GUEST POST: Samantha Riley is a JWU Providence baking & pastry student who is spending the term studying in Ireland. She regularly blogs about her travels for JWU Admissions, but she also loves writing about food. Here is her overview of the Irish food scene. Take it away, Samantha!
The star of Ireland has always been its food, specifically its meat, seafood, dairy and produce. The animals in Ireland are all grass-fed, thus resulting in the highest-quality meat, especially beef, and dairy.
In addition, the country’s endless amount of rain results in fertile soil ideal for growing the main crops of Ireland: cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, parsnips and of course, potatoes.
Interestingly enough, Ireland is an ideal place for foraging and it is being encouraged by chefs like Darina Allen of Ballymaloe. Away from the urbanized areas lies a landscape filled with wild garlic, comestible flowers, mushrooms, berries and nettle that are perfect for adding flavor to any dish. When done correctly, foraging is a way to use what is available naturally and truly capture the essence of Ireland through its inclusion in cuisine.
Know Your Colcannon from Your Champ
Traditional Irish dishes showcase the country’s prized meat, seafood, dairy and produce. One such example is the full Irish breakfast, consisting of eggs, blood pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans and homemade soda bread or buttermilk scones. Other classic Irish dishes include:
- Irish stew: Beef or lamb stew with many variations
- Colcannon: Creamy mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale
- Champ (brúitín): This Northern Irish dish is similar to colcannon but made with mashed potatoes mixed with chopped scallions with butter and milk.
- Boxty: Traditional Irish potato pancake that contains a mixture of mashed and grated potatoes
Along with drinks like Guinness, these are the staples that can be found at every table in Ireland.
Unfortunately, what was once a farm-to-table way of cooking has been replaced with one that is steadily being dominated by non-organic, non-fresh and non-local ingredients covered in pesticides — like many places around the world.
Slow Food in Ireland
However, there is an underground movement that is rising to the surface all around the country. The Slow Food Movement is about ensuring the food “is cultivated, produced and distributed” the best way for everyone and everything.
One part of the movement is the support of local farmers who supply fresh, seasonal and organic food through the rebirth of farmer’s markets. Markets are becoming increasingly more prevalent and commonplace in Ireland. The Irish Food Board states, “Food and Farmers’ Markets have experienced considerable growth in recent years, growing from fewer than 100 markets in 2006 to almost 150 currently in operation.” The most famed one is the English Market in Cork, where the Queen of England recently visited.
Farmers markets are not only selling their products to customers directly but to pubs and restaurants as well, which are beginning to focus on sourcing quality ingredients for their dishes.
The pubs and restaurants of Ireland are taking food to the next level by serving traditional meals made from the best ingredients and some even with a chef’s own unique interpretation. The restaurants are not only preparing classic meals but joining the modern culinary world too by serving dishes like the one below. All of these changes have not been unnoticed.
In 2016, the Michelin Eating Out in Pubs Guide lists “32 Irish pubs in 15 counties north and south of the border that have been recommended,” and a select number of restaurants have been honored with the prestigious Michelin Star, including:
- Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud, Dublin
- Cliff House, Waterford
- Chapter One, Dublin
- L’Ecrivain, Dublin
- Greenhouse, Dublin
- Aniar, Galway
- Loam, Galway
- Campagne, Kilkenny
- Lady Helen, Kilkenny (Maher 2015)
With eateries beginning to make forward progress, the question to ask is, where are all the talented chefs coming from who are making the magic happen in the kitchen?
The most established according to Forbes are the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Dublin Cookery School, Belle Isle Cookery School, Island Cottage Restaurant and Inchiquin House. Ensuring that the upcoming wave of chefs receive proper training is essential and the schools are doing just that.
Food Tourism Is Big Business
Ireland’s food tourism industry is another big draw. Ireland is known for its food festivals, held mostly during the summer and fall, like the
- Galway Food Festival
- Dublin Bay Prawn Festival
- Irish Craft Beer & Cider Festival
Likewise, Ireland offers all sort of food trails like the Guinness Storehouse tour, food tours of areas like the Burren or tours for a specific type of food. From food trails to festivals galore, there is a type of food tourism for every visitor.
Although Ireland is not currently renowned for its culinary scenes, it is making progress and well on its way to becoming a culinary destination of the world.
All photos by Samantha Riley