When I previously thought of ‘Irish cuisine’ I could never get past the clichéd images of bowls of watery mash and a pint of Guinness in a dark run down pub, populated by ale-soaked, boozy old men. Having spent some time eating my way around Northern Ireland recently, I can happily conclude that there is so much more to Irish cuisine than I had ever imagined, with venues often adding their own creative twists to traditional dishes. This once unfashionable food is back with a culinary vengeance, with chefs using quality Irish produce to reimagine classic dishes. There is a whole host of innovative eateries, microbreweries and hipster joints serving exciting food across Northern Ireland. Here are some dishes you need to try on your next trip over.
Seafood fans will be delighted at the quality and freshness of seafood available across Ireland, as you might expect from an island nation. There are many seafood venues, gastro pubs and bars serving up a deliciously fishy range of Atlantic caught oysters, prawns, mussels and crab. Make sure you feast on the gorgeous crab claws at the family run Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy. Thrones fans can even have a little sit on the Fullerton Arms replica ‘Iron Throne’, after chowing down on some smashing seafood.
Think of an ‘Ulster Fry’ as an English breakfast 2.0, you get your usual combination of bacon, sausage and egg but with the added bonus of white and black pudding, soda bread and my new food obsession, potato bread. I cannot begin to describe how wonderfully simple, yet delicious breakfast addition. Made using mashed potatoes, butter, flour and salt and served piping hot from the griddle or pan. I would sell my own grandmother for a plate of the potatoey good stuff. Why not try a ‘wee Ulster fry’ [hint ‘wee’ in Northern Ireland generally means ginormous] in the lovely Portrush Atlantic Hotel, their black puddings are frankly exquisite.
You can’t possibly come to Northern Ireland and not have a bowl of steaming, traditional Irish stew, especially if you are visiting during the winter months, you will need some hearty food before you brave an Irish gale! Many venues will have their own particular take on this popular dish but typically a stew will consist of Irish lamb, onions, carrots and of course, potatoes. Why not try a warming bowl at Kelly’s Cellars in Belfast? Built in 1720, this is one of the oldest pubs in Belfast and it serves a bloody lovely Irish stew to go with your pint.
Barmbrack is a traditional sweetened bread with cinnamon and dried mixed fruit, that is steeped in holiday tradition. It is customary during Halloween for the Barmbrack maker to bake objects to the barmbrack, such as a small piece of cloth, a ring or coins, that acted as a kind of fortune-telling game. It should be noted that adding potential choking hazards is more of a ‘home baking’ Irish tradition, so you don’t have to be wary of accidentally ingesting a quid if you buy one in a cake shop.
You can’t really get more Irish than a big bowl of colcannon, a creamy mixture of mashed potatoes, cabbage, cream and butter, commonly served with bacon. Whilst it sounds like a rather bland staple to have as a dinner dish, it’s the ultimate in tasty comfort food to warm your cockles on a drizzly evening. It is also a rather wonderful accompaniment to traditional Irish pork sausages. make sure you grab a plate at the family-run Plough Inn, found in the pretty village of Hillsborough.
Soda bread type of ‘quick bread’ made by using baking soda instead of yeast and is a classic of Irish baking. It’s quick to make, no fuss type of break that can go from oven-to-mouth in under an hour, meaning you can pick up super fresh bread in bakeries and cafes around Nothern Ireland. Make sure you sample some soda bread at the popular Thyme & Co, an award winning cafe in Ballycastle.
You can’t talk about Cuisine in Northern Ireland and not mention drinking as well, given its huge social and cultural significance. This is the land of pubs, Guinness and special Irish drinking songs, happy slurred over an ale, my favourite being “All for me Grog”. There is a marvellous mixture of trendy bars, hipster joints and traditional Irish pubs serving your typical O’Hara’s Celtic Stout, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Murphy’s Irish Red and the world renowned and iconic Gunniess. If you want to experience a quality Irish ale in a ye old fashioned pub, then head immediately to The Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast, they have incredible Victorian gothic decor and a brilliant atmosphere to boot.
This classic drink is perfect as a wintery drink, created in Limerick in 1943 by chef Joe Sheridan as a way of warming up frozen-to-the-bone disembarking boat passengers. It took off and is now an ingrained into Irish culture. It is made with hot coffee, Irish whiskey and sugar, with a layer of thick cream poured ever so carefully over the top. When visiting Derry/Londonderry/Legenderry make sure you have an Irish coffee making demonstration with the fabulous ‘Irish coffee connoisseur’ and learn how to pour the perfect Irish Coffee and get a taste for whisky at the same time.