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The warmth, heartiness, and richness of Irish food is a true reflection of the warmth, friendliness, and sense of community in Irish pubs across the globe.
With tender lamb, salty-fresh seafood, and plenty of buttery, soul-comforting potatoes, the dishes of Ireland utilize classic pairings and slow-cooked techniques to maximize flavor and satisfaction.
Being Welsh, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ireland. I’ve visited many times, spending time in places like Dublin, Cork, and Limerick.
And no matter where in the world I am, the sense of belonging when you walk into an Irish bar and order a pint of Guinness and an all-day breakfast never ceases to amaze me.
So buckle up for a wonderful culinary tour of the emerald isle as I share with you 14 of Ireland’s most beloved and traditional dishes that you have to try.
1 – 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.
This rich, hearty, and multi-textured breakfast has been filling the stomachs of Irish commuters, travelers, and natives for generations.
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, most Irish pubs will offer it as an ‘all-day breakfast’ and serve it with chips.
2 – Irish Stew
Irish stew is one of the native dishes closest to Irish peoples’ hearts. It’s a national dish and one that has been cooked in Ireland since ancient times.
Centuries ago, sheep were the dominant cattle kept by farmers. Sheep produce meat, wool, 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, flavorful stew in large cauldrons over an open fire, for hours on end.
Purists swear 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.
3 – Soda Bread
In Ireland, soda bread provided the country with its first taste of risen bread, generations ago.
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.
4 – Boxty
Delve into even a little of Irish history, and you’ll soon understand the importance of potatoes in the country’s history and cuisine.
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 the fine potato gratings, boxty has a smoother texture than other potato pancakes in the likes of Balkans 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.
5 – Cabbage and Bacon
A throwback to 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 fresh, cut cabbage leaves in water.
The resultant boiling and juices running into the water created a rich stew, in which the bacon would boil, and the cabbage would soften.
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 enhance the stew with 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 found corned beef, because it was inexpensive and easy to find, an excellent substitute for pork or bacon.
6 – Black and White Pudding
Both black and white pudding are British and Irish delicacies, with this type of sausage being eaten across both countries for centuries.
Black pudding is a distinct type of blood sausage, made from a mixture of pork blood, fat, and oats or barley.
This unique style of sausage was born out of farmers’ desire to ensure all parts of slaughtered animals were used, and not wasted.
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.
White pudding grew in popularity quickly, and many interesting recipes were born, including puddings containing exotic spices and nuts.
While both are definitely an acquired taste, there’s no doubting the historical significance of both foods in Irish cuisine.
7 – Smoked Salmon
Ireland’s geography means its entire west coast is lapped and lashed by the wild, breathtaking waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Irish fishermen have been catching some of the Atlantic’s freshest, oiliest, and most succulent 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 a jaw-droppingly fresh taste, 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. Utterly divine!
8 – 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 with a lid, in order 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.
9 – Shepherd’s Pie
Pies are an essential part of British and Irish cuisine, and few pies have the history, status, and stomach-filling qualities of the Shepherd’s Pie.
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, earthy, 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 buttery, 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.
10 – Champ & Colcannon
Champ is another testament to the importance of potato in Irish cuisine. It’s a simple dish that’s easy and inexpensive to make.
Champ is a creamy mixture of mashed potatoes, butter, and milk, topped with chopped scallions.
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 and cabbage are used instead of 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.
11 – Oysters & Other Fresh Seafood
As mentioned, Ireland’s coast, at the forefront of the wild Atlantic, is perfect for seafood with breathtaking saltiness and freshness.
While Ireland is known for potatoes, it’s amazing how Irish oysters have gone under the radar, considering how they’re eaten all over the world.
Irishmen fisherman and catchers have crafted their techniques through generations, to pick the oysters in a way that preserves the flavor.
Irish oysters have a subtler, more delicate saltiness than Pacific oysters. Their tenderness is liquid gold along the surface of your tongue.
Eaten with a generous squeeze of lemon and crisp white wine, or hearty stout, they are one of the must-try foods in Ireland.
12 – 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, and elevates so many dishes to a mind-blowing level of creaminess.
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!
13 – Barmbrack
After plenty of earthy vegetables and hearty stews, it’s time for a taste of something sweet.
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 pair perfectly with 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!
14 – 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.
With the right combinations, whiskey, coffee, and whipped cream is an utterly indulgent combination.
The piping hot, earthy tones of the coffee, fused with the heat, smoothness, and hints of vanilla from the whiskey are an almighty combination.
Dashed with a thick, creamy, icy injection of whipped cream, each sip is an experience in its own right.
From pubs to restaurants, you can order Irish coffee practically anywhere in Ireland. You simply have to try it.
Irish Food Summary
There’s a warmth, simplicity, and homeliness to Irish cooking that few cuisines can compare to.
Irish food is hearty, rich, and rife with earthy, juicy, and comforting flavors. 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.
So, before we leave Ireland, let’s take one last look at the full list of foods we explored in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Irish foods handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular dishes.
- Irish Breakfast
- Irish Stew
- Soda Bread
- Cabbage and Bacon
- Black and White Pudding
- Smoked Salmon
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Champ & Colcannon
- Oysters & Other Fresh Seafood
- Kerrygold Butter
- Irish Coffee
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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.