I recently spent 10 days in Ireland (without kids!) exploring and eating and working a bit too! The last time I was in Ireland was nearly 20 years ago when I went for my college study abroad. Having the opportunity to visit some of my old stomping grounds – and discover some new places – was truly magical, as Ireland tends to be.
Now that I’m home, I’m planning an Irish themed dinner party for some friends and my girls – to share the trip, culture and experiences. Of course, what comes to mind when you think of Irish food? I have some Irish ancestry and so I grew up eating a bit of American-Irish dishes which mostly consisted of beef and potatoes – nothing amazing to me and often quite bland and uninteresting. Also, pub grub, fried, bar food. We don’t eat Irish food regularly and sadly, I think that the American food vernacular doesn’t include, “I’m in the mood for Irish tonight” unless it’s March 17 and includes green beer.
That perspective changed for me dramatically during this recent trip. Throughout my 10 days in Ireland I ate amazing “Irish Food” that was beautiful, fresh, sophisticated and delicious and I can’t wait to recreate some of the dishes to share with friends and family and also integrate into our regular family meals. I believe that preparing and sharing food from different areas of the world helps to teach our kids about the people and history in a unique way and I love that I’ve found incredible foods that share a bit about their own family history.
Below, are some of my favorite places and meals I enjoyed in Ireland – some at pubs and some at fancier restaurants and hotels. Yes, some beef and potatoes – but never bland and always cooked to perfection– also lots of fresh (and fried) seafood, exquisite soups, lovely brown bread, amazing scones and gorgeous salads. Check them out and maybe – like me – you’ll reconsider your idea of Irish Food! And keep reading until the end for a delicious Irish brown bread recipe from one of our new favorite Irish spots, Hooked in Galway, for you to create your own little taste of Ireland too.
The Blue Door, Adare
The Blue Door was our first meal in Ireland on our drive up to Galway. This quintessential Irish restaurant is located in a charming thatched cottage. It was rainy and cold so I ordered split pea soup, brown bread, a glass of wine and some warm Irish tea. The soup was creamy, silky smooth and topped with bacon crumbles. It warmed me right up –and it was the perfect first meal in the Emerald Isle – both simple and luxurious – plus it WAS green so no need for green beer.
Hooked was located next door to our AirBnB and we made a point to eat here twice because it was so good. My husband Brad had their award winning fish sandwich (both times) while I got the seafood chowder and the superfood Connemara smoked salmon salad which may be the best salad I’ve had all year! Also, we tried the Irish brown bread everywhere we went (I’m a sucker for fresh bread) and Hooked had our favorite – hearty, dense but also moist with seeds cooked on top. (See Hooked Brown Bread Recipe below)
McDonaghs is a famous fish and chips spot on the Galway bay that was beloved during my college days 20 years ago and still a must! What I love about McDonaghs is the choice of fish for your fish and chips (salmon, cod, whiting, even sting ray) – we shared one (large) order of smoked fish and chips and mushy peas and it was divine! McDonaghs has a restaurant in the same location, but I’m partial to the fish and chips bar.
Teach Nan Phaidi, Aran Islands, Inishmore
Teach Nan Phaidi is a small café near the fort and cliffs on the Aran Island of Inishmore. There were several local children eating here when we visited and the staff was so friendly. Brad had fresh crab that was caught and picked by a local family. I had a salad with Aran Island Goat cheese, also from a nearby family. And more Irish brown bread, of course. It was simple, fresh and delicious. Plus, we rode our bikes up to the fort, so the meal was perfectly filling as well.
The Brehon Hotel, Killarney
Since my conference was next door, I ventured to the Brehon Hotel Bar a couple times for meals including baked goats cheese on flatbread, roasted vegetables and beer battered fish and chips. Each dish was fresh and comforting and again, sophisticated with a simple and delicious Irish flare.
Muckross Park Hotel & Spa, Killarney
The Muckross Park Hotel & Spa is gorgeous with several casual and fine dining options in the hotel. It was here that I learned that Killarney is famous for their lamb and I tried a lamb dish that was decadent. I also enjoyed a chocolate dessert that I’m still dreaming about. My meal here was much more high end showcasing the creative culinary culture of Irish cooking.
In the end, I think that Irish food is accessible, simple, decadent and creative. The food is both fresh and local – something that in recent years has become a priority for Americans – but has always been the case in Ireland. I recently read from a chef at Fado Irish Pub in Atlanta that “Ireland actually has a rich and long food history of making dishes that are prepared simply and with fresh, local ingredients. While the “grass fed beef” and “farm to table” movement explodes here in the USA, our friends back in Ireland find it all a bit perplexing. Food has always been Farm to Table. Cows in Ireland don’t eat corn. They eat grass. Always have.”
As promised, here is the beloved Irish Brown Bread recipe from Hooked in Galway. And, if you ever find yourself in Galway, please visit Hooked and try their bread (and fish sandwich, seafood chowder and Connemara salad) and be sure to tell the staff that The Wandering Rumpus sent you! Also, let us know if you try the bread recipe! Slainte!
About Irish Brown Bread
Yeast-free soda bread appeared in Ireland in the mid-19th century – the bread could be baked in a lidded cast iron pot, which meant it was possible to cook over a fire rather than in an oven, and every Irish family could make bread at home. There are white varieties of soda bread, but, as I learned during my wanders through Ireland, it is whole-meal brown bread, with its crumbly texture and nutty flavor, that you’ll find at breakfast or alongside a bowl of midday chowder.
- 180 grams (About 1 1/4 cups) whole meal flour
- 300 grams (About 2 cups) plain flour
- 600 grams (About 4 cups) wheat bran
- 2 Tbsp baking powder
- 13/4 Tbsp baking soda
- Pinch salt
- Pinch brown sugar
- 300 ml buttermilk
- 5 eggs
- 50 grams butter
- 1/2 cup pepitas
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- ¼ cup poppy seeds
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC / 350ºF
- Scatter half the pepitas and sunflower seeds on a baking tray. Toast in the oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove and allow to cool.
- Sift flours and wheat bran into a large mixing bowl. Then sift baking powder, baking soda soda and salt. Stir together thoroughly to combine then add toasted pepitas and sunflower seeds. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, then pour in the buttermilk, eggs and butter and mix until a sticky dough forms.
- Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead the dough with floured hands before forming into rounds
- Using a sharp knife, cut a cross 1cm deep across the top of the loaf/loaves. Brush the top of the dough with a little water, then scatter the remaining pepitas, poppy and sesame seeds on top. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Makes about 4-6 small loaves.
*This recipe was sent to me from Keith Carden at Hooked.