December 16, 2010
For me, food is half the fun of travel. However, depending on your food allergy travel disposition you may be happy or unhappy to hear that ‘old-time’ traditional ‘Irish’ dishes are not hugely popular in restaurants across the country – this is especially relevant to Dublin. This is not to say that ‘traditional’ Irish food is not good, it’s just that it isn’t really compatible with the style of many establishments.
There is, however, a modern Irish cuisine which has made a very tasty mark on the island. The idea behind it is to use traditional ingredients prepared with a modern spin. This ‘new’ trend (increasingly popular in the last 20 years) has been hugely successful and has helped create a new appreciation for Irish food. Of course this makes it a bit more difficult to guide yourself though the dishes you will find on the menu and likewise what the common ingredients will be therein but there are a few ‘traditional’ options which have some guidelines:
The Full Irish Breakfast – this is the one option you will find on almost every menu across Ireland. It generally consists of 2x rashers, 1x white pudding, 1x black pudding, 2x sausages, baked beans, sometimes fried mushrooms or a potato option and usually half of a fried tomato. Almost all of the meat in a Full Irish Breakfast is pork. It is usually all fried and depending on the fat used there are some food allergy friendly elements to it. It is also perfectly acceptable to order the Full Irish with or without specific parts. The most popular omission for tourists is the black pudding also known as blood pudding. In my opinion the Full Irish is one of the tastiest ways to start a day of hiking and exploring but I think that I had a past-life on a range in Montana... I will breakdown the breakfast below…
Rashers – is a pork product. A wider, meatier version of bacon. If you want crispy bacon it is called just that: ‘crispy bacon’ but it is not readily available outside of deli’s and sandwich bars.
White Pudding – Not suitable for people with wheat and gluten food allergies. Usually made from pork and usually contains oatmeal, suet, onion, salt and pepper. Alternative seasonings are possible. Can also contain breadcrumbs and garlic. May contain dextrose. Milk is not generally present but I have seen recipes which include it.
Black Pudding - Not suitable for people with wheat and gluten food allergies. Made from blood (usually pork or beef), grain (usually barley), suet and seasoning similar to the white pudding. Can contain oatmeal, bread, rarely milk but it does happen. May contain dextrose. If you can bare the thoughts of blood pudding it is probably the tastier of the two puddings (although I am a fan of both varieties).
Sausages – Not suitable for people with wheat and gluten food allergies. Made from pork. Contains breadcrumbs, cereal or rusk (usually barley) and seasoning which can be anything from just salt and pepper to variations of sage, marjoram, allspice, ginger, mace and nutmeg. Often contains dextrose. Note: Clonakilty brand produce a gluten free sausage if you are doing your own shopping.
Mashed Potato – Almost always contains cow’s milk. Other than that the ingredients are generally just potato and milk. Sometimes cream or butter are included and occasionally green onions or chives.
Roasted Potato – Generally safe for all but can sometimes be roasted in goose or duck fat which definitely makes them taste better unfortunately this addition excludes all of the vegetarians and vegans so be careful.
Now for the rest of the foods:
Soda Bread – An extremely Irish staple in the bread world. Whether brown or white, soda bread always contains wheat, gluten and cow’s milk (usually buttermilk). Other ingredients are salt and bicarbonate of soda. The white varieties can sometimes have raisins. These ingredients are almost always the rule unless it is specifically catered towards food allergy sufferers.
Scones – Scones are SO good but I find that if I want to enjoy them I have to make them myself as they are usually made with milk, butter and egg as well as the main ingredient being wheat flour. But if you can get a food allergy-friendly version (in specialty shops/restaurants) they really are lovely. They are a dense bread with slight sweetness (sugar is usually present) and are best warm. Also note that many B&B’s will serve scones with butter and jam or cream and jam so they really are off limits for wheat, gluten and dairy free diets. However, they can ‘sometimes’ be made without the egg so maybe that’s a silver lining for the egg free among us?
Coddle – A dish particular to Dublin. It is more readily available in ‘tourist’ restaurants and rarely found in elsewhere. Generally contains sausages, streaky bacon, water or stock, potatoes, onions, salt & pepper. Due to the sausages and the potential for stock cubes coddle is not really suitable for wheat and gluten free diets. But with a few questions most dairy free diners should be able to partake. But of course, as always, butter can slip in just about anywhere in Ireland so be careful.
Boxty – Not suitable for wheat, gluten or dairy free diets because the ingredients are simply potato, wheat flour, butter and milk with some salt and baking powder.
Irish stew –Irish stew is one of the few traditional foods that regularly appear on menus, especially in pubs. It is usually made with either mutton (lamb) or beef. It can contain a variety of vegetables but the staples are potato, onion and carrots. If it is made traditionally it should be wheat, gluten, egg and dairy free but it is important to question the chef regarding the use of stock cubes, etc which may contain food allergens. Seasoning is usually salt, pepper and sometimes parsley.
Bacon and cabbage –A very simple dish which often gets popularity around St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). It is simply a baked or boiled ham (pork) and boiled cabbage. Questioning your server is essential here as variations for increasing the taste are wide and butter can easily be mixed into the cabbage without warning.
Colcannon – Very similar to ‘Champ’ and ‘Bubble & Squeak’. Colcannon is a very traditional dish which still appears on menus from time to time. It is made predominately with potato and cabbage (sometimes kale). It always contains green onions, butter and milk or sometimes cream. Usually seasoned with salt and pepper. It is generally a vegetarian dish and free from wheat and gluten allergens.
Mushy Peas – Peas, butter, salt and pepper. The peas can be from frozen or commonly the more traditional dried marrowfat peas. Although the butter is not necessary it is almost always included and sometimes additional ingredients can be bicarbonate of soda, onions and even sometimes cream.
Fish & Chips – Battered cod and potatoes. Fish and chips are often deep-fried in the same vat of oil so cross-contamination of wheat/gluten products are a major risk. However, the batter can sometimes contain milk but it is not overly common (unless you are in Beeshofs which deep-fry in butter as opposed to the more common oil). The ingredients are usually variations of plain wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, pepper, sometimes sugar, chives and vinegar. Many recipes include beer or Guinness and eggs. Fish & Chips, especially at the end of a night out is a very tasty part of any trip to Ireland or England but do question the supplier for the details before indulging. You will also have the option of salt and/or vinegar on your fish and chips and sometimes tartar sauce (if you are in a restaurant) which is usually mayonnaise, lemon, pickle (gherkin), onion, salt and pepper.
Irish Coffee – Coffee, sugar, whiskey and cream. Not suitable for wheat, gluten sugar or dairy free diets.
Hot Whiskey – Whiskey, sugar, lemon and cloves. Not suitable for wheat or gluten free diets.
As a general overview Ireland loves milk, cheese and particularly cream and butter. Wheat is also popular (as seems the case almost everywhere) but the Coeliac Society of Ireland have been working hard and gluten free options are appearing on many menus. But as always, do remember to drill your waiter (in a friendly way!) about your food allergies, hidden ingredients and especially what the chef is using to fry with (i.e. oil or butter).
Also, on a side note: if you are travelling from America or Canada for the first time be prepared for a very different approach to table waiting with regards to over-bounding helpfulness. You might be surprised with some lackadaisical attitudes but this too is improving with the ‘tip’ becoming more popular (yes, do tip for dinner – beware of service charges already in place. Don’t tip for drinks in the pub. Breakfast and lunch tipping is at your own discretion – frequently a ‘tip jar’ will be placed by the till which usually collects a few euro’s.
I hope that this will help with your travels. And remember to have a nice time & bring an umbrella!