Rooted in tradition but defined by innovation, Ireland’s cuisine is often underestimated by many a food-loving traveler. In fact, most people may not know that long before its famous 19th century famine, Ireland was heavily relied-upon for its culinary exports – namely, its meats, seafood and dairy. Since then, the Emerald Isle has really come into its own as an up-and-coming epicurean destination, and visitors can find everything from foraged greens and freshly-caught ceviche to savoury seafood chowder and delicious handmade cheeses. Of course, the farmers and artisans crafting these tasty treasures are scattered to the wind across the country, and not all the experiences below are readily available, so having a guide who can hook you up with the right tailor-made experience – like the folks at Wilderness Ireland – really comes in handy.
Here are a few great reasons why you should start packing – and working up an appetite – for your next trip to Ireland:
1) You don’t know what you’re missing
While colcannon (a creamy concoction of potatoes, butter and greens) is largely considered the ultimate of Irish comfort foods, there’s so much more to this country’s culinary landscape than cabbage and spuds. Belfast, a growing favourite for urban foodies – and typically less pricey than Dublin – has excellent restaurants serving up everything from high tea to homestyle pub food to traditional dishes with a modern twist. Check out both Belfast’s cuisine and history before hiking the Causeway Coastal Route and Donegal. If you’re thinking of biking the Kerry Peninsulas, both Kerry and Cork have a reputation for mixing traditional dishes with fresh new ingredients sourced from across the country.
2) It’s got some seriously good sashimi
Yes, you read that right. The wild shores of Ireland are full of delicious and edible items often overlooked by most. For adventurous families, explore the rugged coastlines of Connemara with a local seaweed and foraging expert to learn about their value as an Irish “superfood” (some enjoy it in cheese, soups and even as dessert)! In southwest Ireland, sail the waters of Co Kerry in search of sashimi-grade goods for a custom-made picnic lunch. Foraging-to-fork is another popular way to explore the rugged valleys of Kerry. Set out on a guided salad trek to collect fennel, kelp and other free-growing greens, then enjoy your harvest in the kitchen of a local farmhouse.
3) Ireland is a dairy-lover’s dream
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ireland’s great sweeping landscapes have made an ideal pasture for livestock agriculture – and its grasses, often grown in the salty sea breeze, make for some truly excellent grass-fed butter, cheese and ice cream. The Aran Islands are beloved for encapsulating Irish traditions, be that the Irish language, traditional music and dance or tasty farm-to-fork products – particularly, goat’s cheese. Take a break from hiking Connemara and the Cliffs of Moher to visit a goat farm on Inis Mór, and learn how they make their goat’s cheese, gouda and feta products before sampling some of the very best grass-fed cheese around.
4) You won’t find better shellfish anywhere else
Sligo, or Sligeach in Irish, literally translates to “shelly place” – implying that the region’s famed Lissadell Mussels, oysters and other shellfish were enjoyed long before we had a name for them. In fact, many lovers of moules-frites may be surprised to find that Lissadell Mussels are a fan-favourite of chefs in both London and Paris. Follow the Sligo Food Trail while on a relaxed Biking and Yoga Escape in Ireland’s northwest region. Should you find yourself hiking the mountains of Connemara and Mayo, be sure to stop in at an oyster farm, where visitors can sample the wares of Ireland’s aquaculture – paired with a pint of Guinness, of course. Prefer your seafood fully-cooked after a long day’s hike? Dingle boasts a great selection of seafood-only eateries where you can indulge in a daily catch prepared crispy, creamy, chargrilled or in chowder form.
5) You can be part of an age-old pursuit
Speaking of chowder – being a seaside trove of ocean bounty, Ireland’s seafood chowder is a source of pride throughout the island, with many pubs claiming to boast a first-rate recipe. The search for the island’s champion chowder is a favourite pastime of visitors and locals alike, and though legend tells of a converted barn in northern Donegal that serves up a truly beautiful bowl, everyone knows that the hunt is half the fun. Hop on a cycling tour of the cliffs and coast of Donegal to weigh in on which bowl is best.
6) There’s plenty of ways to wash it all down…
Naturally, the best way to enjoy a delicious dish in Ireland is with a perfect pairing – whether that be whiskey, Guinness or gin. The Irish word for whiskey literally translates to “the water of life” – a fitting phrase for a country known for its distilleries. Old Bushmills Distillery, licensed in 1608 and one of Ireland’s most respected, is only a stone’s throw from the iconic Dunluce Castle and Giant’s Causeway on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast. Not to be outdone, gin is another popular Irish liqueur, thanks to the island’s abundance of juniper. Visit Ireland’s Ancient East where you’ll meet a local forager to collect your own juniper before going back school at the Listoke Distillery and Gin School for a lesson in field-to-glass mixology that ends with your very own bottle of gin.
To learn more about how you can fill up on Ireland, visit wildernessireland.com.