Can you honestly say you’ve experienced Belfast without trying an Ulster Fry, or got to the heart of the sunny south east without wrapping your mouth around the fresh white softness of a Waterford “blaa” (a little bun or bap perfect for dunking into a steaming bowl of soup)? Ireland’s traditional foods aren’t something you’ll have to go hunting for: they’re all around you – on the menus of the hippest cafés, chicest restaurants and served up at bustling farmers’ markets all over the island. Tradition is alive and well here, and in a world where food trends are becoming a little samey, it’s good to know that you can kick back and taste Ireland’s authenticity without any effort at all.
Ireland and the potato
We’ve come a long way since historic times where the diet in Ireland was based almost exclusively around the potato, but everyone still loves a good spud. No question. The potato is the heart and soul of traditional dishes such as Irish stew, and bacon and cabbage (a dish that’s gaining popularity once again on the gastropub scene), and it’s common to find an abundance of different types of spud in supermarkets and at markets all over the island. And we take pride in our potatoes. Oh yes! The Comber, hailing from the County Down village of the same name, is even part of an elite group of foods that have Protected Geographical Indication status, joining prestigious items such as Parma ham and Champagne.
Bread is something of a craft in Ireland. The unique soda bread is the most famous indigenous bread, and is served with everything from fried breakfasts, to smoked salmon, to tangy artisan cheese, and even just fresh butter and homemade jam, lots of jam. Usually brown, it can also be made with white flour (and is called white soda). Barm brack is a rich, yeasted raisin bread, almost like a fruit loaf, and is traditionally eaten at Halloween served thickly spread with butter. Watch your teeth, though: it’s a tradition to put a coin and a ring into the bread, and a sign of luck if you get them. Irish brown bread, Irish batch loaf (a Dublin favourite), brown scones, potato bread and wheaten bread are all popular all over the island, too.
There’s one thing that Ireland is blessed with: an abundance of lush grassland – and that means world-class dairy produce. Dairy farming and cheese making have a long and esteemed tradition in Ireland, but a new wave of cheese makers in the 1970s – including Veronica Steele of Mileens Cheese in Beara, County Cork, and Jeffa Gill of Durrus cheese in Coomkeen – have really raised the bar and helped turn Ireland into one of the most prestigious cheese-making nations in the world. Located in areas outstanding beauty and with pristine environments, these cheesemakers are based on smaller family-run farms where a dedicated team of foodies uses their passion to get their products to markets and supermarkets all over the island for you to try.