It’s that time of year again: six nations rugby, green face-paint, beers, over-crowded pubs, and yet more beers. It’s March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day.
The date never fails to deliver as a social occasion, with people all over the world sporting green face-paint and crowding the streets and bars in celebration, but does anyone actually know what an Irish menu looks like apart from potatoes and a pint of Guinness?
No? Not us either. But we did some digging to find out!
It may astonish some readers, but contrary to the stereotype Ireland does have a very rich and diverse gastronomic history beyond Guinness and potatoes. However, due to English influence between the 16th and 18th centuries (when the potato stereotype was born) some of those traditional recipes have laid dormant for centuries. A revival of sorts has seen many of those old recipes make a return to Irish kitchens in recent years, though many recipes have remained a staple in Irish culture through thick and thin.
One such recipe is the Irish stew, which is traditionally made from potatoes, onions, carrots, lamb, and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. The stew has been Ireland’s undisputed national dish for over two centuries, though meat was often a hard ingredient to come by in the 18th century. You won’t ever go wrong with a hearty stew on an empty stomach.
Since the start of the last century, meat has become increasingly prevalent in the typical Irish diet, with the most common meats being beef, lamb, and pork. Corned beef with cabbage (pictured) or boiled bacon with cabbage are particularly popular meat dishes.
Another local favourite is coddle, which is made from sliced pork sausages, bacon, and sliced potatoes and onions.
As an island nation Ireland can also take full advantage of easy access to seafood and fish. Salmon is especially popular, as are lobsters, and other shellfish like scallops, mussels, and oysters. Fish is particularly prevalent on menu’s near coastal areas.
In many countries soups are served as a starter, but Irish soups are so rich and thick that they are usually hearty enough to satisfy anyone’s appetite on their own. Soups are made from a variety of meats, seafood, and crops and vegetables, with meats being particularly common alternatives.
An overview of Irish cuisines wouldn’t be complete without highlighting some of the best potato-based meals, given that potatoes have long been a vital component of so many Irish recipes. Whilst many typical Irish meals are made of potatoes, meat, and cabbage, two local favourites are boxty as well as colcannon and champ.
Boxty (pictured) is made by mixing finely grated raw potato and mashed potato together with flour, buttermilk, egg, and baking soda, and then cooked like a pancake. Colcannon and champ is a combination of mashed potatoes and kale or cabbage, which makes for a very fresh-tasting version of traditional mashed potatoes.
Black (blood) pudding
You won’t often find many herbs and spices in meals beyond salt and pepper, but if you’re feeling particularly adventurous there are still plenty of exotic alternatives to choose from.
Black and white (blood) pudding is a centuries-old gaelic dish, which is sometimes combined with other delicacies like scallops (pictured) to form a mouth-watering combination of flavours.
Irish Soda bread (pictured) gets its name from the fact that baking soda is used in the baking process (rather than yeast which is commonly used for bread otherwise), and is a tasty compliment to any meal. Soda bread is a must-try, particularly if they’ve had raisins or caraway seeds added to make the bread even sweeter.
Barmbrack is another healthy and yummy Irish bread, and is also usually baked with raisins as well as sultanas.
Irish food is well-known for the freshness and home-made quality, and perhaps no food embodies that label more than the smorgasbord of homemade cheeses, of which there are over 50 delicious ones to choose from. Ireland makes about fifty types of homemade "farmhouse" cheeses, which are considered delicacies, and have been accomplished cheesemakers for centuries.