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Irish Food & Drink Week: The Most Iconic Traditional Irish Foods You Have to Try

Irish Food & Drink Week: The Most Iconic Traditional Irish Foods You Have to Try

Posted by Brian Patrick O'Sullivan on 28th Mar 2019

One of the clearest markers of a nationality and culture is cuisine. But much of what Americans tend to view as authentic Irish food has been filtered through the history of Irish immigration to the United States and domestic reinterpretation. In traveling around Ireland today, however, different parts of the country bring about their own flavors and preparation that give the Emerald Isle a unique culinary mosaic with different kinds of meat, vegetables, seafood, and more.


Joe Loong / CC BY-SA 2.0 / via Flickr

Nothing gets the day off to a good start, it is said, like a hardy substantial dish. And few are more substantial than the full Irish breakfast. Much like a "lumberjack breakfast" in the United States, the full Irish breakfast provides more and than others. The meal usually includes loin bacon (from the back of the pig), rashers, pork sausages, fried or scrambled eggs, white pudding, black pudding, toast and fried tomato, with the option of sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, hash browns, liver, and brown soda bread. Although brown soda bread can be used in the full breakfast, boxty (an Irish potato pancake), toast, or fried potato bread are used as alternatives. All of this is prepared on a frying pan, with just a touch of butter to give the dish its rich flavor. And to finish it all off, it is complimented with a cup of Barry’s or Lyons tea or orange juice.

It is as delicious as it sounds, with great variety and savory breakfast favorites. Due to the popularity of the dish throughout the nation, it would be served in many Irish cafes as an all-day breakfast. While it used to be served to many hard working Irish farmers, because of its long preparation time, volume and density, now it would be prepared more commonly on a quiet, relaxing Sunday morning. A way to treat yourself to something hardy for a productive work week. Where one begins with the meal, is part of the reason why the meal is a traditional Irish favorite. There is no wrong way of eating this Irish breakfast staple.



Asmoo / Public Domain / via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most recognizable meals that Ireland has to offer is the famous Irish stew. One could say that it is everything a meal could ask for, and easy to prepare. On a cold fall or winter night, the Irish stew can warm you up in no time.

The traditional stew is made with mutton or goat, onions, parsley, and potatoes, with an option of carrots. Today, because of their more pleasing and mild flavors, it is more common to see an Irish stew prepared with lamb or beef instead of mutton. To make sure that the stew does not come out watery and flavorless, some recipes would recommend adding barley, a spoonful of roux (flour and fat mixed through the sauce) or sliced potatoes. However as a matter of preference, one can leave the stew come to a simmer. Doing this will decrease the liquidity, allowing for a more substantial and flavorful meal.

The modern form of the Irish stew has its origins dating back to the 7th century, when large bronze cauldrons were introduced to the cooking method. However, it was not until 1814, when the Irish stew was first referenced in the novel The Devil’s Drive by Lord Byron. Because of the ease of its use, the cauldron became a common tool in Irish cooking. Early on, meat such as mutton or goat, would be placed on flesh-hooks, due to the people’s’ feasting preferences. Even though goat was the first form of meat to be used for an Irish stew, preferences over time leaned more towards mutton, beef, and lamb. Much of the vegetables that were used in the stew’s original form, however potatoes were not used in the dish until the latter part of the 16th century, when they made their journey from South America.


Boxty can be used in a number of dishes, including a quesadilla. (Fado Irish Pub / CC BY-SA 2.0 / via Flickr)[/caption]

Mainly a favorite in the northern part of Ireland, the name of this delicious treat comes from the Gaelic phrase arán bocht tí, translates to 'poor-house bread'. The way boxty is prepared is quite simple and practical. Potatoes prepared in two different ways, grated and mashed mixed together, mixed with flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt and boiled before being sliced and fried in butter. It can be added in two ways, either in a batter before being fried, made into a pancake, or in a batter before being baked in an oven. After it is baked, it is sliced and fried. It can be prepared along with a full breakfast or served with a seafood staple, smoked salmon.

Foods like Boxty can be found in many parts of the world. Because of its abundance, price efficiency, and versatility, versions of the potato pancake take on their own cultural identity, especially in many parts of Europe. It reaches from as west in Ireland to as east in Ukraine. One may see the potato pancake as a European uniter, one if the main dishes that has linked the continent together.


