I know January is all about healthy eating and the last thing you want is to be thinking about food when you are trying to be good! We got chatting in the workshop about what our favourite Irish food is and it got us thinking about dishes that might be unique to Ireland.
For many years, Ireland was placed at the lowest rung of the ladder when it came to having good traditional food. In many cases it still doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, but that’s all starting to change thanks to some talented and high profile Irish chefs and an increasingly open-minded public jumping on new fusion food trends. Irish food is mostly about meat, potatoes and vegetables, so while not exactly inspiring; it’s definitely hearty and very filling. Find the right cook, however, and you can be enjoying some of the most satisfying food you’ll ever have. If you’re feeling hungry, look away now – here are some ever popular, somewhat unusual, but definitely Irish dishes to try next time you’re feeling patriotic.
Traditional Irish food
Boxty: Boxty is, simply put, potato pancake. Associated with the northern midlands (in Donegal it’s known as poundy), it’s a mixture of finely grated potato, flour, buttermilk and egg, cooked just like a ‘normal’ pancake. It was so popular in times past that it was honoured with its own rhyme. Nowadays, you can often find it in restaurants served in the style of a tortilla, i.e wrapped around some tasty meat and vegetables.
Coddle: Coddle is a quintessential Dublin dish, and gets a few mentions in the works of some of the capital’s greatest writers, James Joyce included. Despite its stature it’s not all that appetising; sausages, bacon, potatoes and onion all boiled together in one pot, seasoned with salt and pepper. It was traditionally eaten as a leftover dish, so there is no set recipe to follow making it open to interpret as you see fit.
Full Irish Breakfast: This is by far everyone’s favourite Irish dish, and the key word is ‘full’! Grab as big a plate as you can find and load it up with sausage, bacon, black and white pudding (our neighbours Clonakilty of course!), eggs, toast, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and beans – and don’t forget the obligatory cup of tea to go with it. The Full Irish is a proven hangover cure, too.
Soda Bread: Irish soda bread is quick and easy to make, and damn tasty too – especially when fresh out of the oven and given a layer of ‘real’ Irish butter. All you need is flour, bread soda, salt and buttermilk – mix it all together (with as little kneading as possible), pop it in the oven, and enjoy. It’s also especially good when dipped in some hot soup or when topped with some fresh Irish cheese.
Potato Farl: Potato farls are a speciality of Ulster (where they are known as ‘fadge’), and usually appear as part of a Full Irish breakfast. They are square slices of potato bread, powdered with flour and either fried or grilled. The result is moist, doughy goodness perfect for soaking up the leftover sauce on your plate once your fry has gone down.
Blaa: The Blaa is native to Waterford, and also popular in neighbouring counties Kilkenny and Wexford. A soft white bread bun with a liberal sprinkling of white flour on top, they are usually eaten at breakfast with butter or as a snack with corned beef as a filling. In 2013 the blaa was given official protected status by the European Commission.
Irish Stew: This is what pops into most people’s heads when they think of traditional Irish food, and by all accounts, we most certainly know how to make a delicious stew. Traditionally made with lamb or beef, potatoes, vegetables such as carrots and onions, and cooked slowly for several hours, this is as hearty comfort food at its best. Guinness is often added as final Irish twist.
Barmbrack: Barmbrack, or just 'brack', is a sweet bread that's almost like a cake in texture, with sultanas and raisins. It is still tradition in many families to have a brack in the house on Halloween, eaten warm with butter and a cup of tea. It's also customary to include various small objects within the brack, each of which told a certain fortune – for example, if you picked out a ring, you would be married within a year.
Champ: Champ is a simple but extremely delicious dish, as well as being cheap and very easy to make. It essentially involves adding spring onions, butter and milk to mashed potatoes. Told you it was simple! Colcannon is a variant of the dish, made with kale or cabbage in place of spring onions.
Crubeens: This isn't really a dish per se, it's just what the Irish have named pig's feet! They were eaten by hand and can still be found in some butchers, although you'll most likely have to request them.
Drisheen: Drisheen is a variant of black pudding, which is made from animal blood (usually pig, sheep or cow) mixed with milk, salt, fat and breadcrumbs. It's all boiled, filtered, wrapped in intestines and cooked. Lovely!
