Food in Ireland has always been defined by invaders, the Celts of eastern, northern and southern Europe, the Vikings, Anglo-Normans, Saxons and Britons, by countless migrants and by the relationships coastal and river people developed as traders with seafarers and travellers.
Early food was based on grains – barley, einkorn, oats, spelt – on dairy produce, on game meat, on inshore, lake and river fish, on eggs (domesticated and wild), on honey and on wild berries and fruit.
Porridge made with milk and oats is one of the oldest traditional dishes. Oats were used in numerous ways, in soups and stews, in confections like honeycomb, and as the essential ingredient in griddle bread. They were fermented to provide the leaven for bread, before bicarbonate of soda and baker’s yeast.
Cooking, curing and curdling methods were influenced by the invaders. The Vikings specialised in air-dried fish but it is likely that the tradition of salt-dried fish was brought from the Iberian peninsula. Whatever the origin, drying fish was a tradition around the Atlantic fringe.
Cockle, eel, haddock, herring, langoustine (Dublin bay prawn), mackerel, pike, salmon, trout and winkle provided protein for coastal, lake and river communities. Sea vegetables such as dulse and sloke were eaten as snacks, in bread and soups.
Meat from domesticated and wild birds (duck and goose in particular), small animals (hares and rabbits) and large animals (boar and deer) was common, and defined traditional dishes.
The potato had a profound effect on traditional food. Usually cooked whole in their skins, a method that retained minerals and vitamins, the potato was used as a thickener for soups (early chowders, for example), as a bulking agent in stews and as a companion for countless dishes – boxty, champ, colcannon, pratie.
Nothing was wasted. Offal was mixed with pig’s blood and oats to make black pudding. Pig trotter’s were served whole or as an aromatic thickener in soups and stews. Sausage making utilised pork meat and biscuit rusk in a combination that was unique (the continentals put rusk in their meatballs – a tradition that never caught on in Ireland).
Mutton became an important food in the late 18th century. The consequence was Irish stew, made initially with mutton, potatoes, onions and salt, then much latter with other root vegetables and herbs.
Bread making went through countless adaptations in the early 19th century as new ingredients were introduced, and produce and products from overseas – bicarbonate of soda, dried fruit, molasses, soft wheat, spices and sugar – led to the beginnings of many of the dishes now associated with Irish traditional food.
Cakes and confections proliferated, influenced by migrants from France, Italy and Switzerland who introduced home bakeries and ice cream parlours.
Breakfast became the most important meal of the day, and epitomised traditional food, continuing to this day. Depending on the region, breakfast included a combination of foods from bacon rashers, black and white puddings, fried eggs, pork-rusk sausages, potatoes in their various disquises, white soda bread and steak sausages followed by wheaten soda bread and scones with butter, jams and preserves, milky tea or coffee with hot milk. Fast breakfast was fadge – bacon, eggs and potato cakes.
The concept of meat, vegetables and potatoes on a plate probably started in Ireland. Now bacon / gammon / ham, cabbage and mashed potatoes / chipped potatoes or roast stuffed pork, carrots, gravy and mashed potatoes / chipped potatoes or sirloin steak, crispy onion and mashed potatoes/chipped potatoes are thought of as traditional dishes.
Barm / Round Brack
Colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale)
PEOPLE PLACE PRODUCE
Barm / Round Brack*
Battered Lobster Tails / Prawns (Scampi)
Beara Pan-Fried Mackerel, also Donegal
Black Pudding, also known as Cork Drisheen, Mayo Drisheen, etc*
Bookies Sandwich (rump/sirloin and crusty white bread / soda bread to a specific recipe, now being applied to the Waterford Blaa)
Breakfast Bap / Roll (bacon, egg, sausage)
Brotchán Foltchep (leek and oatmeal soup)
Cabbage and Bacon / Gammon / Ham
Carrageen, Mackerel and Potato chowder
Champ / Stelk (mashed potatoes and scallions), Donegal
Cheesecake with raisins, old version with curds
Cheese, Regional, especially non-pasturised
Coddle, modern version, Dublin
Connemara Chowder (carrageen, dulse, potatoes, mussels)
Connemara Hill Lamb***
Connemara Potato Cakes, also Donegal Potato Farls
Connemara Scones made with buttermilk
Cruibíns (pig’s trotters)
Dexter Beef, Cork, Donegal
Dublin Lawyer, lobster and whiskey
Fadge (bacon, eggs and potato cakes), new version*
Farmhouse Butter, modern artisan version
Galway Bay Lobsters
Galway Bay Oysters
Guinness Beef Stew
Guinness Cake (previously porter cake)*
Honey Mousse, Wexford*
Honey, Wexford and other regions*
Inismaan Chowder, Galway (made with sea vegetables and potatoes)*
Irish Sea Prawns*
Irish Stew, Connemara, Donegal*
Liver and Onions
Mackerel, Beara Pennisula, Cape Clear, Donegal*
Mountain / Hill Lamb, Derry, Donegal, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo*
Meat and Potato (mutton) Pies
Oatmeal Griddle Bread
Pork, Roast, stuffed
Potato (varieties), especially Rooster*
Pratie (mashed oats and potatoes)
Rowanberry jelly, Galway*
Salt Cod, Kerry*
Sea Trout, baked
Soda Bread, white and wheaten
Sowans (fermented oats)*
Steak Sausages, Donegal*
Stiffner (potatoes mashed with buttermilk and known by different names in the various dialects)*
Aran Sweet Beef, Inis Oírr, Galway*
Tipperary (beef) Pie*
Treacle Bread, northern counties.
Wheaten Farls (Irish wheat), northern and western counties.*
White Pudding, regional*
*Indicates potential Geographic Indicator Status