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Read: Trad. Irish | Modern Irish | Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner | Brunch


Irish people have not traditionally made a habit of eating out. Only in the last decade or so has this become more commonplace, with the pace of life increasing and the standard of living rising, but it is still largely confined to the younger generation. Eating out in Dublin is not cheap, and with real estate in the city running at close to the most expensive in Europe, city centre restaurants need to make a good return on investment, resulting in very expensive restaurants being the norm. Nevertheless, there has been an explosion in the number of restaurants in Dublin in recent years and the industry is in a boom with the affluent consumer reaping the rewards.

Traditional Irish Cooking
Just what constitutes traditional Irish cooking is a subject of much debate - with a colonial past and an impoverished population largely confined to the land until the early part of this century, there is no wealth of cuisine to draw on. But what is considered traditional is steeped in pure natural flavors and simple preparation and, when prepared properly, is a joy to consume. Simple meat dishes and boiled root vegetables such as the ubiquitous potato, carrot, turnip and parsnip form the principle constitutents of traditional Irish cuisine. Cabbage served with salted bacon, together with simple boiled potatoes is a classic example of Irish traditional cooking, pure and natural and free from sauces or fussiness. Likewise, corned beef with cabbage is well worth sampling. The desire of many a chef to tamper with tradition and add spices, herbs or sauces to these dishes makes traditional fare difficult to track down unless prepared at home.

Mutton stewed with onion, potatoes and carrots in a light stock makes a perfect Irish stew. Beef stewed in a stock of stout is an Irish variation on east european goulash. Seafood is not as prevalent in traditional dishes as one might expect, but traditional smoked salmon is a firm favorite, as are oysters and mussels.

Coddle is predominantly a Dublin dish of boiled potatoes and pork sausages. Tripe, meat and blood puddings and sausages are also popular traditional dishes. Tripe in Cork is boiled in peppered milk with onions until tender (a LONG time) and served with a local pudding called 'drisheen'. Tripe and drisheen is not everyone's cup of tea to say the least. Cork also majors in crubeens or pigs trotters which are now making more and more of an appearance on upmarket restaurant menus. Traditional potato pancakes called Boxtys are also worth tracking down.

There is also much to be sampled in baking with traditional Irish soda breads and brown breads forming an excellent counterpoint to the foods mentioned above. Griddle breads and pancakes, cooked over an open fire, were a standard until recently.

Where's the fish?!
Visitors often wonder why, for an island nation, seafood features so little in tradition. It would appear that the main reason is the predominant Catholic faith in Ireland (at least until recently). Catholicism has always been a huge influence on the Irish and the Irish were instrumental in the exportation of the faith throughout the globe from the latter half of the first millennium onwards. An aspect of Catholicism associates penance with the consumption of fish, where fish was traditionally eaten on Friday as a sign of abstention from the extravagances of life. Accordingly, the idea of doing something joyous with fish and actually deriving pleasure from it was never part of the Irish catholic psyche. This unusual situation is only now beginning to be reversed.

Modern Irish
Of late, a new movement in cuisine known as modern Irish has come to dominate. Its influences are varied but can largely be considered French coupled with the natural flavours and products of the Irish countryside and coastal waters. Modern Irish cuisine is truly excellent and much is available in Dublin for you to sample. It does far more justice to seafood than traditional cooking, taking full advantage of the products of rich and varied waters both coastal and inland.

Breakfast
Breakfast in Dublin is widely available, but you may be frustrated to learn that 8.00am is considered an early start in Dublin for such activities. Getting a breakfast at 6.30am or so is pretty much an impossibility. The working day starts predominantly at 9.00am, often later for the more flexible civil service. But on the other hand, breakfast is usually available until noon, and all day in many places. A full Irish breakfast, after which the English breakfast was more recently modeled, consists of a fry (or grill for the more healthy minded) of eggs, pork sausages, bacon (rashers), pudding (black and white blood sausage), tomato, possibly potato cake of some description (hash browns, potato waffles depending on where you're from) and a substantial helping of toasted bread and lashings of hot coffee or breakfast tea. Beans, mushrooms, fried onions, fried bread and even liver can often be added though are not part of the "traditional" fare. This is a serious meal, and may be preceded by cereal and orange juice. Hotels, guest houses and most cafes will offer a variation on this and it is usually quite good value.

Around town, the place for an Irish breakfast is the famous Bewley's, on Grafton Street & Westmoreland Street with similar value available in the Kylemore of Stephen's Green and O'Connell Street. But many other small cafes offer super value too. With the increasing internationalisation of Dublin, you are in no way limited to such a breakfast. You can get coffee, muffins, danish pastries and any manner of variation on eggs, breads etc in most cafes now. Luckily, coffee is now of a pretty high standard in Dublin.

Lunch is typically served between 12.00 and 2.00 and is a light meal. More often than not people opt for rolls, sandwiches, salads and the like these days with cafes again being the most popular destination. With Dublin city centre being so small, you will find everywhere pretty packed at this time. Many restaurants offer excellent lunch specials and are usually less crowded than cafes.

Dinner, as the main meal of the day, is typically no later than 9.00pm. Restaurants around Dublin would rarely accept a booking after 10.00pm, since most close around 11.00pm. (Natives would eat dinner at home pretty soon after the working day is over, about 6.00pm or so, and unlike many of our continental neighbours, dinner is usually a rushed affair, a pit-stop rather than a social occassion - socialising in the evening is predominantly based on the bar and pub scene.) The restaurant scene in Dublin is bustling at the moment, with so many excellent restaurants doubling as the place to be seen. While the quality is excellent and continues to climb, the cost is high and if you are dining out often it pays to shop around. Early evening specials are a great way to sample Dublin's restaurants, with early-bird or pre-theatre menus offering substantial reductions on the prime time costs.

At weekends, a sunday brunch is quite common, served in many pubs and cafes around town. This provides a substantial meal based on the full Irish breakfast at the later time of 12.00 to 2.00pm, allowing for a good sleep-in on sunday morning after saturday night's socialising. It's good value, and among Dubliners a very popular way to spend early sunday afternoon.

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