After ten days of frolicking around Ireland, I’ve come back to share my adventures with all of you. More importantly, I’m going to tell you all about the food I ate and where I ate it, and all of the fun things I did. That way you have something to go off of when you’re planning your own trip to the Emerald Isle (which I highly recommend you do).
I was traveling on my own, so I booked a bed at the Generator Hostel in Dublin, and I’m glad I didn’t spring for a hotel – I felt totally at home at the hostel. It was far enough away from the touristy area of town, but close enough to walk to pretty much everything worth seeing. The Jameson Distillery, which was right next door to the hostel, was on the top of my list of things to do – unfortunately, it was undergoing some changes and won’t reopen for tours until March 2017.
But luckily for me, I was in Dublin, which meant there was no shortage of distilleries and breweries for me to tour and satisfy my thirst. The first one I headed for was the Guinness Storehouse, where the ingredients and process of making the beer are explained with large displays covering three floors. On the fourth floor, Guinness employees teach people how to pull a pint of guinness the “right” way. Fill it to near the top, then let it settle for a minute, top it off to get a nice foam on top, and let it settle again.
(I’m a little embarrassed to say that before visiting the brewery, I’d never actually had a Guinness before. I live in a city that many Irish like to joke has more Irish than Ireland, and yet I’ve never actually had a Guinness. Fortunately it took all of one day for me to make it to the brewery and fix that.)
On my first try at pouring a Guinness, I got a little over-excited and filled it so much that it spilled over the edges. Apparently this meant that the beer was not drinkable (although I had hoped it would just mean I could have an extra beer), so I was allowed to try again. This time I did it just right.
When I finally got to drink my masterpiece of a pint, I was quite figuratively blown away. It was sweetly frothy and so light that it was dangerously easy to keep drinking. That was until I had about half the glass, and then suddenly it felt very heavy. I was expecting a strong, hoppy flavor but instead was met with a delightfully smooth and delicate brew. I can officially say it’s near the top of my list of favorite beers.
Pro-tip: head to the bar on the top floor for 360 degree views of Dublin and a great spot to relax with a fresh pint.
When the hankering for a snack kicked in, I headed to Oxmantown, a small sandwich cafe/bakery just north of the River Liffey which gets its name from its neighborhood, where the Vikings were exiled in the 12th century. Oxmantown comes from the name the Vikings gave it meaning “Home of Eastmen”, which at the time, was outside of Dublin’s city walls. Just some fun Dublin history for ya.
The cafe’s namesake was not alluded to whatsoever. It was a small, modern and hip space with white walls and wooden stools lining the windows, and a litany of locals running in to grab a sandwich during their lunch hour.
This first latte in Dublin was a great sign of things to come. This little outing was especially great because my latte was accompanied by an extraordinarily fudgey little hazelnut brownie that cost me less than my bus fare.
If you think I wouldn’t check out as many bakeries as possible on my first day, you’re delusional. I stumbled upon The Rolling Donut on my way back to the hostel, and had the most difficult time deciding what to order. I ended up getting a Nutella Marshmallow doughnut because Nutella, and my roommate got a Banoffee Pie doughnut. I had to restrain myself from ordering a box of the other flavors to try later, instead promising that I would just have to come back on another trip.
The following day, I went to the city of Galway, Ireland on the west coast for lunch after trekking up the Cliffs of Moher. These enormous cliffs are gently covered in a cool mist, with blue waves crashing against them thousands of feet down. We were warned not to get too close to the edge because people fall off every year, but there was nothing stopping anyone from doing so (and several people went dangerously close just to get a good picture. Sorry guys but I’m not that ballsy.). The fields atop the cliffs were just as green as the rest of the country, and several happy cows were grazing, completely oblivious to the glorious views in their backyard.
Galway was a hip, young town with cobblestoned streets full of restaurants, pubs, and live street music. It was a small city but felt much more alive than Dublin, and when I get the chance to visit Ireland again (when, not if) I would like to stay in Galway. If you’re headed to Ireland, definitely be sure to spend a few days there.
Upon our return to Dublin, my roommate and I went for dinner at the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub. The structure as it stands today is not more than four or five hundred years old (which is still nothing to sneeze at), but there has been a pub in its spot since the year 1198. Famous bands play live music there year round, and writers like James Joyce and Jonathan Swift frequented the pub in their day too.
But I was starving, so I was more interested in the food than the history when I first arrived. I was craving something hearty and traditional, so I opted for the Bangers and Mash. While technically an English dish, the Irish version had several no-frills sausages atop a pile of mashed potatoes (and some broccoli to make you feel better about yourself), all drenched in a deliciously rich onion gravy. Everything about it screamed comfort food, and I happily cleared my plate. (I later learned that what Americans and the British call toad in the hole – an egg in toast, or sausages in Yorkshire pudding, respectively – is what the Irish would call sausages with gravy in the middle of some mashed potatoes. How did the American version get so twisted?)
The next day was filled with more exploring. I had lunch at P.Mac’s, a hip spot serving craft beer and a casual lunch in an old mahogany-filled bar with little cubicles fitted with tables like the places of yore. The place was filled with real candles, the food was good, and the service was great. The French fries were good, but the sweet potato fries were better – especially when dipped into that magical aioli.
