Although most people planning to go out to dinner wouldn’t select an Irish pub as a destination, there are some mouthwatering Irish dishes that you mightn’t be aware of. And there are also some that you should probably avoid, even though they’re surprisingly popular. The following are 9 delicious dishes and 3 gross ones that you should keep an eye out for when visiting the Emerald Isle.
This hearty bread can be made with either white or wheat flour and is baked in a round tin. The defining feature of it is the deep cross cut in the top of the dough before baking. This is done to allow the bread to bake evenly throughout and results in a finished loaf with four peaks. The inclusion of lots of butter and buttermilk keeps the bread very moist and flavorful. And because it’s not sweet, it’s often served as an acccompaniment to a hearty stew or a full Irish breakfast.
A similar bread, made with white flour and raisins, is known as curney bread, currant bread, or (in Britain) spotted dog.
This is a common British dish that you’ll also see very frequently in Ireland. In its most common incarnation, it consists of layers of the following ingredients. Lady fingers (finger-shaped sponge cakes) sprinkled liberally with sherry. Raspberry jello with fruit cocktail add to it. Rich, eggy custard. Whipped cream. Fresh fruit or a crumbled Flake candy bar is often used to decorate the top. The non-alcoholic version, made without the sherry, is popular with young children.
Irish stew is usually made with beef or lamb that is cooked for hours and hours in a pot along with lots of vegetables. Traditionally, those would include some combination of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, onions, and celery.
Full Irish breakfast
The Full Irish Breakfast seems to be a staple of every menu in every restaurant in Ireland. It’s not the healthiest way to start the day, but much of it is quite tasty.
In nearly every case, it consists of the following components:
- A slice or two of Irish bacon, which tastes like delicious salty ham
- A couple of sausages, which have a mild taste and a very light, almost breadlike texture
- Slices of tomato
- One or two fried eggs
- White and/or black pudding.The most important thing to realize is that “pudding” in this context means something totally different than “pudding” in America. In Ireland, it refers to a kind of salty sausage. In the image above, the two dark disks and the two brownish disks at the top of the plate are black and white pudding slices. If you’re not familiar with it and what’s in it, check out the Gross food section of this post.
This is just boiled potatoes, chopped scallions, a splash of milk, butter, and pepper and salt, all mashed together. It’s very simple, mouthwateringly good, and a perfect complement to Irish sausages.
Chips from a chipper
This is also not an Irish-only dish, in fact it’s practically a staple of the British diet, but you’ll find it on nearly every restaurant street in Ireland. Irish chips are what we in America call steak fries: big slabs of potato deep fried and served hot. What makes the Irish version so good is (a) the oil they use and (b) the amount of vinegar and salt they pour on them as soon as they come out of the fryer. On a cold winter night, there are few things more delightful than a big sack of piping hot Irish chips.
Bangers and mash
This is probably one of the top three quintessential Irish dishes, found on any pub menu. It’s simply large Irish sausages (bangers) on top of mashed potatoes, covered with gravy. Very simple, but a warm, filling meal on cold nights, which they get a lot of in Ireland.
This isn’t really a pie at all. It’s just ground beef and vegetables cooked together until all the flavors merge. It’s then ladled into a deep dish and covered with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven. Like Bangers and Mash, it’s a simple yet flavorful dish that’s well-suited to the cold Irish weather.
A 99, also called a 99 ice cream
Like chips and trifle, the 99 is commonly found in Britian too, but it’s also very Irish. In its simplest form, it’s a soft serve ice cream cone with a chocolate Flake bar stuck into the top of it.
If you’re unaware, a Flake is the closest thing to chocolate heaven on earth. It’s flaky, creamy milk chocolate, gently compressed into a bar shape. When you bite into one, it breaks apart into hundreds of flakes of chocolate. Imagine that cascade landing on quality soft serve ice cream and you can appreciate why these treats are wildly popular.
First of all, white and black puddings are not “puddings” in the American sense. They’re a type of sausage. White pudding is a combination of either suet or fat, oatmeal, breadcrumbs, spices, and sometimes beef or pork liver. Black pudding is all of that plus blood. Enough said.
Mushy peas are pretty much what they sound like. They’re made from extra large Irish peas, which are about 50% larger than normal peas. The peas are soaked in water for a day and then cooked until they lose most or all of their shape. The result looks a bit like pale guacamole and tastes like dirty wet socks.
Who doesn’t like cake? If you try Irish Christmas cake, you’ll know the answer to that question. To create this pleasant looking disappointment, take a bunch of dried fruits, molasses, some Irish whisky, flour, and a bunch of Christmas spices and cook it in the oven. Then wrapped it tightly and put it in a sealed cookie tin for two to three MONTHS. During that time, periodically unwrap it and drizzle whisky over the top, allowing the cake to slowly absorb the flavor. Right before Christmas, unwrap the cake a final time, coat it first with a thick layer of marzipan and then a thicker layer of royal icing. Then serve it to unsuspecting guests along with a cup of tea and a written apology.
One more thing
Corned beef and cabbage is an American concoction. You won’t find it offered in a traditional Irish restaurant or served in Irish homes. What you will find very frequently is boiled ham and cabbage. Which tastes every bit as watery and flavorless as it sounds.
And just one more
In case you’re really misinformed, Lucky Charms might have a leprechaun as a spokesman, but they are a 100% American product. That said, you can buy them now in some Irish stores.
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