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.

Why Irish Food? Part Two, A Brief Historical Perspective

From The Great Hunger in the 19th century to the Irish Food Renaissance of today, cuisine has shaped and framed Ireland. There is a reason that a pub often functions as the center of a community, a big Irish breakfast is the quintessential first meal, and the small farms are some of the best around. And there are now many reasons to visit Ireland for the food! Below is a simple overview addressing the complexity of Ireland’s relationship to food. There is also a list of a few interesting resources for further reading if you are interested.

The Great Hunger


For several hundred years leading up to the 19th century Ireland had been an impoverished country; cheap basics formed the backbone of the population’s nourishment. For a long time and for the poorest, the main sustenance was the potato. It was filling and grew readily in the climate and soil.

Unfortunately, the country relied too much on the lowly potato. In the late 1840s, blight washed over most of the country’s potato crops, turning them into blackened goo. There were plentiful other crops, but they tended to be sold for more profit outside Ireland. So the masses began to starve.

The blight lasted for several years and became known as the potato famine, but in recent years its name has been changed – more aptly – to the Great Hunger, as there was no famine; there was plenty of food. It was just a lack of humanity.


It is estimated that about a million people died during the famine and two million emigrated – many to America.

However, undeterred by the recently ended blight, the Irish potato regained its stature as the turn-to staple and even today you should hold your surprise if two forms of the tasty tuber are presented on your dinner plate.

Hearty and cheap

The financial fortunes of the working class in Ireland didn’t change for a century and a half and affordable filling food fueled the country: meat, potatoes, milk, and bread. Eventually a full breakfast piled on the calories for a hard working day. It consisted of a selection of eggs, sausage, blood sausage (blood mixed in with the sausage innards), bacon (more like fatty American ham than American bacon), toast, beans and a piping hot cup of tea.

Stew was a cheap and filling dinner, consisting of whatever odds and ends were lying about. I had an Irish friend once jokingly describe to me his recipe for stew: “you put some meat and vegetables into a pot and boil them until they’re all the same color.”

The Irish weren’t as concerned about a variety of flavors in their daily meals as much as they were about filling up for heavy drudgery.

The Celtic Tiger

And aside from some pizza places, Chinese and surprisingly good Indian food in the latter half of the 20th century, that’s how some of the diet remained until the mid 1990s when the “Celtic Tiger” came roaring in.

With the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ceasing hostilities between the British and the Irish and the European Union forming into a financial powerhouse, Ireland was chosen as a country the Union would help bolster. European money flooded the country, helping to improve infrastructure and stabilize the economy, multinational corporations set up main offices in Ireland with their well-educated, enthusiastic, English-speaking workforce and for the first time in hundreds of years, the Irish people had money.

But like all booms, it didn’t last. The easy money flowing throughout Ireland dried up and the citizens, having expanded their palates during the brief prosperous years, looked around at what they had. What they discovered was that they possessed the elements necessary to create great food all along – pasture-raised animals, small-scale food producers, local farmers and an ingenuity familiar to underdogs the world over.

The Irish Food Revolution (or Renaissance if you prefer) was born.

In the past several years pride in Irish food has shot through the roof, so to speak. Chefs are fusing the essence of other cuisines into their own and creating a gastronomical wonderland that is taking unsuspecting international visitors by surprise.

Sure you can still order the full Irish breakfast or enjoy a locally farmed carvery lunch, but you can also join a “food trail” and sample cutting edge dishes from three or four up-and-coming restaurants in a row. You can drop in on one of the many food festivals cropping up across the country or sample any of its world-renowned pubs.

In short, you can start thinking of Ireland as a food destination.

Sources and recommended reading
The Course of Irish History,
T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin
The Great Hunger,
Cecil Woodham-Smith
Forgotten Skills of Cooking,
Darina Allen
Irish Traditional Cooking,
Darina Allen
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum (resources for educators and scholars)


Irish food????

Calf, taken 1989 outside of Athlone, Ireland – moments up close and personal with animals were common in my year there.

Part One: A Personal Perspective

Since our launch three weeks ago, the question “why Irish food?” has come up a great deal during conversations. And the tone is one of bewilderment. Americans have a somewhat negative view of Irish cuisine: bland potatoes comes to mind for them. So I decided to share my reasons for embracing Irish food and further our mission here at Irish Food Revolution.

Longing for Tradition
Growing up, my family did not identify with any particular cultural tradition. Our cultural history lacked the richness for which I longed and saw in some of my friends’ families.

Our family certainly never built rituals (always changing it up, we never did the same thing twice). The only moments I recall were the sounds of the Irish music my father enjoyed. So I latched onto this musical cultural heritage – starving for connection to those who came before. It is no surprise that I’ve spent much of my life trying to forge a cultural identity – one that feels right.

On a parallel track has been my relationship with food. Meals at our house were often a slap/dash affair. However, my fondest memories as a child are of my father cooking homemade donuts and applesauce made from the apple tree in the back of our house (a rare occurrence). It felt so special, and hidden in my heart all these years has been a love for slow food – almost without me realizing it.

One Step Removed
Over the past several years, two things came together: an identification with my Irish heritage and a love for the farm to table movement. I lived in Ireland for a year over twenty years ago and will never forget the glass milk bottles on the doorstep. Up until that point, I never drank plain milk; I always put in chocolate or used it as a vehicle for cereal. After my first sip of the milk in Ireland, I was struck by a taste that was full bodied and creamy – without the metallic after taste in the milk back home. I did not understand then why it was so wonderful. But throughout that year, I began to sense why, watching the green fields and cows roll by the window on frequent train rides.

After leaving Ireland, I moved to New York City and became even more distant from the sources of food. Food was simply something to purchase and consume – not meaningful or connected to the natural world. I saw cows back home in New Hampshire, but food felt one step removed from those farms and animals. Farms were quaint and nice to look at, but they had nothing to do with the food I bought in the grocery store.

After struggling with eating issues for many years, I now realize eating local produce and grass fed meats helps me to eat mindfully. Taking a step towards actual food sources has helped me reassemble the scattered pieces of my cultural identity as well. Cultural tradition and the farm to table movement have come together as an integral part of my life; Ireland embodies these two ideas ten fold.


Finally, in the past three weeks, I am reminded of the connections that form between people over food. Long ago in Ireland, a hearty meal was always good “craic” as they say. And when I visited again after many years, in 2012, I sensed a palpable change around the attitude towards cuisine. People are embracing the old ways of traditional cooking and recognizing how delicious it is. They are also updating old favorites in new, approachable ways. A love for real food, real people, and homegrown fare; the Irish are experts at all of it.

And after meeting people through social media, I see that the phrase “Irish food revolution” is definitely not an over exaggeration. The love for the land, farming, eateries, and artisan food production is inspiring. People have offered to show me around farms and eateries in Ireland already; this glowing pride has brought my own passion to the next level. I am more determined than ever to share this exciting country and its lovely cuisine.

In honor of my newfound connections on Twitter, I must dedicate this blog post to some folks: Suzanna @ZwartblesIE, Annie @desperateAnnie, @the_greensheep_, @tasteofireland, @MidletonFarmers, John @irishtasteclub, Imen @ModernFarmette, @danoharafarm, Loretta @LorGMedia, Drigin @MsEatGalway, Rory Morahan @RoryMorahan, and the hundreds more with whom I have interacted on social media so far! May I connect with many more of you on this journey!