Despite sharing an island, the food in the Republic of Ireland is actually pretty distinct from food in Northern Ireland. There is definitely more of a British influence to the north. When traveling there, these are just a few of the must-try Northern Ireland dishes.
Traveling to Northern Ireland was a bit surreal for us. We’ve been traveling to the Republic of Ireland for two decades and live in the south, but the North was a blank slate. We were curious to learn about Northern Ireland’s food and how it differs from Irish food in the South as well as from the United Kingdom.
We started our trip in Belfast, heading west to Derry. Along the way, we popped into a few seaside towns to enjoy the views and explore small-town life. Most importantly, we ate and drank our way through the region, and loved every minute of it.
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Northern Ireland Food – What To Eat In Northern Ireland
In this post, we talk about specific Northern Ireland dishes you must eat when visiting this far north region. Now, much like our Edinburgh Food Guide, it’s hard to tell in this part of the world what is “Irish” and what is “British.” To be honest, I can’t even tell you what is the national dish of Northern Ireland.
That said, our recommendations in this post, come from what we ate in Northern Ireland and the research we did before our trip. Most of all, it comes from our years of experience eating in Ireland, which made us think about what is unique and different about eating in Northern Ireland.
Northern Irish Breakfast – The Ulster Fry
Normally, our breakfast involves some fresh fruit, yogurt with muesli, maybe some toast or a bagel. Often it means a bowl of cereal. But, when we land in Ireland, it means a proper fry. During our time in Northern Ireland, we ate numerous large breakfast plates – more so than normal. Each place we stayed included a fry as a breakfast option.
The Ulster fry is a large plate of breakfast goodies and quickly became one of my favorite foods to eat in Northern Ireland. A fried egg surrounded by Irish pork sausage, rashers (a type of bacon), black and white pudding, and often beans or a grilled tomato half, along with toast and butter.
If you’ve never tried black pudding, don’t be afraid to give it a shot. It’s a savory blood pudding in the shape of a sausage that includes a blend of pork, onions, oatmeal, and pork blood. Unlike morcilla, the Spanish blood sausage, it’s more oatmeal than blood meaning it’s not as scary! Give it a try. If you are still skeptical, try the white pudding, which is made with similar ingredients but without the blood.
Soda Farl And Potato Bread
Different from the fry we are used to in the South, the Northern Ireland version included two fried bits that we never tasted before. The first was a fried piece of bread, which was pretty nice to eat with the liquid egg yolk.
The second was fried and soft, almost like a potato, but not crispy like a hash brown. Mind you, we also received regular toast. This meant we had toast, fried bread, and fried potato, with each Irish fry.
I did some bread research and learned that the fried bread is called a soda farl. Soda farl is a soda bread, or sometimes a potato bread, normally served with a fry. Whatever they call it, I fell in love with this traditional Northern Irish food.
Check out our recipe for traditional Irish brown bread.
Baps – Traditional Irish Dishes In Sandwich Form
We’ve been traveling to Ireland for over 20 years. During all those trips, I don’t recall regularly seeing baps. Baps are similar to burger buns. They are filled with a variety of ingredients to make a sandwich.
Baps come in all shapes and sizes. The breakfast bap has the same ingredients as an Ulster Fry, but in sandwich form. Or, if you like, try a bap with back bacon, cured pork belly, and a bit of HP brown sauce. Yum!
The Irish Potato Boxty has many names. “Poundy”, “Poundies”, or its Gaelic names, “Bacstai” or “Aran bocht-ti” meaning “poor-house bread”. Whatever it’s called, the Irish Potato Boxty is a simple and humble dish of finely grated potatoes, flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and occasionally eggs.
Fried in butter, the result is a thick and roughly cut pancake. Boxties are often served with a variety of side dishes from salmon, rashers (bacon), black or white puddings, or fried eggs. This is a dish associated with County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland, as well as in Ulster.
We love fish but have never been fans of salmon. There’s just something about it that we don’t enjoy as much as other types of fish. This is unfortunate as you’ll find local Irish salmon on nearly every menu.
Salmon is a native fish species in Ireland. Throughout the North and South, salmon can be found thriving in numerous freshwater rivers. A great source of omega-3 fatty acid, salmon in Ireland is typically smoked. Prior to refrigeration, smoking salmon helped preserve it. You’ll find salmon served cold, broiled, or in a hot bowl of seafood chowder. Smoked salmon is also commonly served as a starter.
Local Lobster And Seafood
You really shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Ireland has incredible seafood. It is an island after all. The cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean provide Northern Ireland with a wide array of seafood. For years, most of the seafood caught off Ireland was exported. Thankfully that trend has been changing.
In restaurants across Northern Ireland, you’ll find locally caught scallops, mussels, and oysters. You’ll even find lobsters and crab. The waters off Northern Ireland are home to cod, skate, and turbot, and countless other species of fish.
