Prior to visiting Ireland this summer, I had very little knowledge about Irish cuisine. The handful of Irish restaurants in Atlanta are known for their pub style atmosphere serving burgers, fried foods, potatoes and lots of beer. Though that is an integral part of the Irish culture, modern Irish cuisine has evolved quite a bit in the past couple of decades.
Over tea at the Burren Perfumerie, my new friends Birgitta Curtin (proprietor of Burrren Smokehouse, Roadside Tavern and speaker on Irish cuisine) and Sadie Chowen Doyle (perfume maker and owner at Burren Perfumerie) informed me that they have witnessed the evolution of Irish cuisine during their life in the Burren. “Just 10 years ago, the only cheese they could buy was imported from other parts of Europe. Now, there are so many cheese makers in Ireland and our cheese is so good!” says Doyle.
Back when resources were scant, hearty stews and meat pies went a long way to fill the family. But now, Ireland has progressed a lot as a nation. Tourism sector has expanded, trade is thriving and many Irish people earn a decent living.
Couple that with artisanal producers, innovative chefs, and world-class ingredients, you have the perfect recipe to create amazing food.
Fresh and Organic Ingredients
Practically every restaurant I went to in Ireland featured only fresh ingredients, many of them sourced from their own farms. Homemade Irish soda bread, Jersey cow butter, raspberry jam, honeycomb ice cream, dexter beef, curried parsnips, fresh beet salad…the list goes on!
Curtin smokes salmon from the northwest part of Ireland, which is organic and sustainable. Each fish is spaced out in clean waters and fed natural foods, so the salmon has three times more Omega 3 Fatty Acids than any other salmon. Her hot and cold smoked salmon can be found at many restaurants across the country and shipped all over the world. Of course, I tasted it throughout my trip!
Other local seafood includes oysters, mussels, hand-dived scallops and hake. Most of the fish is caught that morning and served to the guests on the same day.
Local But International
A common theme across my three dozen meals was internationally inspired recipes cooked with local Irish ingredients. French and Italian cooking techniques were used the most, offering homemade pasta, risotto, terrines, puff pastry and decadent cakes and tarts.
Michelin Star Dining
Ireland has over a dozen Michelin star restaurants. I ate at two former winners – Ballymaloe House in Shanagarry and Dromoland castle near Shannon. At both places, I met people who had come from all over Ireland just to eat at the restaurants. Set in idyllic atmosphere, offering personal service and mouth watering dishes, these were a rare treat!
The Ballymaloe Cookery School located on a 100 acre organic farm in County Cork is one of the most recognized cooking schools in Europe offering 3-month long residential programs. One can stay in the charming countryside and learn to cook Irish and international cuisines using farm ingredients. Students go beyond the kitchen to help milk cows, make yogurt, gather eggs, and tend to herb and vegetable gardens. The Belle Isle Cookery School at Belle Isle Estate complete with 17th century castle on the shores of Lough Erne in County Fermanagh is another popular cooking school.
Fine Spirits Too
The Irish love their drinks. From triple distilled smooth whiskey to craft beers and homemade liquors, there was no shortage of spirits at every meal. As a good tourist, I took tours of the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson factory. I discovered that many French wines such as Château Lynch-Bages and Château Léoville-Barton are made by Irish descendants.
Good Food Everywhere
You don’t have to go to fancy restaurant in Ireland to taste good quality food, which can be quite expensive. Even roadside fish shacks, food courts and all-day cafes serve excellent dishes made fresh daily. The English Market Cafe in Cork City and O’Connors bar in the Ring of Beara were couple of my favorites.
Have a favorite Irish dish or restaurant to recommend? Leave your comments below…