Irish Food

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Nobody goes to Ireland for the food. That’s what Italy’s for, right?

People go to Ireland to see the beautiful countryside, to look up their Irish roots or to listen to traditional Irish music in the pubs while rubbing elbows with the locals {more coming on those things in future posts!}.

But just like anywhere else, there are establishments in Ireland that offer high-end, unique and satisfying cuisine. We just didn’t make an attempt to find them.

I remember when my friend Jen and I backpacked Europe in 2000, that our culinary experience in Ireland consisted mostly of fish and chips, Irish breakfasts {for dinner} and Beef/Guinness/Irish stew. I also remember that after spending time in England and Scotland, by the time we got to Ireland, all we wanted were some vegetables. An immense craving for a salad consumed both of us. To our surprise, we found “salad” listed as a side on a lunch menu one day. We were so grateful that we had finally found something! When it was delivered to our table, we were completely dismayed to find that this “salad” was coleslaw.

Before this trip, I told Rob that while I’d probably be trying a lot of fish and chips, he’d probably be safe with the Beef/Guinness/Irish stew. Furthermore, I warned him that the “chips” were thick cut, not the skinny fries he so adores.

Upon arrival, our very first lunch was at the hotel. I enjoyed my sandwich, just fine.

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Look! Coleslaw and a salad!

However, the rest of the crew didn’t like theirs as much.

Rob said the beef on this sandwich was tough and, of course, the chips just weren't his style.

Rob said the beef on this sandwich was tough and, of course, the chips just weren’t his style.

My Best Meal

The best meal that I had in Ireland this trip, was at Kennedy’s in Dublin. I believe it was even our very first night. I ordered a special on the menu that was some sort of chicken dish with tomato, avocado and a balsamic drizzle. Flippin’ out of this world. It was juicy and flavorful. In fact, it was the best chicken dish I had had in a long time anywhere.

I really wish I would have taken a picture. But I started to annoy Rob when I began snapping photos of our beverages that night. I think he wanted me to just relax and enjoy our trip. Understandably so, but taking pictures is soooo not stressful for me! I love capturing memories. And what’s the difference if my vacation photos are of food or the countryside? {As long as I have a little bit of both.} Still, after that, I stopped taking pictures for a while. But  if there is one meal that I should have photographed, this would have been it. Not only did it have fantastic flavors, it was beautifully presented. I nearly licked the plate clean.

Rob ordered the beef stew while his parents ordered burgers. My father-in-law had no problem with the burger there and happily finished it. However, Rob was grossed out by the meat in his stew. He said it was way too fatty. His mom wasn’t fond of her burger either. When Rob decided that he would finish her burger instead, he stopped after just one bite, describing the meat as “funky”.

Chicken

I quickly learned the food that was “safest” for me to order in Ireland chicken. I actually enjoyed nearly every chicken dish I ordered! On one occasion, nothing really sounded good to me on the menu, so I ordered a Caesar Salad. I wasn’t really in the mood for a Caesar Salad either, but everything else just seemed too filling and unappetizing. When it arrived, it was really nothing at all like a Caesar Salad as we know it. But I loved it anyway! The chicken was juicy, there were tomatoes and a creamy dressing. It was actually better than what I had been hoping for.

Tea

Did you know that more tea is consumed by the Irish than the British? That’s a little bit of trivia we learned on our trip. Every hotel and B & B where we stayed had teapots in the room along with an assortment of teas.

Breakfast

Included in our hotel stays was the morning buffet breakfast with toasts, jams, scones, juices, eggs, bacon, sausages, cereals, yogurts… You name it. I love breakfast, so this was great for me. And I quickly found out what I liked and didn’t like. {I was surprised that I didn’t like the sausage!}

My favorite breakfast was at the Radisson Blu in Galway. There were so many different cheeses and pastries and the quality was just much better there. Rob is not a big get-up-and-eat breakfast kind of guy, so he humored me with the whole ordeal of getting down to eat before departing. However, we came to learn that these breakfasts were not included in everyone’s stays. If the breakfast had not been part of our trip cost, it would have been 17 Euro at the Radisson. That’s about $23. I think that’s hefty if they aren’t serving Mimosas! 😉 Plus, Rob only nibbled a bit.

Soup of the Day

The Soup of the Day was always vegetable. It became a joke between my mother-in-law and me. After enjoying a filling breakfast that wasn’t too early in the am, we often didn’t eat lunch until 2pm. A little soup was just fine to tide us over until dinner. When inquiring about the “Soup of the Day”, we always got the response:

Vegetable

I’m not sure if it was just the time of the year or if it’s just the easiest, most economical thing to do with leftovers that made the vegetable the soup of the day nearly everywhere we went. But no matter what, I almost always loved the soup. However, my father-in-law didn’t like the fact that they “pulverized the heck out of it”. He wanted chunks of vegetables in his soup, damn it! 😉

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Vegetable Soup with Brown Bread

And, oh, how delicious was that brown bread with butter! Actually, I feel like I need to try making some soon. It’s winter and a little vegetable soup and brown bread sounds like a nice, comforting meal right now.

