The history of food in Ireland is fascinating because it’s not just about what Irish food is the tastiest or what Dublin food is the new hot trend. It’s so much more than that.
When I researched what to eat in Dublin I was presented with the standard Irish foods. But I think it would be irresponsible of me not to also share the bigger picture of why Dublin food is the way it is.
Why the potato is so important to Ireland. And why people are still talking about the Great Famine in Ireland.
The Struggle for Food in Ireland
In Ireland food isn’t just about what to eat. I spent two days on a press trip with people who shared with me the history and politics of food in Ireland.
Irish food has always been about sustenance. The English created a system of small land ownership system that prevented them succeeding.
If they did not pay monthly bills it was ripped from them. So they did not invest and they grew what was heartiest to feed a family – the potato.
Irish food includes a lot of hearty dishes based on sustenance because they were farming all day just to get by.
To complicate things even more, there were political tensions between the English Protestants who were not so empathetic to the plights of Irish Catholic farmers.
And then there was the famine.
We’ve all hard about the famine but I don’t think I truly realized how horrible it was, and why people still talk about it in Ireland.
In the 19th Century the potato famine was the worst disaster in Europe. The potato provided 60% of Ireland’s food needs so the potato blight was a major disaster as even Irish exported grain could not make up for the loss of food.
Some call it a genocide because England knew it was happening. But the Whig government was so tied up in bureaucracy of supporting Ireland they would not send food or support until it was far too late. Even then soup kitchens, which fed 3 million people, only ran for 6 months despite needing them for much longer.
From 1845 to 1850 the small population of Ireland dropped from 8 million to 6 million.
One million people died of starvation and diseases from lack of nutrition. Nearly two million others could not chance it and so they emigrated to the new world.
The Modern Ireland Food Scene
Food for enjoyment rather than survival is a (relatively) new thing in Ireland. And the recession in 2008 the actually helped advance modern Irish food.
So many Irish went abroad, as a culture Ireland changed its palate as a new generation sampled new tastes and cooks came home with new flavours. And so today Dublin food isn’t just about meat and potatoes.
Check out this guide to restaurants in Dublin for both modern and traditional food in Dublin.
Yet as much as the culinary scene in Dublin has changed, I always think it’s important to understand a country’s culinary roots.
This is the list of food in Dublin I kept an eye out for, and while I didn’t get the opportunity to sample all of it I know I will be back.
Traditional Dublin Food
Traditional food in Dublin is still prevalent as Dubliners continue to embrace comfort food favourites.
The potato isn’t a joke…seriously don’t make jokes about the Irish eating so much potato. They don’t like it. But they have mastered eating it many ways. And often have more than one variation on a plate.
This is not the time to avoid carbs. Just embrace the tasty Irish ingredient. It truly is spectacular.
It may seem odd to kick off a list of the best Dublin food with something as simple as butter. But this is the best advice I can give you:
DO NOT skip the bread and butter on the table.
Normally I don’t touch a bread basket before a meal. But I could have skipped all other food and just eaten butter on different breads in Dublin.
The butter here is just…amazing.
I felt foolish that I was surprised by oysters in Ireland. After all it is an island in cold waters just like Prince Edward Island, which has some of the best oysters in the world.
Older generations of Irish don’t eat oysters, unless they are from coastal areas. However, the younger generations have embraced them.
Look for these briny delicacies from Galway Bay, Waterford, Dooncastle and Flaggy Shore and many more.
Galway also has an annual oyster festival that is world famous and there are plenty of other coastal regions that have festivals throughout the year
Where to Eat Oysters in Dublin:
KLAW Seafood Cafe by Niall Sabongi
Happy hour daily from 5-6pm with oysters for 1.50 Euro.
There’s no doubt that it’s tough to beat a good Irish stew. This one pot stew follows the traditional of all great stews around the world – it’s made from leftovers.
A classic dish from the working class, it’s named because of the slow simmering or “coddling” of ingredients for hours.
