, the biggest difference between British and Irish Shepherd’s pie is the use of lamb or mutton instead of beef mince.

Shepherd’s pie has a rich and deeply comforting filling of lamb mince, sliced onions, and other root vegetables in a delicious onion gravy.

The filling is placed in a large baking dish and topped with a thick layer of creamy mashed potato. It’s then baked in the oven.

A slice of shepherd’s pie pairs perfectly with various vegetables and sauces. Many variations have popped up through the years, including adding Guinness to the gravy sauce.

Irish food: Shepherd's Pie
Shepherd’s Pie, freeskyline/Shutterstock

Champ & Colcannon

Champ is another testament to the importance of potatoes in Irish cuisine. It’s a simple dish that’s easy and inexpensive to make. Champ is a creamy mixture of mashed potatoes, butter, milk, and chopped scallions.

Irish Champ, © Nomad Paradise
Irish Champ

Throughout Ireland, you’ll also see another dish that’s almost identical to champ in colcannon.

Colcannon is the same buttery, hot mashed potato mixture, but kale or cabbage is used in addition to chopped scallions.

Champ is common in Ulster, the northern Irish region. Colcannon you’ll find in the west, east, and southern regions of Leinster, Munster, and Connacht.

colcannon
Colcannon, © Nomad Paradise
Colcannon Recipe

Oysters & Other Fresh Seafood

While Irish cuisine is known for potatoes, it’s amazing how Irish oysters have gone under the radar, considering how they’re eaten all over the world.

Irish oysters have a subtler, more delicate saltiness than Pacific oysters. Eaten with a generous squeeze of lemon and crisp white wine or hearty stout, try your best to seek this dish on when you visit.

Irish food: Oysters
Fresh Oysters, MariaKovaleva/Shutterstock

Kerrygold Butter

As a child, I vividly remember seeing the golden Kerrygold packaging and that iconic four-leafed green clover logo lining the chilled shelves of the dairy aisles in Tesco.

Kerrygold is one of the most well-known butter brands, and it has become hugely popular in the US, among other countries.

Kerrygold takes pride in the butter being made from the delicious, hormone-free milk of Irish grass-fed cows. This gives the butter an incredibly smooth, silky texture.

Whether spread on a slice of bread or used to cook multi-layered and complex dishes, Kerrygold is a butter you just need to have in your life!

Kerrygold Butter
Irish butter, Photo by Nomad Paradise

Barmbrack

Barmbrack is a fruit-infused baked loaf cake, referred to as a speckled loaf due to the inclusion of raisins and sultanas in the cake mixture.

Barmbrack is baked around Halloween, and it dates back to the ancient Celtic tradition of Samhain.

This ancient festival was celebrated by Celts believing that, on that night of the year, the souls of their ancestors returned to cause havoc by damaging things and destroying crops. This was traditionally known as All Hallows Day, which, through the ages, has now become Halloween.

But barmbrack has more than just a fascinating origin story. Its texture is lighter than bread, and the sharp, fruity notes from the raisins and sultanas balance the richness of the cake.

At Halloween, it’s tradition to place coins and objects in the base of the cake before baking. Whoever finds one of these items in their slice of cake will be destined to have good luck!

Irish food: Barmbrack
Barmbrack, David Pimborough/Shutterstock

Read more: A local’s guide to the must-try Irish desserts

Irish Coffee

And lastly, no list of Irish foods can be complete without featuring the classic, beloved cocktail we call Irish coffee.

Traditional Irish coffee is made of 4 parts coffee, 2 parts Irish whiskey, 1 teaspoon of brown sugar, and it is topped with 1 1/2 parts whipped cream.

Unlike a sundae or a whipped-cream-topped dessert, Irish coffee is drunk through the whipped cream.

The hot, earthy tones of the coffee with the heat and vanilla notes of the whiskey, make for quite the pairing. Finished with thick whipped cream, you can order Irish coffee practically anywhere in Ireland.

Irish coffee
Irish Coffee © Nomad Paradise
Irish Coffee

Irish food is hearty, rich, and very comforting. While potatoes and root vegetables are simple ingredients, it’s incredible the wide array of ways you can prepare and cook them.

But then there’s an incredible selection of seafood and delicacies in Irish cuisine that is largely unknown globally.

Pack these foods with plenty of Irish warmth, love, and charm, and you have a cuisine as welcoming as the landlords of Irish pubs all across the world.

I’ve been to Irish pubs all over the world. When I really miss home, they are my sanctuary! After ordering an all-day breakfast and a pint of Guinness, I’m right as rain.

Whether it be in Ireland or the many Irish pubs across the world, I’d highly recommend trying these classic Irish dishes.

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15 Irish Foods You Need to Try - Nomad Paradise

Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer, strategist, and designer who has been a full-time digital nomad since 2016. He grew up in Wales, across the Irish channel, and spent plenty of time exploring Ireland.

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  • Hey there! We are Dale and Doina, the founders of Nomad Paradise. We traveled full-time for over three years, and while we now have a home base in the U.K., continue to take trips abroad to visit new places and try new cuisines and foods. Our food guides are curated with the guidance of local foodies, and their contribution is indicated under each article. We also cook the foods we try abroad, and you can discover how to make them in our 'recipes from around the world' category.

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