St. Patrick’s Day is weeks away and already conjuring visions of corned beef, potatoes and soda bread in foodies’ heads all over the globe. But did you know that corned beef isn’t traditionally Irish? This year, celebrate with authentic recipes that actually hail from Ireland (and OK, a bit of mustard-topped corned beef, too), from fluffy colcannon to crispy boxty to soul-warming lamb stew. Read on for 25 of our favorite traditional Irish foods to try at home.
The 25 Best Traditional Irish Foods to Make This St. Patrick’s Day
So, What’s a Traditional Irish Meal to Serve on St. Patrick’s Day Anyway?
Many old-school Irish dishes are cozy and comforting, as they were made with ingredients that could withstand and soothe the people during harsh winters, like beef, potatoes, cabbage and onions. Some of Ireland's native dishes were born from a place of scarcity, hence dishes like Irish stew and coddle; the people at times needed to make a lot with a little, and were adept at reducing waste, making meals more filling and preserving what they had. (That's why the Irish are experts at smoking salmon, and why black and white puddings are prepared with fillers like oatmeal and breadcrumbs.)
And of course, there are countless potato-based dishes that are the real deal. From mashed colcannon and champ to fried boxty, potato farl and potato soup, Ireland sets the gold standard for repurposing spuds.
What Is Ireland’s National Dish?
Most consider Irish stew, which was originally a thick stew of mutton, potatoes and onions, the country's national dish. This is in part because the main ingredients were cornerstones of Irish farming and cuisine in the 1700s (lamb was actually cheaper than beef back then), and also because stewing became the most popular cooking method once the Celts invaded Ireland with bronze cauldrons in tow. Colcannon, or mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale, is a close second for Ireland's national dish.
The 25 Best Traditional Irish Foods to Make on St. Patrick’s Day
The first food that likely comes to mind when you think of Ireland is potatoes—and with good reason. The potato was a staple crop in Ireland by the 18th century, thanks to it being nutritious, calorie-dense and durable against the elements. By the 1840s, nearly half the Irish population’s diet was exclusively dependent on potatoes. So, it’s no surprise that colcannon—Irish mashed potatoes mixed with cabbage or kale—is such a common dish. We love this take for the tangy additions of sour cream and cream cheese in place of milk or cream.
There are plenty of reasons to love soda bread, but the top two are that it doesn’t need to be kneaded and it doesn’t require yeast. This is all thanks to baking soda (called bread soda in Ireland), which leavens the bread on its own. Its invention in the early 19th century made it possible for those without an oven to make bread; they’d bake it in a cast iron pot over a fire instead. Traditional soda bread was made with nothing but whole-meal flour (which results in a brown loaf, not white), baking soda, buttermilk and salt. Carraway and raisins, which are common additions nowadays, were luxury ingredients at the time that likely became popularized by Irish immigrants in America. No matter how you bake yours, have plenty of butter at the ready.
You and potato latkes go way back, but have you heard of this Irish potato pancake? Boxty is made of mashed and grated potatoes, then fried in butter until crisp and golden brown, though it can also be baked in a pan. Also called Irish potato cakes, boxty hails from the northern midlands of Ireland and likely got its name from the Irish words for “poor house bread” (arán bocht tí) or “bakehouse” (bácús). Serve them as a side in place of mashed or boiled spuds.
4. Irish Stew
Hellooooo, comfort food. Irish stew was originally a stew of vegetables and lamb or mutton, (unlike brown stew, which is made with cubed beef). Onions and potatoes are musts, while carrots are also popular in southern Ireland. Turnips can also be thrown in the mix. If you’ve had Irish stew before, odds are it was thick and creamy, thanks to the addition of mashed potatoes or flour, but it can also be prepared in a thinner broth. We love this version because it both honors the O.G. by calling for lamb shoulder and riffs on it with the additions of thyme and fresh tarragon.
Breakfast is a big deal in Ireland, and it’s incomplete without this sausage at the table. Black pudding is made from pork meat, animal fat and blood, plus fillers like oatmeal or bread. While blood sausage traditionally comes in casings, this recipe is made in a loaf pan. If you’re not too squeamish, head to your local butcher to get your hands on some fresh pig’s blood.
Back in the day, Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. So, coddle—a layered, slowly braised dish of pork sausage, potatoes, onion and rashers (aka Irish-style back bacon)—was eaten on Thursdays in Ireland. The dish allowed families to use up all their leftover meat from the week just in time to fast. Coddle is most commonly associated with Dublin, Ireland’s capital. Prepare it in a large pot with a lid (so the sausages on top can steam) and serve with bread.
Like potatoes, cabbage is one of Ireland’s most beloved crops due to its cost efficiency. Though you’ve likely noshed on it alongside a few slabs of corned beef, cabbage was traditionally boiled in a pot with Irish bacon, then shredded and served with butter. While we’re all for authenticity, might we suggest making these roasted cabbage steaks instead? They’re buttery, tender and dusted with salt, pepper and caraway seeds.