That night, I went on a great pub crawl with Sandeman’s, a tour company that also offers free city walking tours daily in both English and Spanish.
If you’re interested in the walking tour, I would suggest doing it on the first day of your visit as I did, but be prepared to learn a lot and not actually do much walking. You’ll visit Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, and the Temple Bar area for some history lessons.
The pub crawl, however, covered five locations in the Temple Bar area: four bars, one nightclub. The first bar, Workman’s Club on the south bank of the River Liffey, was a large, dark old pub that was popular with locals. After a few drinks there, we headed to the second stop (which I cannot remember the name of at all) and then to O’Neils Pub & Kitchen – which was probably my favorite of the bunch. It was multiple floors, well lit, and filled with a healthy mix of locals and tourists. I loved it because it had live Irish music playing and some traditional Irish dancers putting on a show for boisterous pub-goers who happily clapped to the rhythm of the music. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in Dublin.
The next stop, The Mezz, was a hipster/punk bar with low ceilings and live music that was decidedly not Irish. Some blues, some rock, and the song “Shipping out to Boston” filled the small basement-y bar, which made for a very different vibe from the previous stop. I was glad I was introduced to it though, because it seemed to be where local young people go to hear non-Irish live music and enjoy cheap beer (I was handed a Canadian Molson, which brought back fond memories from my time in Montreal, in a “this watery beer reminds me of being a poor college student” kind of way.)
The last stop was Bad Bobs, a bar and nightclub spanning several floors with a live saxophonist accompanying the DJ before the late-night beats started. If you’re looking for a place to end your night with some dancing, Bad Bobs will certainly scratch that itch. After a successful bar hopping, I said goodbye to my fellow pub crawlers and crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow.
The following day I went to check out St. Stephen’s Green, which reminded me of Boston Common, or a very miniature Central Park. The weather was on our side so we enjoyed our coffees and bagels on the grass, people watching with the sound of children’s laughter floating over from the Green’s epic playground area.
That night I said goodbye to my roommate, which meant that I was on my own for brunch the next morning. But I knew just where I was headed: The Bakehouse. I had walked by it several times already, and I knew from Yelp reviews that their breakfast was pretty great. So I grabbed a soy latte and ordered a Bacon Buttie. I had no idea what to expect from the name, but what I got was two thick slices of buttered white bread, one covered with extra thick bacon and a fried egg on top – like an open faced sandwich. Whatever a buttie is, it was delicious. Irish bacon is otherworldly.
After brunch I did a full day of shopping for souvenirs to bring back for friends and family – if you want to avoid the tourist traps that sell you an “Ireland” sweater for 70 euros and you’d rather get real-deal souvenirs made by local artists, check out MAgne (a funky thrift shop full of handmade jewelry) or the Jam Art Factory (selling Dublin-made prints) in Temple Bar.
A break from shopping meant grabbing a seat outside of the Brick Alley Cafe for a berry smoothie (I can only have so much caffeine). With a direct view of the famous Temple Bar Pub (as opposed to the surrounding area which is also called the Temple Bar), I enjoyed several hours of people watching as I slurped down my smoothie. Their menu was extensive and sounded delicious, but in an effort to conserve money, I returned to my hostel for an early night. I guess I’ll just have to return for dinner on my next visit.
The next morning, I did what any sane person would do when not bound by anyone else’s plans or desires: I had chocolate cake for breakfast. The Queen of Tarts is a cute little cafe and bakery serving tea and pastries, in addition to its regular breakfast and lunch menu. I ordered a fudge cake and Irish Breakfast tea, and when I was finished with that, I got a cookie and a brownie for the road. #Adulting. (The brownie easily out-shined the cookie, but I admit I am biased when it comes to higher chocolate concentrations.)
After walking off these sweets and visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, it was time for my food tour with Irish Food Trails. Ana, my tour leader, was simply the best – friendly, funny, and so knowledgeable about the food and culture in Ireland.
Our first stop was Gallagher & Co. Bistro & Coffee House in the historic D’Olier Building for some appetizer portions of fish and chips and chicken liver mousse, washed down with our choice of beer or cider on tap. Irish cider is the way to go, by the way.
Next up was the Woolen Mills, sister restaurant to famous (and more upscale) Winding Stair restaurant next door. I ordered the coddle, a delicious and hearty traditional Irish stew consisting of potatoes, sausage, and bacon in a thick, savory broth, served with a side of brown soda bread and a generous slab of Irish butter. Have I mentioned Irish butter? It’s on par with French butter, if not better. It’s got to be all that fresh green grass those cows are eating.
We walked over the Ha’ Penny Bridge on our way to the last stop, which is called the Ha’ Penny bridge because before there was a bridge, it would cost half a penny to be carried across the river in a boat. When they built the bridge, they still charged half a penny per pair of feet that crossed the bridge until the bridge was paid off – which meant that men would carry their wives over the bridge to avoid paying a full penny.
