Irish cuisine is generally centered on simple meat dishes and boiled vegetables such as potatoes, cabbage and root vegetables. With a colonial past and an impoverished population largely confined to the land until the early part of this century, there is no tradition of haute cuisine. Common dishes include colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage), boxty (potato pancake), and coddle, consisting of layers of boiled pork sausage and streaky rashers (bacon) with sliced potatoes and onions cooked in the stock produced by boiling the rashers and sausages. Other examples of simple Irish meals are Irish Stew made with lamb or mutton, and cabbage boiled with bacon. These may be humble dishes, but they are also wholesome and delicious. There is also an ever-growing range of Irish cheeses, many of which are first-class. The commonly-held belief that corned beef and cabbage is an Irish dish is a misconception. Corned beef is an Irish-American adaptation of the traditional dish of bacon and cabbage, where corned beef was used as a replacement for the bacon joint when immigrants had difficulty buying it due to a combination of unavailability and cost.
While seafood has always been consumed by the Irish, many shellfish dishes have increased in popularity in recent times, especially due to the high quality of shellfish available from Ireland’s coastline, such as Dublin Bay prawns, oysters and other shellfish. Salmon and cod are perhaps the two most common types of fish used. Traditional Irish breads include soda bread, wheaten bread, soda farls (flat bread), and blaa, a doughy white bread roll particular to Waterford.
The Irish have not traditionally made a habit of eating out, but in the last decade or so this has become more commonplace with the pace of life increasing and the standard of living rising. There has been an explosion in the number of restaurants in Ireland in recent years, with influences from both the US fast-food culture and cuisines from mainland Europe, as well as more exotic flavors from India, Malaysia, Thailand and West Africa. Supermarket shelves now stock ingredients for traditional, European, American (Tex-Mex), Indian, Chinese and other dishes.
Besides the endless variety of formal dining available nowadays, Irish pubs offer a relatively inexpensive alternative. Pubs (short for “public house”) are a huge part of the Irish social scene, serving as a gathering place for all ages. Most pubs serve “pub grub,” an array of traditional Irish dishes including Irish stew, chowders, fish and chips, and coddle, as well as sandwiches, soups and salads. A new variety of pubs has recently come to the fore as well, offering high quality fare in a relaxed atmosphere. Termed “Gastropubs,” these popular eateries typically focus on offering a particular cuisine prepared on a par with the best restaurants while staying true to the pub format, a menu that complements the assortment of beers and wines offered.
While tipping is not de rigueur in Ireland, it is customary to give a tip of between 12 and 15 per cent in restaurants or hotels when a service charge is not already included in your bill. It is generally not necessary to tip in coffee shops, small restaurants or fast food outlets, although staff will always appreciate acknowledgment of good service.