Coddle often uses potato and onions along with pork sausage and/or bacon. Basically anything left over in the fridge at the end of the week goes in this dish. Served with soda bread, it continues to be a very popular Dublin food.
This dish has such strong ties to Dubliners that it was included in James Joyce’s writings.
Where to Eat Coddle in Dublin:
The Hairy Lemon pub
42 Lower Stephens Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Full Irish Breakfast
I nearly made the mistake of calling this a full English breakfast. But I corrected myself mid-sentence before offending anyone.
A full Irish breakfast is typically a weekend meal and that’s because it is enormous.
This fry-up usually consists of Irish-style bacon, black and white pudding, fried tomatoes, fried potatoes, eggs and baked beans. Of course there is toast and sometimes there are fried mushrooms.
Where to Eat a Full Irish Breakfast in Dublin:
This breakfast above is from The Dean Hotel. However, when I shared this on instagram people immediately asked about the American-style bacon as it was out of place.
Jill from The Global Glutton recommends The Bank Bar and Restaurant.
This Irish dish is rumoured to have been invented during the famine. It’s a peculiar name for a dish that supposed originates from the Irish arán bocht tí, which means poor house bread as it’s made from potato.
It’s so old there’s a rhyme for it:
Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan; if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.
This rhyme also shares that boxty was very versatile.
Boxty on the griddle is a potato pancake made with mashed potatoes and finely grated raw potatoes combined with flour and salt. It can be pan fried on a griddle and served at breakfast.
Boxty in the oven was the potato mixture added to a pancake style batter and baked in the oven
And the potato mixture can also resemble potato dumplings. It may be boiled then sliced and pan fried.
Seriously the Irish are wizards at taking just a few ingredients and magically transforming it into different dishes.
Where to Eat Boxty in Dublin:
Gallagher’s Boxty House
20-21 Temple Bar, Dublin D2, Ireland
I raved about the butter and the local cheese is also incredible. Irish dairy is just so decadent that even yogurt is fantastic.
Dairy is such a serious business here that at weddings they now have cheese towers that sometimes replace the tiered cake.
Personally I think this is a great idea. Wedding cake is never good, but a tower of cheese! Now that’s a good wedding.
Where to Eat Cheese in Dublin:
No visit to Dublin is complete without a stop at Sheridans, a place of worship for cheeselovers. Niamh also suggested I pick up a box of their soda bread crackers and they were so good I ate them separately from the cheese!
11 South Anne Street, Dublin, Ireland
A simple Irish food, champ isn’t to be confused with regular mashed potatoes. Along with potatoes and gorgeous Irish full fat milk, there’s plenty of that delicious butter and green onions.
I’m not going to lie, I thought it was crazy that this food in Dublin had a different name that simply saying mashed potato with green onion.
But then I tried it. And it’s deserving of its own name.
There are five types of deer living wild in Ireland: Sika, Fallow, Red, Roe and Muntjac. Alas there are no reindeer in Ireland as they became extinct nearly 11,000 years ago.
Deer is not as common to find on menus as lamb or pork but you will occasionally find it.
A simple dish of mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale, it’s most commonly served with boiled ham but you can also find it now with bacon stirred into it.
A very traditional Dublin food, it’s found in most traditional Irish restaurants. It’s so beloved there is a folk song written about this creamy dish.
And oddly enough during Halloween small trinkets are put into colcannon – so chew carefully!
Black and White Pudding
Black pudding is found throughout the world. Not only is it common in the United Kingdom and Antigua but this sausage made with pork blood is also known as morcilla in Argentina, boudin noir in France, Mustamakkara in Finland and have many other names around the world.
Sausages use all the little bits of meat that aren’t prime cuts. They are a great way to respect the life of an animal but ensuring that minimize waste.
They’re also damn tasty.
In Ireland, black sausages are made from pork fat, blood and meat that is mixed with local Irish grain – usually barley and sometimes oatmeal.
