If you still believe Irish food is solely concerned with potatoes and porter, then it is fitting your re-orientation program should begin in Cork, long dubbed the “food capital of Ireland.” With one of the world’s largest natural harbors, Cork has long been a vital maritime port, trading freely since the 13th century, exporting oats, wheat, beef, pork, fish, hides, and malt, and importing cloth, spices, and wine — four times as much wine, in fact, as neighboring England.
Eventually, the most egregious impacts of colonialism, particularly famine, radically skewed the national cuisine and obliterated much of Cork’s food culture. But the Irish revival began here in the 1960s with Myrtle Allen’s Ballymaloe House, just 20 miles east of Cork city. (Noma co-founder Claus Meyer attributes the genesis of the global locavore movement in fine dining to Allen, with whom he “soldiered” in a pan-European chefs organization in the 1980s.)
Today, with the beloved and ancient English Market as its traditional heart, Cork’s food scene is more diverse and delightful than ever, ranging from Ireland’s best-known date-night vegetarian restaurant to a tiny south Indian ayurvedic cafe, from vegan outposts to sourdough pizza, from Japanese food, both casual and starry, to immigrant-run Middle Eastern places, and from impeccable fish and chips to an almost religious craft beer obsession. Ireland’s original food city, Cork endured something of a culinary slump after the economic crash in 2008, but now it’s back and more vital than ever. Here are the most essential ways to experience it.
Editor’s Note: Eater is not updating international maps at this time given disruptions to global travel during the COVID-19 crisis.
Prices per person, excluding alcohol:
$ = Less than 20 euros (Less than $22 USD)
$$ = 20 - 50 euros ($22 - $55 USD)
$$$ = 50 - 100 euros ($55 - $109 USD)
$$$$ = 100 euros and up ($109 USD and up)
Joe McNamee is an Irish food writer, author, and journalist based in Cork. He is also founder of @grubcircus, a traveling activist food “roadshow” dedicated to pursuing truly sustainable food systems.Read More