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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Ireland

Culinary Influences

Ireland has a fairly temperate climate and this begins their culinary history. Wild game, such as deer, beef, sheep, and boar were used for meat while fish and other seafood were also common along the coasts and rivers. However most of the population couldn't afford these meats and generally ate berries, nuts, and other fruits and vegetables. Many of the earliest traditional Irish dishes were in the form of soup or stew and were rather hearty.

After the Normans arrived in the 1100s wheat and beans became more popular and brought new possibilities to the cuisine. It also began a trend away from soups and stews, although these dishes never entirely disappeared.

The next great arrival was the potato in the 1500s, which soon became a staple food and the main life sustaining force (along with dairy) for the island's lower classes. This hardly changed until the 1800s when meats were more widely available. With this change new cooking styles and dishes were introduced, particularly from France.

In modern day Ireland fast foods and ethnic foods are gaining popularity. "Fish and chips" is a popular dish as are various ethnic foods including Indian, Chinese, and more recently Polish foods.

Staple Foods

Bread: commonly served with most dishes, even many that already contain potato
Potato: this food is found in most hot dishes and is a true staple and base in the Irish diet

Regional Variations & Specialties

Black Pudding: blood and barley with various seasonings
Coddle: layered bacon and pork with potatoes and onions
Southwest Ireland: region experimenting with traditional Irish dishes served in a French style; it is fairly distinct
Stobhach: or "Irish Stew" is the national dish and consists of lamb or mutton with potatoes, carrots, onions, and parsley

Dining Etiquette

Irish Food - Sausage with mash
Sausage with mash

Dining rules in Ireland are similar to those in the United Kingdom, but tend to be more relaxed. The Irish may arrive a couple minutes late and formalities are generally limited in scope, although turning down an alcoholic drink may offend your local host.

If you're eating in a local's home bring a small gift and try everything that's prepared as turning down food can be somewhat rude, but the Irish are more understanding than most if you truly cannot eat something for whatever reason. Unlike many European countries, if you're not eating, keep your hands out of sight and place them on your lap.

As you eat, be sure to eat in the continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left) and use the small plate on the table as a discard tray for your potato peelings. As the meal concludes the inviter should pay for everyone if at a restaurant (although for drinking, generally everyone buys a round for the group) and if you're at a local's home, offer to help clear the dishes when the meal is finished.

In Ireland your bill may state that a service change has been included, in which case there is no need to leave an additional tip. If the bill doesn't state this, a tip of 10-15% is appropriate, but not necessary.

Drinks

The most common non-alcoholic beverage in Ireland is tea, generally served with milk and sugar, but all varieties exist. Lemonade and soft drinks are also very common, as are coffees, milk, and other popular drinks.

In the "pubs" Ireland offers a number of well-known drinks. The island is famous for their whiskey, their dark stouts, and "Irish coffee." Ireland makes some of the world's best whiskey, some of which are well known internationally; whiskey is also one of the three ingredients in Irish coffee (coffee and whipped cream are the other two). Likewise, some local beers, including Guinness and Harp, are well known and tend to be the most commonly consumed drinks in Irish pubs. Wines and other hard liquors are also accessible, but are not as popular as the above.

Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Ireland, but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to.

This page was last updated: March, 2013