If you can’t bear the thought of eating blood (but I beg you to try it once) then white pudding is for you. It’s basically the same sausage without the blood.
Dubliners do not decide which one to eat, you’ll find both options on a full Irish breakfast.
Although most people in Canada and the United States are familiar with shepherd’s pie as a concept, it’s a big different overseas.
If a recipe uses lamb it is called shepherd’s pie. It the recipe uses ground beef it is called cottage pie.
This differentiation makes a lot of sense as cows don’t have shepherds, lambs do.
Perhaps the most iconic Irish food outside the country. Irish stew is a well-known one pot meal that uses comforting meat and potatoes.
Guinness Irish Beef Stew
The traditional Irish stew recipe uses mutton and sometimes young goat. But if you’re looking for Irish stew in Dublin it’s more likely that you’ll find lamb cooked alongside potatoes, carrots and onions.
Where to Eat Irish Stew in Dublin:
The Oval Bar is well known for its traditional recipe.
78 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin, Ireland
If you want to try the iconic Guinness and beef stew the Brewers Dining Hall at the Guinness Storehouse gets great reviews.
Saint James’s Gate, Dublin Dublin 8, Ireland
Ireland takes smoked salmon very seriously. You can have it smoked with oak from Burren Smokehouse or with beechwood from Connemara Smokehouse, and there are even more smoked possibilities.
Even if you don’t go to a smokehouse specifically for salmon, don’t pass it up on a menu. It’s both flavourful and fresh tasting.
Where to Eat Smoked Salmon in Dublin:
I had this at The Pepper Pot cafe (photo above), run by a Slow Food member. Everything is made fresh in-house daily.
Powerscourt Town House Centre, South William Street, Dublin, Ireland
Delahunt is also highly recommended.
39 Lower Camden Street, Dublin, Ireland
Irish Soda Bread
A quick bread leavened with baking soda instead of yeast, you can find Irish soda bread everywhere.
Recipes can vary wildly, are passed down within families and are strict secrets. The basics use flour, salt and buttermilk. From there they may have sugar, honey, oats, seeds, dried fruits or bran.
It is served alongside soups, before a meal, topped with smoked salmon or just served with good ole Irish butter – and believe me that is enough.
Where to Eat Soda Bread in Dublin:
Fallon & Byrne is a modern food hall in Dublin. It is known for international ingredients and a stellar bakery – including fantastic baguettes and soda bread.
11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Dublin, Ireland
Cockles and Mussels
Cockles, aka small saltwater clams, and mussels are a must-eat Dublin food. It is so iconic that it is included in the famous song “Molly Malone” about a girl who sells seafood daily on the streets.
Where to Eat Cockles and Mussels in Dublin:
Although it did not include cockles, I loved these mussels with nduja and sweet corn at Pichet in Dublin.
14-15 Trinity Street, City Centre South, Dublin D2, Ireland
If you want to try the cockles as well check out The Exchequer, which uses spicy sausage.
3-5 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Irish Seafood Chowder
If you can’t eat seafood chowder in Nova Scotia then the next best thing is Ireland.
Fresh, local seafood combined with incredible Irish dairy means you’re sure to have a good meal.
Irish seafood chowder is often thick and hearty so get a cup instead of a bowl if you’re hoping to have a second course of food.
Slow Roasted Lamb
If you don’t think you like lamb then you absolutely must try it in Ireland, even if you grab a bite off someone else’s plate.
In the United States and Canada we don’t have the same familiarity with it as the Irish. There are so many Irish lamb dishes that they may just be the most proficient lamb cooks.
A good place to start is tender, slow roasted lamb. You won’t regret it.
Where to Eat Lamb in Dublin:
The Vintage Kitchen serves Slaney River slow roasted lamb, it’s so popular you’ll need to book reservations weeks in advance if you hope to eat on the weekend.
