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Irish Food Traditions and Where They Come From

If you’ve ever had traditional Irish food, you’ll know that it’s made from inexpensive, simple ingredients and there is a “no waste” approach to food. This comes from a long tradition and history of poverty amongst a large portion of the population. Of course, Ireland has come a long way and times have changed, but the traditional meals are still grounded in this long, rich history.

One glance at a true Irish recipe and you’ll see that there are often only a few ingredients. Few seasonings are used, with salt and pepper being the most common. Common recipe ingredients include potatoes, cabbage, bacon, beef, lamb, bread and other vegetables, but note that beef, lamb and other pork are more recent additions. Potatoes, of course, were the main staple of the poor Irish diet for a very long time.

Not only is there a focus on keeping things simple with food, but there is also an emphasis on ensuring everything is eaten. For example, pigs are common livestock in Ireland and the Irish use everything. From the Crubeens (pig’s feet) and tripe (stomach), all the way to drisheen (blood sausage), nothing is wasted.

There are a number of common traditional meals in Ireland, but you might be surprised to learn that corned beef isn’t included in them. While many think that corned beef is a traditional Irish food and it was an important export for a few centuries, it was not commonly served at the Irish table as beef was an expensive meat that many could not afford.

Here are a few traditional foods you may, or may not, recognize:

Irish Potato Soup: A milk and stock-based soup, its main ingredients are potatoes and onions.

Irish Breakfast: This very hearty breakfast meal is served with bacon, sausage, blood sausage, white (oatmeal) pudding, vegetables and bread.

Colcannon: A creamy dish made with mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale, with a little bacon thrown in too.

Boxty: A potato pancake, made with grated and mashed potato, pan-fried in oil.

Irish Stew: The traditional version includes mutton, potatoes and onions. However, more modern versions add other vegetables and meats.

Bacon and Cabbage: Boiled cabbage, bacon and onion are sweetened with brown sugar for a very satisfying meal.

Many recount the Irish approach to food after the Great Famine as being just as a means of sustenance, rather than for enjoyment. They also give credit to Myrtle Allen to expanding the country’s interest in food in the 1990s. She started as a cookery correspondent to the Irish Farmers Journal and then the family opened a restaurant Ballymaloe House and farm that exposed Ireland to new European methods of cooking. Along with her daughter-in-law, Darina O’Connell, she opened the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the ideas spread, changing the face of the way the Irish ate.

Today, there are many restaurants and international foods are quite common, but the traditions still thrive and are grounded in a long, rich history.