Let’s get one thing straight from the off: there’s nothing wrong with bacon and cabbage. In fact, done right, it’s a delicious dish. However, there’s a common misconception that this popular Irish dish of boiled bacon and cabbage (along with stew) are the only culinary delights to emerge from the Emerald Isle. Nothing could be further from the truth, and anyone who has spent a weekend in Ireland will know that the Irish take their food very seriously. So, what else do the Irish have brewing in their pots beside the fabled bacon and cabbage?
Let’s start off in the capital. We all know that Dublin is the home of Guinness and there are plenty of places in the city to enjoy a pint of the black stuff. But did you know that it’s also home to a delicious dish that makes use of all your favourite leftovers? Dublin coddle is a traditional hotpot that usually includes bacon, sausage, potato, onion and whatever else is in the fridge. Now, I know what you’re thinking; isn’t this just a stew? In actual fact, it’s not. A stew makes use of fresh ingredients (more on that later), whereas a homemade coddle consists of leftovers. It’s a great way to cut down on food waste and stretch the pennies a little further, and if you follow a traditional Dublin recipe, it’ll be extra tasty.
Now, more on that Irish stew. I won’t spend too long on this, but you can’t talk about Irish cuisine without mentioning stew. Your typical Irish stew will be brimming with root veg, onion, tender chunks of steak and often a splash of Guinness too. You can throw in whatever herbs and spices you like, but a drop of soy sauce helps to add a little zing to the gravy.
But you’re not here to hear about stew, are you? Okay, let’s move along, and this time, we’re heading for the coast. Unsurprisingly, seafood is quite prevalent in Ireland (and no, fish and chips don’t count), with oysters being the most sought-after dish. In many coastal restaurants and pubs, the most common item on the menu is a serving of oysters with fresh baked brown bread and a pint of Guinness. It sounds bizarre, but it works very well indeed.
Head down south to “the Rebel County” of Cork, and you’ll find that seafood is just as widespread as elsewhere on the island, but Cork is home to another signature local dish far more exciting than oysters. You’ve probably never heard of a dish called crubeens, but you may have heard of trotters. No, not Peckham’s finest independent traders – pigs’ trotters. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, this one-time street-side snack is now found on many high-end dining establishment’s evening menus. I tried them for the first time last year at Gliffaes Country House Hotel in the Brecon Beacons (pictured below). If you want to eat them old-style, ask for a piece of soda bread and a pint of stout to wash it all down.
This is the last item on my list not because there are no other options left but because all this food talk is making me hungry. So, I’ll make it a good one. Boxty is an easy-to-make dish that is wonderfully delicious. Basically, it’s a potato pancake made using grated potatoes, onions and eggs. Add some nutmeg or spring onions if you like, but whatever you do, make it crunchy and serve it with lots of bacon or, if you’re feeling adventurous, some crubeens.
There you have it. I’ve only covered a sample of the delicious food on offer in Ireland but believe me, there’s a lot more to try. So, the next time you’re thinking about a weekend across the sea, don’t assume that you’ll be eating bacon and cabbage for breakfast, lunch and dinner.