If you've ever thought that Ireland was just the land of four leaf clovers and drunk people, think again. After spending a week traveling through southern Ireland with my family this past summer, sleeping at friendly bed and breakfasts and eating our hearts out at cafés and pubs along the way, I learned a whole lot more than just how much Irish stew I could humanly fit in my stomach.
The Irish people, who are arguably the nicest gals and lads you'll ever meet, have mad respect for the food they put on their plates that goes far beyond shopping and cooking techniques. I never expected to have a greater appreciation for the same food I already knew and loved after spending just six days in this beautiful country, much less learn that eating is a much different cultural experience across the pond than it is in the USA.
First of all, breakfast is where it's at in Ireland. I've never really understood the hype about brunch or breakfast food in general but I am almost ashamed to admit that my favorite part about turning in for the night while on our trip was thinking about what I was going to eat the next morning.
Homemade scones with jam and creamy Irish butter (which honestly deserves an article of its own but alas, there are only so many hours in a day), fresh whole milk yogurt with museli and honey right from the comb, fruit of all kinds galore, and bottomless breakfast tea was enough to get even the most intense morning-haters out of bed.
The best part? Spreads like this are included in most hotel's nightly rates so there's no missing out on the most glorious breakfast experience of your life.
Part of the reason eating breakfast on a cool Irish morning is such a religious experience is that everything grown or raised on the island is done so without hormones and other chemicals. You read that right, EVERYTHING IS ORGANIC (fist bump to all my true foodies out there who also appreciate the heck out of this).
I've got to admit, going into a grocery store without an organic section was a bit of a culture shock. However, I got over it pretty quickly because tasting all that chemical-free food was like seeing in color for the first time. The fruit was unbelievably juicy and sweet as candy, the cream—rich and more velvety than ever— and the beef was tender and divine without any fancy spices.
To be fair, the Irish government has banned the selling of genetically modified products, making the abundance of organic fruits and veggies more of an expectation than a suggestion. But just when you thought these people couldn't get any cooler, you should know that ALL the food they sell or prepare is either grown or raised in the lush green fields that are plentiful on the island.
That's right, that kiwi and passionfruit in the first picture wasn't imported from South America but instead flourished naturally in the salty cool Atlantic air and native, rich, green grass (another fist bump for eating local 24/7).
If you know me, you know I was floored just hearing the words "organic" and "local" but for those of you who couldn't care less where your steak and potatoes come from, ask yourself this: Have you ever been physically ready to leave the bar but not emotionally ready to leave your half-finished Cosmo behind?
Fear not, in Ireland, there's no such thing as open container laws—meaning anything from Jameson to Smithwicks can be taken to-go (or "take-away," as the Irish say). If you know me, you also know I'm not easily excited by alcohol, but I was as giddy as a kid in a candy store with my portable Rosé.
Needless to say, I watched the sea, mountains, and sheep speed away from me after a week in wonderful Ireland and already couldn't wait to go back. From the vibrant and boisterous English Market in Cork City, to the giant bowls of hearty Irish stew at a quiet local pub, Ireland truly is any foodie's paradise.
What started as planning a week-long getaway and scouring to find a "good" restaurant quickly turned into an unexpectedly phenomenal experience that heightened my senses and left me hungry (literally) for a larger portion of the variety of cultural food experiences that await.