It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and today millions of non-Irish people will cook and/or eat corned beef and cabbage because that’s what they think the Irish eat. And up until about 40 years ago, yeah, that’s mostly what they ate. And a lot of potatoes. And Irish stew. But, my recent trip to Ireland proved that there’s so much more to Irish cuisine! In fact, I didn’t see corned beef and cabbage on the menu at any of the pubs or restaurants I visited. Nope, not once. Granted, the pubs were closed in Dublin, and it’s very likely that they offer corned beef and cabbage to appease the tourists. But in the many places I was able to visit, I didn’t find it.
What I did find, however, is a more updated riff on this classic dish: bacon and cabbage. Except Irish bacon isn’t exactly what we would call bacon – it’s more like a ham steak. So ham and cabbage. And potatoes. And gravy. Add some mixed veggies and you’ve got yourself a Sunday roast, which is actually available other days besides Sunday. At the place we visited, you chose your meat and your sauce (gravy) and then they load your plate with 2-3 kinds of potatoes and some veg. You can get a half portion or a full portion. I enjoyed mine with battered cod.
A traditional Irish breakfast is definitely still a thing, and most hotels offer it as an add on to your stay. Breakfast includes eggs, toast, beans, bacon (ham), black and/or white pudding (which isn’t actually pudding, FYI), tea or coffee and sometimes a scone (which I apparently wasn’t supposed to eat until after I finished my breakfast, and I was scolded for it).
Over the past 20 or so years, Ireland has continued to develop as a foodie country. Fortunately, I was able to travel around quite a bit while I was there and experience a lot of different foods – some on the trendier side, and some classics. We even ventured out to the Connemara Loop to eat lunch at Misunderstood Heron, a food truck that is slowly earning global fame.
While I ate some things that you’d never expect to find in Ireland (like the most delicious beet burger ever), I was able to try a lot of the classic fare many tourists might seek out, including:
And chips. Oh, the chips (or fries, as we call them in the States). They serve them with everything (as you might notice in the gallery above). They are thicker cut and seriously though, just look at my pictures to see that they serve them with everything. At one point we were lucky enough to come across a Chipper who served them with curry sauce and cheese. Probably the best snack I’ve ever eaten.
Speaking of snacks, I enjoyed a few that are unique to Ireland (and maybe the UK also). The “99” is a vanilla soft serve ice cream cone with a stick of flaky Cadbury chocolate. You typically buy them at a garage (gas station). Tayto crisps are the national potato chip, and the cheese and onion were to die for (I brought two bags home and wish I’d brought more).
As for my foodie palette, I was completely satisfied with the more adventurous food options we were able to enjoy during my trip.
Lunch at Loko in Waterford featured Million Dollar Fries, layers of thinly sliced potatoes cut into bars and deep fried, and served with cheese sauce, a Korean fried chicken sandwich, and falafel stuffed into homemade pita.
Dinner at The Black Pig, a quaint wine bar in Kinsale, and my favorite meal of the entire trip, included a tomato salad heaped with crumbled feta, parsley and red onions; arancini with some sort of yummy dipping sauce (it’s been awhile, I can’t remember the specifics); cheese ravioli with peas, cream and parmesan (and I don’t usually like peas, but this was amazing); and for dessert, a classic dish of strawberries with cream, and of course crème brûlée.
For lunch at in Kilkenny we somehow happened upon a farm to table café, Cafe La Loco, featuring a lot of vegetarian options. The beet burger was amazing.
I mentioned Misunderstood Heron earlier, so of course I have to share the amazing lunch we had there as well. Pork belly with braised cabbage, rice, curried cauliflower and pickled red onions. Not only was the food tasty, but the view was absolutely spectacular.
While it might be too late to change your St. Patty’s Day menu, I encourage you to venture out from corned beef and cabbage next time you celebrate. You never know, you might find a new, tasty favorite dish.