Seaweed, Dillisk, Or Dulse
This is not for the faint of heart. There is a tradition of foraging for seaweed along the coast of Northern Ireland. Contemporary, as well as traditional Northern Irish recipes, incorporate various types of seaweed. Everything from soups, mains, and desserts. Typical Northern Irish food products include dulse, a dried, salty seaweed snack. It makes a decent beer snack, but it is definitely an acquired taste.
Few food items are more quintessentially Irish or English, depending on who you ask, then scones. Dating back to the 16th century, it’s believed that scones were invented in Scotland. Regardless of who or when scones were invented, let’s rejoice that throughout Northern Ireland scones are easy to find.
Best enjoyed during afternoon tea, scones are made using either wheat or oatmeal. Baking powder is added as a leavening agent to lighten the mixture. Baked and served with cream and jam, they are simply divine. The best scones we enjoyed in Northern Ireland were at our hotel, the Beech Hill Country Hotel.
Named after Queen Victoria, the Victoria Sponge Cake is a very popular dessert in Derry (Londonderry). Or so said our local guide. The cake dates back to the mid-19th century during the reign of Queen Victoria. At this time the Victoria Sponge was traditionally served only with jam. The addition of cream is a modern twist to this delicious dessert.
The cake itself is dense and sweet. Making it rather filling An additional vat of extra cream is served on the side just in case you’re feeling a bit gluttonous. You can find the Victoria Sponge Cake in pastry shops and on dessert menus across Northern Ireland.
Bread And Butter Pudding
Generally, we are not dessert people but with a few exceptions. Bread and butter pudding is one of those exceptions. More commonly referred to as bread pudding in the US, it’s a great example of not letting food go to waste. In the case of bread and butter pudding, stale or day-old bread.
Bread and butter pudding is made by layering slices of buttered bread in a pan, along with egg and cream, perhaps some raisins and cinnamon. When it comes out from the oven, it is soft, gooey, and magical. The bread and butter pudding we ate at Ardmore Restaurant inside Beech Hill Hotel, was truly a work of culinary art.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Another fabulous British-style dessert is sticky toffee pudding. It’s a large, super moist sponge cake covered in a toffee sauce. Some versions can unfortunately be sickly sweet. Other versions come covered in fresh vanilla ice cream, almost a la mode style.
The sticky toffee pudding we ate at Harry’s Shack in Portstewart was nicely balanced and not too sweet. The views out to the water made the pudding taste even better.
Northern Irish Sweets
There are a couple of sweets that Northern Ireland does well. Some of these you might find on an Irish foods list, some of them might be a little more British, but they are worth a taste.
Look for caramel squares, which are pieces of Irish shortbread topped with caramel and fudge. How can you go wrong? Another very typical Irish food in the North is Jammy Joeys. It’s a moist sponge cake filled with jam and covered in coconut. They can be found in bakeries as well as at convenience stores.
Northern Ireland Drinks
Beer And Cider
There’s certainly no shortage of Guinness to be drunk in Northern Ireland, but there are certainly other options. Tennents from Scotland is a refreshing lager to keep an eye out for. You’ll also find a number of English cask ales on tap. Cask ales are very popular in the UK and can be an acquired taste. What makes them different from other beers is they are unfiltered and unpasteurized giving them their own distinct taste.
Craft Beer In Northern Ireland
Over the past 10 years, craft beer or independent beer brewing has taken off in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. From Belfast to Derry, a number of craft beer breweries have opened. Like most craft beer producers around the world, craft beer in Northern Ireland is regional. Meaning, you won’t find many of the brewers shipping their beers outside of Ireland or the UK. So enjoy them when you can.
A few names to look out for include Walled City Brewery in Derry, Lacada in Portrush, and Hilden Brewery in Lisburn (10 miles outside of Belfast). Hilden Brewery has the distinct honor of being Ireland’s old microbrewery. First opening its doors in 1981.
If you can’t explore these breweries in person, head over to Sunflower in the heart of Belfast to sample their wide array of independent beers. They offer both Irish and International craft beers which you can enjoy in their outdoor beer garden.
If you need a break from stouts, porters and IPAs, keep an eye out for locally produced ciders. Northern Ireland, especially in County Armagh, has had a long tradition of producing high-quality ciders. Light and refreshing, they are a nice alternative to beer.
Whiskey And Gin
Northern Ireland is home to Bushmills Whiskey, one of the most well-known Irish whiskeys in the world. Located in the town of Bushmills, the distillery is open for tours and tastings. A stone’s throw from the coast, visiting the distillery can easily be added to a trip to the famous Giants Causeway.
In addition to Bushmills, keep an eye out for the Echlinville and Rademon Estate distilleries. Each is open to the public for tours and tasting.
Whiskey might be the king of spirits in Northern Ireland, but over the past 10 years, gin has increased in popularity. There are a few Northern Ireland gin producers to try if you get the chance. Shortcross, Jawbox, and Boatyard are just a few gin brands to look for.