VegaTeam / CC BY-SA 2.0 / via Flickr

Colcannon is traditionally made from mashed potatoes and kale, with milk, butter, salt and pepper added. There is matter of flexibility and interpretation with colcannon. Cabbage, cream, and vegetable oil could be used as alternatives. To give it some flavor, meat and other vegetable can be added to the dish. Onions, scallions, chives, and leeks are used to give colcannon some added strength to the taste buds. For that hearty texture, Irish bacon is often included in the meal. Because of its density, colcannon is often made during some of the coldest months of the year. This is because it would be around autumn or winter when kale would be in season. Like the Irish stew, colcannon gets its richness through the mixture of different types of meat and vegetable, and served in a practical and appetizing way.

The origin of the name colcannon, comes from the Gaelic term cál ceannann, meaning "white-headed cabbage." If you were to visit Ireland on Halloween, do not be surprised if you were to find a prize in your colcannon, not unlike the prizes you would see in a box of cereal or a box of Cracker Jack. Prizes of small coins such as threepenny or sixpenny bits were also concealed inside the dish. Or if you are not richer in means, you could be richer in other ways. One could also find a ring or thimble hidden in the dish as well. If you are expecting a prize in your colcannon on Halloween, just make sure to take smaller, more deliberate bites.


Some of the best dishes to come from Ireland are not all savory. Whether for the afternoon with tea or as a desert, the Irish apple tart is the one treat that any sweet tooth could enjoy.

The difference between the Irish version and the American tart has more to do what is not included than what is. While many Apple Tarts in the United States contain cinnamon, the Irish version does not contain any spices other than sugar. The crust on an Irish apple tart contains contains more of a generous use of sugar and butter than their American counterpart, when they use shortbread dough instead.

All that is needed to make one of these delicious treats are cooking apples, eggs, flour, unsalted butter, some cold water, and just a touch of sugar on the crust and apples to heighten the natural sweetness of the apple. The sugar is only added with a light hand, so that the apple tart would not have an overly sweet taste. Because the Irish apple tart is quite thin, it should be baked on an ovenproof dinner plate versus a pie tin. When the tart is complete, it should have a thickness of only one inch. If a pie tin is used, adjustments would have to be made because they are used mainly for pies that are two inches thick. Let the tart cool off for a while, and serve it with a cup of traditional Irish tea; Barry’s or Lyons of course. This tart is a perfect dish for any time of the year, due its mild, yet flavorful taste.


Corned beef and cabbage was invented as an adaptation to American meats. (Jeffrey W / CC BY-SA 2.0 / via Flickr)

When the Great Hunger wave of Irish immigration to the United States began in the 1850s, there were some culinary adjustments that had to be made. Many immigrants' first discovery was that many of the pork products (ham, bacon, and salt pork) they used in traditional Irish dishes, could not be purchased due their higher costs in America. Instead, the Irish turned to more cost effective methods in alternatives to the meals they ate back home. Meat such as beef or corned beef were used in substitute. However, it shows that what many Americans may believe to be Irish made (corned beef and cabbage), were actually American concoctions used as a way to save money.


Today, even though there is still that perception and stereotype about Irish food, more Americans are starting to see that Ireland provides a diverse plate to the curious palate. The food that is eaten in Ireland has more of a regional than many would believe. The boxty, for example, although a known dish throughout Ireland, is more so popular in northern counties such as Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Fermanagh, Longford, Leitrim and Cavan. What Ireland thrives on in terms of culinary advantages is their temperate climate. Unlike other parts of the world that would have harsh summers or winters, Ireland’s moderate climate makes it easier to harvest crops and farm animals longer than many other parts of the world. This ease of access to a variety of different kinds of meat and vegetables, allows the country a more unique and diverse menu than those that would be limited by what is around them.

Traveling over to Ireland for a culinary exploration, gives tourists a gift of beautiful, homemade cuisine. Ireland is truly a product of their rich environment. History has proven that the Irish sense of ingenuity, creativity, and taste, makes them different from their European brethren and American cousins. When one comes back home from a trip to Ireland, not only they appreciate the food more, but also want to make it in their kitchen. Wake up to a Full Breakfast, lead into an Irish Apple Tart in the afternoon, and end the evening with an Irish Stew. With the right ingredients and patience, you will reward yourself with some of the best meals the world has to offer.


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