Our final stop was Oscar’s Cafe Bar, named for Oscar Wilde, where we learned to make our own Irish coffees and were served Bailey’s cheesecake. An Irish coffee, if you didn’t know, is a shot of whiskey (we used Jameson, but typically the cheapest whiskey is used) mixed with sugar and coffee, and then topped with barely-whipped cream. The technique for slowly pouring the loose cream over the coffee without it mixing with the coffee is to pour the cream over the back of a spoon so it hits the top of the coffee slowly and just settles on top. Now you know.
Ready for a fun little story from Dublin’s past? Nearby Oscar’s is Darkey Kelly’s, a famous bar and restaurant that’s near what used to be a brothel when the area was Dublin’s red light district back in the 1700s. Dorcas Kelly was the female owner of said brothel, and the legend goes that when she was accused of witchcraft by the man who got her pregnant and didn’t want to deal with it, she faced the gravest of consequences. Back then, men were executed by hanging. Women, however, had to be partially hung and then burned at the stake alive. This manner of death for Darkey Kelly led to protests from women, and these protests ultimately allowed women to avoid the burning part and receive the same execution as men. After her execution, they searched her brothel and found bodies of five men in the basement – so Darkey Kelly was not only the woman who put a stop to the gender inequality of executions, but she was also the first known female serial killer in Ireland. (While this is how the legend goes, evidence suggests that what actually happened was that she was accused of murder and then executed for that, rather than for witchcraft. But the rest of the story still stands.)
The following day was my last full day in Dublin, and I had yet to order a a full Irish breakfast (the hostel breakfast just didn’t cut it). So I meandered over to the Stage Door Cafe right across from Bad Bobs and grabbed a seat outside to enjoy my meal. A full Irish breakfast consists of thick cut bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, beans, buttered toast, and sunny-side-up eggs. Black pudding is blood sausage, and white pudding is made of pork meat and animal fat mixed with grains and lightly seasoned. After eating black and white pudding, I don’t think I could ever claim to be vegan again.
After breakfast I took a tour to Kilmainham Gaol (Kill-MAIN-um Jail). It’s where many Irish revolutionaries were imprisoned and executed during the 1916 rebellion against British rule. It was built in 1796 and often used as a holding for prisoners that were to be transported to Australia. During the Great Famine in the mid-1800s, many people purposely committed small crimes just to be imprisoned and fed by the state. Seeing as the prison cells are essentially tiny cold dungeons, that says a lot about the severity of the famine. It was a really interesting tour and I’m glad I was able to sign up for last minute – they usually sell out a day in advance, so be sure to book a spot early in your stay. Definitely worth it.
That night I went out with my new roommate to Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar, as suggested to me by Ana from the food tour. An Irish classic, the “boxty” is a potato pancake. At the Boxty House, these pancakes were large and flat and used as a sort of wrap. The menu also offered potatoes in every other form they could possibly come in – mashed, baked, boiled, in bread, as dumplings, as fries, and in stews. I ordered the Boxty Tasting Platter so I could try a little of everything, and it was amazing. The Boxty fries were my absolute favorite, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that no french fry will ever compare as long as I live. This place is a must when you’re in Dublin and want a taste of an Irish classic.
As it was my last night, we then went to Sinnotts to meet up with my roommate’s Irish friend so he could show us around. It was a sports bar filled with locals cheering and booing at the football (aka soccer) games blaring through the room. We were then taken to O’Donaghue’s, a small, old-school pub with live music and plenty of old Irishmen. O’Donaghue’s was known for serving the best Guinness in town, and after having a glass, I can’t contradict that claim. Dollars signed by tourists lined the wall behind the bar, and we added our own so that our presence there would forever be remembered.
We ended the night at Dicey’s Garden, a nice, crowded bar with an large beer garden, and enough floor room for dancing if that was your thing. I kicked myself for not tagging along with some locals earlier in my stay; I had been going to touristy areas and had totally missed out on all of these great local spots. Next time I will know better.
The following morning, I woke up early to pack and check-out, and then headed for St. Michan’s Church to see the 900 year old crypts (after downing some much-needed caffeine, of course).
The crypts were literally ancient, and filled with caskets. Four mummies were on display, a nun, a priest, a “thief” (because one hand was missing as if by punishment) and a 6’6” crusader who had to have his legs broken to fit in his casket. I was unsuccessful in sneaking a picture, but they were all remarkably well-preserved – even their fingernails were intact. I know this is a food blog and I’m talking about dead people’s fingernails, but who doesn’t love mummies?
I’ll leave you with that, in hopes that my story will make you want to nurture your own interest in Ireland and ultimately see it for yourself (if you haven’t already). It’s truly a very beautiful, welcoming and lively place to visit, with all the meat and potatoes your heart desires. (And shout-out to Cortney, Adam, Matt, Adrian, Ana, Jess, Peadar, Ryan, and Emily for making my trip what it was. You guys are the best.)
So if I could leave you all with one piece of advice, it’s this: if you’ve always wanted to go somewhere but you’re afraid to go it alone, do it anyway. You will definitely meet people, make memories, and have no regrets. Take it from this socially awkward introvert – if I can do it, so can you.
Happy travels, y’all.