Did you know Halloween has Irish roots? It started with the ancient Celtic harvest celebration Samhain, which was marked by feasts and the opening of ancient burial mounds believed to be passageways to the other side. (P.S., the first jack-o’-lanterns were carved out of turnips and potatoes!). Barmbrack—a spiced bread peppered with dried fruit and stuffed with small objects believed to be omens for those who found them—was traditionally made for Samhain. Common items found in the bread include rings, which symbolize marriage, and coins, which signal wealth. Whether you prepare your barmbrack with a surprise inside or not, consider soaking the dried fruit in whiskey or cold tea overnight before adding it to the dough, so it stays plump and moist.
Speaking of Samhain, this mashed potato dish was a must at nighttime celebrations. Champ is very similar to colcannon, except it’s made with chopped scallions instead of kale or cabbage. In many parts of Ireland, champ would be offered to fairies and spirits during Samhain, served with a spoon under a shrub to appease them, or left out in the home for ancestors who had passed on. It’s particularly popular in the province of Ulster, while colcannon is more common in the three other provinces.
10. Shepherd’s Pie
Few dishes are as warm and cozy as this baked meat pie topped with thick, fluffy mashed potatoes. It’s on the menu at every Irish-American pub, but its roots are actually British, as it originated in northern England and Scottish sheep country. It’s believed that housewives invented shepherd’s pie as a way to use up leftovers. The dish is traditionally made with diced or minced lamb, though many Americanized versions call on ground beef instead (which technically makes the dish a cottage pie). The meat is simmered in brown gravy with onions, carrots and sometimes celery and peas. Our take on shepherd’s pie stars Guinness beef stew and tangy goat cheese mashed potatoes.
The seafood industry is a cornerstone of Ireland’s economy, employing nearly 15,000 people around the country’s coastlines. In addition to quality fish, shellfish can be found all over the coast and mainland. Think prawns, cockles, mussels, clams and beyond. Oysters from the west coast, which pop up at the end of summer, are arguably the most bragworthy catch. In fact, they’re the main event at the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, oysters were cheap and commonplace. As they got scarcer over the years, they became an expensive delicacy. Serve them with a bitter, roast-y Irish stout (like a Guinness) to counter their salty, briny flavor, just as it was done in pubs and taverns of yore.
Like shellfish, fish chowder and stew are both super popular in Ireland. Most feature cream (some also include wine) and an array of fish and shellfish, like prawns, clams, scallops, haddock and pollock. Many also include some sort of vegetables, like leeks, potatoes and onions. This probably goes without saying, but it’s most delicious served with soda bread or brown bread dressed in butter.
Most commonly associated with Ulster, the Irish fry-up is a hearty breakfast consisting of soda bread, fadge or farl (types of small skillet cakes), fried eggs, rashers, sausages and black or white pudding, along with baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms and a cup of coffee or tea. It was first invented as a way to fuel up for a day of heavy-duty farm work. Though it’s similar to an English breakfast, the Irish fry-up is different for two main reasons: it never includes fried potatoes and the black or white pudding is an absolute must.
It doesn’t get more authentic than this come St. Patty’s Day, right? Think again. Corned beef is not traditionally Irish. Irish bacon and cabbage is a much more authentic pairing, as beef wasn’t even a big part of the common diet in Gaelic Ireland. Cows were used for milk and dairy products instead and consequently became a sacred symbol of wealth, so they were only killed for meat when they were too old to work the fields or make milk. The British actually invented corned beef in the 17th century, naming it that due to the corn kernel-sized salt crystals used to cure the meat. After the Cattle Acts of 1663 and 1667, it was illegal to sell Irish cattle in England, which hurt Irish cattle farmers. But it was Ireland’s low salt tax that eventually sparked the association with quality corned beef.
With a surplus of both beef and salt, Ireland exported corned beef to France and the U.S., despite not being able to afford to dine on it themselves. By the end of the 18th century, the first U.S. colonies were producing their own corned beef, but corned beef as we know it today (which is essentially Jewish corned beef cooked with cabbage and potatoes, a result of Irish immigrants in New York City buying their meat almost exclusively from kosher butchers) is very different from the original. Nevertheless, it’s the quintessential St. Patrick’s Day entrée on this side of the Atlantic nowadays, so feel free to indulge.
15. Irish Fish Pie
Similar to shepherd’s pie, fish pie is a creamy mix of poached white fish cooked in white sauce or cheddar cheese sauce and topped with mashed potatoes. Also called fisherman’s pie, this dish dates back to 12th-century England, but it’s since permanently made its way into the Irish foodscape. Fish options include haddock, ling, perch, pike or cod, but you can also throw in scallops, shrimp or other shellfish if you fancy.
