Traditional food is alive and well in Northern Ireland. In a historical sense, Northern Ireland's culinary heritage reflects our shared Ulster-Scots and Irish heritage and traditions. Most traditional dishes have their roots in potatoes and bread, the staple diet in bygone days and these staple ingredients are still evident in our cuisine. Traditionally the Ulster Fry was eaten for breakfast everyday, nowadays that pleasure is saved for the weekend, maybe indulging in a sausage soda or a bacon bap on a week day. However, no visit to Northern Ireland would be complete without experiencing an Ulster Fry and our Hotels, Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfast's serve up an Ulster Fry every day! ....
The Ulster Fry is distinguished by its griddle breads – soda bread and potato farls, fried until crisp and golden. Sometimes it comes with another uniquely Northern Irish speciality, vegetable roll – slices of peppery minced beef, flavoured with fresh leek, carrot and onion. Bacon, sausages, an egg, a tomato and maybe some mushrooms complete the picture - not to mention lashings of tea and toast.
At breakfast we’re also rather partial to porridge, made with rolled oats, milk or water and a pinch of salt. For extra luxury at the weekend you can dress it with cream rather than milk, and brown sugar. Some even add a dash of Bushmills whiskey!
Early risers find time for ‘elevenses’ in the mid morning, when a well brewed cup of tea or a very milky coffee is the norm, accompanied by a scone, fruit cake, or a sticky sweet ‘tray bake’ or cream cake.
Mash flavoured with shredded scallions, known as Champ, has its origins in Northern Ireland.
Some local specialities include:
Champ – a delicious comfort food dish of potatoes mashed with lots of butter, warm milk and chopped spring onions or, as we call them, scallions. We also love our spuds fried, roast, baked and simply boiled in their ‘jackets’ to be peeled ceremoniously at the table.
Irish Stew - a hearty casserole traditionally made with meat, potatoes, carrots and onions. The Ulster variety is made with steak pieces instead of lamb – cooked to a peppery slush and often served with thick slices of buttered bread.
Dulse – a salty, seaweed snack, originally harvested by fishermen to supplement their income when fishing was slack. Found at markets, and in some bars, it is also used in Robert Ditty’s sesame seed and dulse oatcakes, and in the Causeway Cheese Company’s cheese, and it can add a very pleasant saline edge to a loaf of soda bread.
Lough Neagh eel – traditionally eaten at Hallowe’en and served fried in chunks with a white onion sauce, also often smoked and served as a starter.
Potato bread farl – a dense, earthy flat bread, made with potatoes, flour, and buttermilk and cooked on a griddle. This bread is the heart of every Ulster Fry and a must-buy foodie souvenir.
Soda bread farl - first baked in 19th century Ireland when local peasants added baking soda to help the dough rise. The result is thick, chunky soft bread with fluffy consistency that is best served fried as part of the Ulster Fry, or toasted with a big dollop of butter. They are also the base for popular Paddy’s Pizzas.
Wheaten bread - a healthy brown bread made with whole wheat flour and delicious toasted with melted cheese or buttered and served with a big bowl of steaming broth.
Yellow man – a crunchy golden confectionery often confused with honeycomb, but similar in texture, sold at fairs and markets.
Vegetable roll – well actually its thick slices of a fatty meat from the trimmings of brisket and rib with seasoning of fresh vegetables, usually celery, leek, carrot and onion. It was traditionally part of an Ulster Fry but now more often served at lunch or dinner with mashed potato or champ, and mashed swede or turnip.
Steak & Guinness pies – Steak & Guinness pie is the pub grub of choice in most parts of Ulster. The meat is cooked first, and then a pie dish is lined with puff pastry, filled with the beef and then topped with the pastry. It differs from the UK pastry-topped pie, in that the pastry is both on top and underneath, the meat. Butchers sell a wide range of pies with fillings such as mince and onion or chicken and ham.
Ardglass potted herring – not to be confused with roll mops, this dish was created in the days when herrings were plentiful. Each family has its own secret variation, but often they are wrapped around onion, bay leaf and all-spice with a 50:50 mixture of malt vinegar and water, topped with breadcrumbs and baked.
Traditional butcher’s sausages – the fine-textured sausage typical in Northern Ireland is very distinct from continental styles, and each butcher has his own unique family recipe, usually made with natural casings and hand-linked. Beef sausages seem peculiar to the north of Ireland, although they are also found in Scotland.
Pasties – this comforting mixture of sausage meat, onions, mashed potato is shaped like a burger, and always spiced with loads and loads of black pepper. You can order them plain, battered (the chip shop favourite) or coated with golden breadcrumbs.
Boxty – predominately found in County Fermanagh, Boxty is a weighty, starchy potato cake made with 50:50 mix of cooked mashed potatoes and grated, strained, raw potato. The most common variety is boiled boxty, also known as hurley, a large round loaf which is boiled whole for several hours, allowed to rest and then sliced and fried, often with bacon.
Buttermilk – a by-product of churning butter on the farm, buttermilk is responsible for the distinctive flavour and texture of Northern Irish breads – soda farls, potato bread, pancakes and wheaten bread.