Goody: century and before. It's not all that dissimilar to bread and butter pudding. Bread is boiled in milk with sugar and spices to make a stodgy, soggy, but very sweet mess. It was traditionally eaten on St. John's Eve, or the 23rd of June to you and me.
Gur Cake: Another Dublin staple, Gur cake is otherwise known as Chester cake in other parts of the world. It got its name as it was traditionally cheap and made from bakery leftovers, and was considered 'gutter cake', which became shortened to 'gur'. It consists of two layers of pastry with a filling of dried fruits, breadcrumbs and sweetener.
Brown Pudding: You may have already known about black and white pudding, but did you know brown pudding is also eaten here? It's more or less the same as black pudding, the only difference being the addition of oatmeal to soak up the blood and give it its brown appearance. It's another protected food in Ireland and is made in Timoleague, county Cork.
Bacon and Cabbage: Bacon and Cabbage is the perfect example of just how plain and boring Irish food used to be! It's exactly what you think it is; unsliced back bacon boiled with cabbage and – of course – potatoes. Usually served with white sauce, it's now enjoying a revival in Irish restaurants with contemporary and much more appetising twists.
Irish Coffee: Irish Coffee is more of a cocktail than a coffee, and was invented by chef Joe Sheridan in Shannon Airport in the 1940s. Made with (obviously) coffee, whiskey, and brown sugar topped off with a layer of thick cream, which you drink the mixture below through for an interesting combination of hot and cold. Perfect after an evening meal or to warm up on a cold night.
Steak and Guinness Pie: This savoury pie is a favourite, although it's more of a modern traditional food than a classic dish that has been passed down for generations. It does exactly what it says on the tin; it's steak, and guinness, in a pie! There are some other additions too of course, such as herbs, vegetables, and maybe even a potato or two.
Irish Fast Food
Irish fast food can never be hailed as healthy or overly tasty, but then neither can any fast food! If you’re having a cheat day, are on the way home late at night, or need something quick and fast, try one of these popular snacks. While none of them are particularly Irish in origin, every Irish person will admit to eating them at least once.
Chicken Fillet Roll: Most supermarkets in Ireland have ‘deli’ sections that make fresh sandwiches. One of the more popular deli choices is a chicken fillet roll. In other words, this is breaded chicken fillet chopped up and stuffed into a baguette with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. Guaranteed to fill you up for at least a few hours, although you may need an extra gym session or two afterwards.
Breakfast Roll: The Breakfast Roll is so popular in Ireland that there’s even a song about it! This behemoth has all of the main ingredients of a Full Irish breakfast stuffed into a baguette. Rashers, sausage, and black and white pudding are essential, and if there’s room left over, you can try to stuff in a fried egg or mushrooms too – don’t forget the final touch of ketchup either.
Jambon: Another staple of the supermarket deli, a jambon is a peculiar snack made up of folded savoury pastry filled with small pieces of ham and a cheesy, eggy mixture. It usually accompanies sausage rolls, potato wedges and sometimes savoury pies or pasties in the hot food section of the deli. Be warned; the combination of flaky pastry and gooey filling makes it a very messy snack.
Taco Fries: Ireland’s favourite native fast food chain, Supermacs, is often credited with this particular dish. A handful of chips gets a dollop of fresh ground beef on top, with ‘taco sauce’ (a creamy, slightly spicy, thick sauce that’s pink-ish in colour) loaded on top of that, and a large helping of grated cheddar cheese on top of that!
Garlic Cheese Fries: Irish people have a soft spot for any kind of fries really, but Garlic Cheese fries are a particular favourite for many. A tub of thickly cut chips is usually completely drowned in garlic sauce (mayonnaise laced with garlic and a handful of herbs), with a dollop of grated cheese on top that melts as you eat. If you can get through the entire tub without feeling sick, we salute you.
3in1: This is as greasy as Irish fast food gets. Available in any Chinese takeaway in the country (despite having nothing to do with Chinese food), it’s a foil tub filled to the brim with a layer of rice, a layer of chips, and a smothering of rich curry sauce. Usually the staple of locals on the way home from a night out. Healthy stuff!
Burritos: Tex Mex is the current fast food meal of the moment in Dublin and is rapidly spreading to the rest of the country too. On practically every street in the city centre there is a ‘burrito bar’, with many heated discussions among locals on which one is the best. A newly opened burrito bar in the city celebrated its first day of business by giving away free burritos for a few hours, with a queue down the street and around the corner forming in minutes.