16. Chip Butty
Behold, the most ingenious sandwich of all time. This British delicacy can be found in casual eateries all over Ireland, and it’s no mystery why. It’s a French fry sandwich that’s as simple as bread, (slices or a roll, sometimes buttered), hot chips and condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, malt vinegar or brown sauce. It’s a working-class meal that’s understandably timeless.
17. White Pudding
White pudding is the same as black pudding, minus the blood. Both types of sausages are equally essential to an Irish breakfast. White pudding is usually a mix of cereal grains (like oatmeal or barley), animal fat and meat from a pig or cow, spices and breadcrumbs for binding. Irish white pudding specifically often includes potato flour as well. Like black pudding, white pudding was originally a way for butchers to repurpose leftover animal organs.
18. Potato Farl
These slabs of potato bread are often a beloved part of an Ulster fry breakfast plate. They're prepared similarly to pancakes, except they're made with a mashed potato dough instead of batter. They can also be made without spuds with a soda bread-like base instead. In fact, in Northern Ireland, the term "soda bread" always refers to this skillet-cooked delicacy, not the oven-baked loaf most Americans likely picture. The slabs are usually pan-fried in butter or bacon grease until golden brown.
19. Smoked Salmon
You may think your lox comes from Canada, but Ireland is also one of the main farming sources for Atlantic smoked salmon, along with Scotland and Norway. Irish smoked salmon is as local as it gets, and it's often organic to boot. There are several Irish purveyors that are world-renowned for their smoked and cured salmon, including Burren Smokehouse, Connemara Smokehouse and The Haven Smokehouse. Each smokehouse uses a different type of wood to smoke the fish, and their methods are inspired by ancestral techniques that have been utilized for generations. Irish people typically eat smoked salmon with lemon, butter, bread and coleslaw, usually in pubs or at home during special occasions.
20. Potato Soup
France may have invented the thick potato-leek soup vichyssoise, but this nourishing dish is just as popular in Ireland. Much like the loaded baked potato soups you've tried before, Irish potato soup can call for leeks, cheddar cheese, bacon and chives, along with cabbage, herbs, Irish butter and scallions. (You could even call champ a potato soup base or mix.)
21. Tea Cake
Teacake, a yeast-baked sweet treat studded with dried fruit, is most often associated with England. But like so many other dishes, the light goodie made its way into Irish cuisine for good. Some teacakes include the dried fruit (like barmbrack) and some don't, but they're always meant to be subtle in flavor, so they don't detract from the tea they're served with. Teacake is most delicious toasted, drenched in butter and served alongside a piping hot cuppa.
We’ll give credit where credit is due. This biscuit made from white sugar, butter and flour was invented by the Scottish. But the original was a twice-baked medieval biscuit bread made with yeast. Over time, the yeast was swapped for butter, an Irish and British staple, and that’s how shortbread as we know it came to be. Named for both “shortening” and its crumbly texture (“short” used to mean the opposite of long and stretchy), shortbread is free of leavening—even baking powder or soda. Over time, it’s become sweeter as bakers have adjusted the proportions and added more sugar to the mix.
23. Irish Apple Cake
Apples, a staple of the Irish countryside, had a lot of significance during harvest season and Samhain. Not only would revelers bob for apples and play snap apple (a game where party guests try to take a bite of an apple dangling by a string), but there was also a divination game that required someone to carefully peel an apple to get one long piece of skin. They’d toss the skin over their shoulder and whatever letter the skin formed on the ground was meant to predict the first initial of their future spouse. Irish apple cake was traditionally steamed in a pot over an open fire, but now it’s typically baked in a cast iron skillet. This decadent version is topped with whiskey crème anglaise.
Odds are you’ve had some sort of bread pudding before, but Irish bread pudding is a treat all its own. Made with stale bread, dairy, eggs and some sort of fat, Irish and English bread puddings also traditionally include raisins and currants (though they’re not required) and spiced cream. We like this real-deal recipe that pulls out all the stops, from cinnamon-raisin bread to crystallized ginger to a dash of brandy.
25. Irish Coffee
Irish coffee isn’t meant to be excessively sweet or boozy. This cocktail is hot drip coffee, Irish whiskey (like Jameson) and sugar topped with cream. (Sorry, Baileys.) You can also start with an Americano (espresso and hot water) instead of drip coffee if you have an espresso machine. To make it the *right* way, pour the whiskey and at least a teaspoon of sugar into black coffee and stir until the sugar dissolves. Then, gently pour the cream over the back of a spoon so it floats on top of the cocktail. This Dublin-style version uses dark brown sugar and calls for a quick flambé, but we won’t tell if you just top it with whipped cream and call it a day.
Taryn Pire is PureWow’s associate food editor. A former bartender and barista, she’s been writing about all things delicious since 2016, developing recipes, reviewing restaurants and investigating food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she isn’t testing TikTok’s latest viral recipe, she’s having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram @cookingwithpire.