No 7 Poolbeg Street, Dublin, Ireland
This soft bread roll is originally from County Waterford, but it is so good that you can find it in some spots in Dublin.
Originally from the 17th century, it was brought by the French. It is traditional to eat them on Saturdays.
Blaa is fantastic with a bit of good butter, but you’ll also find them with thick bacon, or as a housing for a full on sandwich.
Where to Eat The Waterford Blaa in Dublin:
Hatch & Sons
15 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin D02 X336, Ireland
Bacon and Cabbage
This Dublin food isn’t something I’d immediately seek out, despite locals telling me it’s worth trying.
A traditional comfort food. Thick salty bacon(salted pork) is boiled along with cabbage and potatoes and then served with sauce.
Dubliners told me it reminded them of spending time at the grandparents’ house. As I don’t have this nostalgia I don’t think I’d like it as much.
Sunday roast, or carvery, in Ireland are a long held tradition. The wonderful thing is that it’s not something limited to eating at home but very common in Irish pubs.
A typical Sunday dinner buffet, the roasted meat is sliced in front of you and then you choose what type of potato you’d like along with vegetables and gravy.
Where to Eat Carvery in Dublin:
O’Neill’s Pub and Kitchen – Understandably there’s more than one O’Neill’s so make sure you go to the right one.
2 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2, Dublin, Ireland
Fish and Chips – especially the chips
Chips are often an afterthought when ordering fish and chips around the world. The fried battered fish are always the star of the dish.
But not in Ireland.
There’s nothing but utmost respect for the potato, even with fish and chips.
Where to Eat Fish and Chips in Dublin:
Quirky Irish Favourites
I can’t quite say that these dishes are traditional Dublin foods. Yet, these Irish dishes, or really snacks in some cases, are so beloved I couldn’t help but share them.
Chicken and Stuffing Sandwich
In North America we may make chicken and stuffing sandwiches out of leftovers but the Irish know its delights every day – all it needs is a bit of cranberry.
You can find these sandwiches everywhere, in this case it was at the Dublin train station on the way to Galway.
Chicken Fillet Roll
Many would equate the chicken fillet roll nostalgically with their student days. Pronounced “fill-it” it is a cheap snack eaten at late night or even as an Irish hangover cure.
But the popularity of this Dublin food extends long beyond school days. Many delis are often jam packed with people ordering this chicken, lettuce, tomato, mayo baguette.
If chicken isn’t your thing then order a ham sandwich, but to do it properly like a local you need to call it a ‘hang’ sandwich.
Tayto, Hunky Dory, Chipsticks…there are SO many types of potato chips in Ireland. Potato chips are so ubiquitous that there is actually a crisp sandwich of just potato chips wedged between bread.
Don’t miss the popular packets of Taytos and for the adventurous there is also Meanies, which are pickled onion crisps.
As a Canadian I cannot turn up my nose knowing how popular dill pickle chips are in my country.
Who doesn’t like a toasted sandwich?
Ireland has fantastic bread and dairy so I guess it’s natural that toasties would be so popular here.
Toasties can be as simple as grilled cheese sandwiches or also have more elaborate ingredients from ham and cheese to
Where to Eat a Toastie in Dublin:
While there are plenty of new gourmet toastie shops around the city one of the most famous places to eat toasties is a long-established favourite. Grogan’s is an iconic local spot, known for its simple but filling menu with pints of Guinness, Taytos and toasties.
15 South William Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Should I mention again that Ireland has fantastic dairy?
It’s so good that I ate ice cream on a cold, wet, autumn day. I just can’t say no!
Where to Eat Ice Cream in Dublin:
The most iconic ice cream shop in Ireland is Murphy’s. Here they have a killer soda bread ice cream – yes bread ice cream, just try it.
27 Wicklow Street, Dublin, Ireland
But I also loved the Three Twenty Ice Cream Lab, it’s organic ice cream made to order with liquid nitrogen.
