What do I feed my visiting Irish relatives?


There are a couple ironclad rules:

  • Under no circumstances serve them tea from the microwave,
  • Nor any form of instant potatoes.

Beyond that it gets more complicated with the safest answer being to ask them. Chances are they won’t be looking forward to “a slice of home,” so forgo the Irish meal. If they’re visiting for the first time, they’ll probably want to “eat American.”

But I want to surprise them
The unfortunate reality, as you already know, is that food preferences vary widely. Your best bet will be to make an estimated guess based on what you know about them. A general rule of thumb is that the older they are, the more likely they’ll prefer meat and potatoes. Your 20-year old nephew might get more excited about a trip to Taco Bell.

There are a good number of Irish who watch what they eat for health reasons or just as a preference. Ask about allergies and aversions to certain foods. I’ve heard it said that seafood turns off a higher percentage of Irish than most other cultures, but I haven’t really seen much proof of that. And increasingly, they are turning to sugar substitutes for their tea or coffee, so perhaps have a few packets of Splenda available.

Unless you have reason to believe otherwise, you can assume they’ll occasionally treat themselves on vacations – as you do – indulging in less than healthy grub to the possible detriment of their blood numbers and waistlines. If you have fresh, local food that’s especially good, by all means introduce them to it. Quality trumps everything else.

In the warmer months, you’ll rarely go wrong with a barbecue: burgers and dogs, corn on the cob, spare ribs, pulled pork, all of which would be considered atypical American – something for them to experience.

Some other ideas for the “American” culinary experience: lobster; clam chowder; chili; Philly cheesesteaks; corn bread; non-pureed soups with chunks of goodies in it; gumbo; crawfish; breakfast burritos; bagels with cream cheese; pancakes with real maple syrup.

And don’t forget the wicked U.S. desserts: Boston cream pie; whoopie pies; Twinkies and Devil Dogs; cookies. Apple pies (though considered American) and the like are readily available in Ireland, though they seldom disappoint.

An area to avoid might be chocolate bars from the grocery store. Most of our run-of-the-mill stuff doesn’t measure up too well on a European scale, though the specialty chocolates that tend to be pricier are a good bet.

What about restaurants?
Local diners would probably make for a successful outing with their homey charms and extensive menus. It’s been my experience that Mexican food is improving, but still lacking in Ireland – something to mark as potential, though advise them to steer clear of the extra spicy fare.

Their Indian food is top notch; no need to deliver them curry unless you know they like it. Chain restaurants like Outback and TGIF would be considered experiences for them. Their Chinese is similar. Italian offerings would be quite similar as well. Thai food wouldn’t be overly easy to find in Ireland, so it might be a nice switch for them.

Tea or coffee?
You can’t assume that tea is the hands-down preference anymore, though it’s still likely the leading hot drink there. Coffee has taken hold of the Emerald Isle and people enjoy it there as much as they do in America. Try offering them a choice between the two.

I’ll assume you know your way around a cup of coffee, but you should have a basic tea station on hand for your relative’s visit, starting with a real mug or a teacup. They might be too polite to ask what went wrong in your childhood that you would even consider offering tea from the microwave, but they’d likely be thinking it.

A cup of tea for the Irish generally includes strong teabags, sugar (or sugar substitute) and milk (once again, they may prefer low fat milk for health reasons). The water should be at a rolling boil when it’s poured and warming the cup beforehand by swishing some of the hot water around and emptying it beforehand is a good practice. So, in short: tea in boiling water, sweetener and milk poured into ceramic mugs will usually suffice.

Biscuits or cookies are well loved with a good cup of tea. It’d be a good idea to have some on hand.

A last word

These are all just suggestions. Obviously everyone is different and it’s possible none of the above will be a hit. Some visitors might want to stick with the tried and true beef, pork, lamb or chicken, potatoes and vegetables. Some may not give a hoot what they eat and could want to experience aspects of our culture other than culinary.

If anything I’m just trying to give general ideas to someone who truly doesn’t know what a visitor from Ireland would want. Whatever you decide, good luck with it.