Outside of Ireland, Irish food is often mistakenly thought to consist of nothing more than potatoes and mutton. How wrong. The food and cooking of Ireland are steeped in history and heritage and Irish food draws on the wealth of ingredients available from the sea, the land, the moors and pastureland in Ireland. Home and family in Ireland play an important part in Irish food and cooking with the kitchen still the heart of every home with Irish hospitality and their love of celebrating renowned throughout the world.
The History of Irish Food in Ireland
Countless influences have made their mark on food and cooking of Ireland over the centuries from the arrival of the Celts in Ireland about 600 to 500 BC, the Vikings and the English colonization of Ireland in the 16th and 17th century.
Cattle played an important part in Irish food from the middle ages until the arrival of the potato in Ireland in the 16th century. The meat was predominantly food for the rich with the poor making do with the offal, the milk, cheese, and butter which were supplemented with grains and barley for nourishment.
The Potato in Ireland – A Blessing and a Curse
The potato arrived in Ireland in the mid-to-late 16th century. The damp, cool Irish climate and soil conditions proved perfect for potatoes and the potato rapidly moved from a simple garden vegetable to a staple food crop for both man and animals as it was cheap to grow and even a small plot could produce a hearty crop. The high mineral and vitamin content of the potato also made it a perfect, cheap food for the poor of Ireland and was a welcome change from the cereal crops, they had been dependent on.
The dependence on potatoes as a staple food, however, also proved a curse for the Irish with the Potato Famine in Ireland. The first in 1739 was a result of cold weather but the famine of 1845-49 in Ireland was caused by potato blight, a rapidly spreading disease that wiped out the potato crops and resulted in the death of over 1,000,000 Irish. Of those who survived over two million emigrated (many to the US and the UK) and several million in Ireland were left destitute.
Potatoes remain a basic foodstuff in Ireland are served almost daily as part of a meal. Unlike Britain, cooked potatoes are served in their skin, which is removed at the table. This ensures more of the nutrients remain in the potato during cooking.
Food in Ireland Today
Like the rest of the UK and Europe, Ireland has a thriving modern food culture, fast-foods, and international restaurants found mainly in the major cities. Younger chefs have embraced the heritage of their food and often work with familiar recipes creating them in news ways but outside the cities, Irish food predominantly remains traditional and hearty fare from recipes handed down over generations.
The pig is the oldest domesticated animal in Ireland and its presence is still widespread in the food and cooking of Ireland with sausages, bacon, gammon appearing in many recipes especially Dublin coddle–considered one of Ireland’s national dishes – made from bacon, sausages, and of course, potatoes.
Irish beef is world-renowned and no St Patrick’s Day meal would be complete without corned beef, or a Gaelic steak (pan-fried steak with a shot of Irish whiskey).
Fish and Seafood
Surrounded by sea, and with rivers and lakes, fish and seafood naturally play an important part in Irish food. Oysters, crab, lobster and langoustine, cockles, mussels, white fish, salmon fresh and smoked, are easily found and enjoyed throughout Ireland.
In the early part of the 20th-century, Irish cheese had a somewhat poor reputation as most cheeses came from large-scale manufacturers. All of that changed in the 1970s when enterprising dairy farmers returned to artisan cheese-making and reviving a long lost art in Ireland. Today, Irish cheese is renowned throughout the world for the quality and distinctive flavor of its cheeses.