30 Drury Street, Dublin D02 DW66, Ireland
Barmbrack, or “brack” as locals call it, is an Irish fruit cake. Sometimes it has been soaked in tea, or whiskey if you’re lucky.
And it’s not just for Christmas holidays as we would know a fruit cake. This Dublin food is eaten all year round. In fact, like colcannon during Halloween people put trinkets into it.
If you find a coin you’ll have wealth and if you find a ring you’re sure to get married that year. Unfortunately a rag trinket means bad luck or losing money and a stick means a fight is coming.
Where to Eat Barmbrack in Dublin:
Hansel & Gretel Bakery
20 Clare Street, Dublin, Ireland
This isn’t simply an Irish dessert, but one that is specifically a Dublin dessert.
In other cities like Cork, it’s often called grudge or donkey’s grudge and in other regions it may be called a chester cake.
Gur is a traditional dessert of sweet dark brown dried fruit paste between pastry.
Served as a square, it was traditionally a working class dessert made with scraps from pastry and is inexpensive.
Where to Eat Gur in Dublin
6 Bachelors Walk, Dublin, Ireland
Perhaps one of the most surprising moments of my trip to Dublin was trying my first pint of Guinness at the Guinness Storehouse. I learned I actually liked Guinness but I had been sipping from other’s pints the wrong way.
Yes there is a correct way to drink Guinness and you’ll learn here
It is Dublin’s most popular tourist attraction. Because that I probably would have skipped it if it weren’t on my press trip itinerary.
And I’m so glad it was because the Guinness Storehouse it blew me away. Instead of feeling old and stodgy it was modern, sleek and the videos were beautiful.
But I was there on a Tuesday. In fact, I learned Tuesday at 10am is the perfect time to go because there are no crowds. On a Saturday I would have been elbow to elbow with 8000 people.
I learned to pour the perfect pint. How to drink it properly. And that Guinness is not black, but instead ruby red.
The Storehouse has a number of special Dublin food and drink activities such as learning how to pair Guinness with seafood and the Connoisseur experience where you taste with a beer specialist.
Market Street, St James Gate, Dublin 8, Ireland
The 17th and 18th centuries were the golden era for Irish whiskey with 37 distilleries.
At one point Irish Whiskey made up 60% of the global supply, much of it coming from the Liberties neighbourhood just outside Dublin, conveniently exempt from many taxes.
Prohibition and temperance changed things and now it’s only 2% of global scotch whisky sales but that’s even more reason to take an Irish whiskey tour or two.
Teelings Whiskey Distillery is a newer distillery that promises a bright future, not only respecting the past but acknowledging the future. Did you know 60% of Irish whiskey drinkers are women?
And the industry is becoming female dominated with more female-led companies.
Something to smile about when you order your next drink.
13-17 Newmarket, Dublin D08 KD91, Ireland
I’m a fan of a bit of booze in my coffee. I love cafe carajillo in Spanish-speaking countries and was thrilled to learn Ireland has its own boozy traditions.
A cup of coffee is combined with a shot of Irish whiskey, sugar and usually topped with whipped cream. It’s the most fun of the Irish desserts and perfect for damp afternoons.
Where to Drink Irish Coffee
Madigan’s Pub North Earl Street not only serves traditional Irish drinks but also great local food and is a historical spot that many great Irish authors frequented.
25 North Earl Street, Dublin, Ireland
Mainly drunk in the winter, you can order this hot drink any cool evening. Hot port is similar to a mulled wine.
It uses a ruby port that is warmed with honey or sugar, citrus and spices.
It’s the perfect way to warm up.
Pin It For Later: What To Eat in Dublin
Disclosure: Thanks so much to Ireland Tourism, Failte Ireland and the Restaurants Association for inviting me on their Taste the Island press trip. They did not request that I write about Dublin food and happily added more food stops to my trip when I realized I wasn’t eating food in Dublin every hour of the itinerary!