Portion Sizes

For lunch, Rob would often try something more familiar on the menu, but the portion sizes were much more manageable than they’d be in the U.S.:

nachos with a side salad

Nachos with – you guessed it – a side salad.

Portion sizes really did vary from place to place.  Here are some examples:

I have no ida

I have no idea what Rob had here, but it was the perfect size for lunch. {And came with a side salad!}

I loved this salmon dish I had at the Bunratty Castle Hotel. And it, too, came with a big side salad!

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Then there was a side order of mashed potatoes that came with a dinner my mother-in-law ordered. But doesn’t it really look like a big ol’ bowl of vanilla ice cream?!

A side of mashed potatoes

A side of mashed potatoes

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In Galway, many menus and signs were written in both English and Gaelic. I ordered this Warm Brie Salad. I devoured the breaded brie, but left the little side salad since I didn’t like the dressing.

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Fish & Chips

In Galway, I finally had some fish and chips, too! I remembered fish & chips being one of the meals I loved in Ireland back on my trip in 2000. I waited until Galway to have them because we were recommended by some Dubliners to get the fish and chips at McDonagh’s Fish and Chip Bar there. They said they were the best in Galway and probably the best in Ireland!

My thoughts were that they were pretty bland. But truthfully, I hadn’t had any fish and chips in a really long time. And those weren’t even in Ireland. My in-laws, who had had some fish and chips earlier in the trip, said that McDonagh’s fish and chips were better in that they weren’t as greasy.

Poor, poor Rob, though. After we looked at the menu and found that there was near to nothing rob could have , we asked him if he’d like to go somewhere else. He insisted we get our fish and chips and he would find something. He ordered some garlic or cheese bread of some sort, but it was the smallest portion size I’ve ever seen. Nothing that could fill anyone up by any means. But a true appetizer shouldn’t do that anyway. Still, Rob insisted that he was fine and we went on our merry way to listen to some traditional Irish music after enjoying our grub.

Beef

That night, after the pints of Guinness and hours of clapping and singing, and after his parents were long gone, Rob and I finally left the bar. On the walk back to our hotel, I noticed that Rob was more than just a bit tipsy after nearly nothing for dinner and drinking all through the festivities. Not wanting him to be sick, as we passed by a McDonald’s on that main street in Galway, I insisted that he get something to eat there. It was the only place open. I didn’t even a see a Spar open where we could grab some snacks.

He agreed to it and ordered some sort of specialty burger, with a smoky sauce.  After devouring it, he exclaimed: “I didn’t know beef could taste that good in Ireland!” Sad, isn’t it? After the first few days of having funky-tasting meat, he nearly had gone vegetarian and even “loved” the chips he would never eat at home.

Then, about a week ago, we read this article about horsemeat being found in “beef” burgers in Ireland. No wonder we saw these billboards all over the country:

Okay, that doesn’t even make sense on my part. This just says that the beef they use is 100% Irish/local, not that the burgers are 100% beef. Which is why my original thought that this was the reason Rob liked the burger at McDonald’s over the meat elsewhere throughout Ireland was wrong.

Instead, it might just be that McDonald’s has achieved its goal to make their burgers taste the same everywhere {regardless of the meat from which it is made}. Or it could be the fact that Irish burgers are made of local meat. We all know that when you eat foods that are local and/or in-season, they are usually fresher.  Finally, it could just be that Rob had too much to drink with no food in his stomach and anything tasted good at the moment. 😉

My advice – order chicken in Ireland. It just might surprise you, like it did me. No one thinks to do this in Ireland, because it’s not really considered “traditional”. But more times than not, I was pleased.

Final Meal

On our last night in Ireland, in the fair city of Dublin, Rob had had enough. We had our last pint of Guinness where it was supposed to taste best, checked out the Porterhouse {the halfway decent micro brew pub in Dublin} and then settled in for some Italian food. Yes. That’s right. We sold out. When traveling, you should try the food of the locals, right?

Although, thinking about that right now, there are not many restaurants in Minnesota that I can think of that serve lefse or a traditional hot dish. It would take a lot to seek them out. Creamy wild rice soup is sometimes hard to come by. {How many prepositions at the end of a sentence can I end with?} 😉

But it was so worth it. Sadly, Rob dubbed it as his best meal in Ireland. The staff there spoke Italian with each other and there were even some Italian teenagers causing a ruckus while waiting for their take-away pizzas. Maybe we could stretch it a little and say that we were in Europe, so we should eat European food. People order New York Cheesecake in California all the time, right? Yeah, I know, it’s a major stretch. Maybe even blasphemous.

 But in the end, it’s not only about the food when you are traveling. It’s the company, the landscapes, the culture, the people that make a trip more than memorable. I’ve yet to share all of those with you…

Want to learn more about our trip to Ireland this past fall? Check out these links:

Wine in Wine Countries, Guinness in Guinness Country

Ireland – Weather & What to Wear

The Beauty that is the Emerald Isle

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Whiskey Wednesday – An Ireland Post

Irish Sport – Hurling

Celebrating Gaelic Football

Sláinte~
Carrie

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