Ireland's reputation as a culinary destination is proven! Ireland now has 12 Michelin Stars. Ireland has long had the raw ingredients for world class cuisine, fresh fish and shellfish, dairy herds & hillside wild herbs for free-ranging lambs and you will find many restaurants in Ireland that only use locally-sourced products.
Food is expensive in Ireland, although quality has improved enormously in the last few years. Most small towns will have a supermarket and many have a weekly farmers' market. The cheapest option for eating out is either fast food or pubs. Many pubs offer a carvery lunch consisting of roasted meat, vegetables and the ubiquitous potatoes, which is usually good value. Selection for vegetarians is limited outside the main cities. The small town of Kinsale near Cork has become internationally famous for its many excellent restaurants, especially fish restaurants. In the northwest of the country Donegal Town is fast becoming the seafood capital of Ireland.
Image: Irish stew
Irish cuisine can charitably be described as hearty: virtually all traditional meals involve meat (especially lamb and pork), potatoes, and cabbage. Long cooking times are the norm and spices are limited to salt and pepper. Classic Irish dishes include:
Boxty - potato pancakes.
Champ - mashed potatoes with spring onions.
Coddle - a stew of potatoes, pork sausages and bacon; a speciality of Dublin.
Colcannon - mashed potatoes and cabbage.
Irish breakfast - a famously filling spread of bacon, eggs, sausages and white and / or black pudding, a type of pork sausage made with blood (black) or without (white). Irish Breakfast is often just refered to as a "fry", and is usually available well past normal breakfast times in restaurants.
Mixed Grill - Similar to the Irish Breakfast, but with added lamb chop, chips, and peas.
Irish stew - a stew of potatoes and lamb (not beef!), with carrots, celery and onions in a watery broth full of flavour.
Bacon and Cabbage - popular and traditional meal in rural Ireland, found on many menus.
Seafood Pie - a traditional dish of chunky fish pieces topped with mashed potato and melted cheese.
Note that the first four listed dishes (and their names) vary regionally, and are not common throughout the entire country.
Try some gorgeous soda bread, made with buttermilk and leavened with bicarbonate of soda rather than yeast. It is heavy, tasty and almost a meal in itself!
The days when potatoes were the only thing on the menu are long past, and modern Irish cuisine emphasises fresh local ingredients, simply prepared and presented, and utilises influences from many countries across the world. Ireland has also since embraced a cosmopolitan restaurant and food industry that has incorporated many novel varieties of cuisine. Common ingredients still include meat (especially lamb), seafood, and dairy, and Western meat staples found elsewhere, such as chicken and pork, are also regularly served in Ireland. Today, these elements have been blended with other ethnic techniques and flavor profiles found outside of strictly traditional Irish cuisine. In many instances, restaurants that serve ethnic food are more plentiful (and some would argue more appealing to locals) than classical Irish fare. Thai, Italian, American, and Mediterranean influenced food is plentiful in Ireland's larger cities and is very good.
Alcohol is very expensive in most areas of the Republic. Pints of Guinness start at €3 per pint in Galway, can get as high as €7.50 in Dublin, and does not become less expensive until you reach Northern Ireland. While in the North, pints of Guinness instantly become cheaper by €1.50 euro on average. Despite this, public houses (more commonly known as pubs) are plentiful and frequented often by locals in most cities in Ireland, though the environment in each can be substantially different depending on the time of day one attends. Nightclubs that serve alcohol can also be regularly found in Ireland, however they may charge a cover fee and higher prices for beverages than pubs.
Ireland is the home of some of the world's greatest whiskey, having a rich tradition going back hundreds if not thousands of years. With around fifty popular brands today these are exported around the world and symbolise everything that is pure about Ireland and where a visit to an Irish distillery is considered very worthwhile. The Jameson distillery is a common tourist destination found near the center of Dublin.
Another one of Ireland's most famous exports is stout, a dark, dry beer. The strong taste can be initially off-putting but perseverance is well-rewarded! The most famous variety is Guinness, brewed in Dublin and available throughout the country. Murphy's and Beamish stout are brewed in Cork and available mainly in the south of the country. Murphy's is slightly sweeter and creamier-tasting than Guinness, while Beamish has a strong, almost burnt taste. Several micro-breweries are now producing their own interesting varieties of stout, including O'Hara's in Carlow, the Porter House in Dublin and the Franciscan Well Brewery in Cork. Ales such as Smithwick's are also popular, particularly in rural areas. Bulmers Cider (known outside the Republic as 'Magners Cider') is also a popular and widely available Irish drink. It is brewed in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.
Nearly all the pubs in Ireland are 'free houses', i.e. they can sell drink from any brewery and are not tied to one brewery (unlike the UK). You can get the same brands of drink in all pubs in Ireland across the country.
There are a small number of 'microbreweries' in Ireland, pubs which brew their own speciality drinks. They are a recent occurrence and can mostly be found in Dublin.
Despite the (sometimes negative) reputation about Irish people loving their drink, most pubs in Ireland will have the same small collection of drinks.
All pubs (and nightclubs) in Ireland by law have to close by a certain time, depending on venue and the day. This varies from 11:30pm to 1:30am, to 3:30am. The owners will flash the lights (or less commonly sometimes ring a bell) to signal that it is almost 'closing time', this is 'last orders' and is your last chance to get a drink. When the pub (or club) wants to close, they will frequently turn on all the lights as a signal for people to finish up and leave.
It is important to note that it is illegal to smoke in all pubs and indeed places of work in Ireland. Many pubs and restaurants have provided 'smoking areas' outside their premises where space has allowed them to.
The other competitor for national drink of Ireland is tea. The Irish drink more tea per capita than any other people in the world. Cork, Dublin and Galway abound with slick, stylish coffee bars, but if you visit any Irish home you will probably be offered a cup of tea (usually served with milk, unless you explicitly state otherwise!). Coffee is also widely drunk in Ireland. (If you don't drink tea, you drink coffee!)