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Dietary Restrictions & Irish Restaurants

Many people have dietary restrictions that vary from being a vegetarian, to food sensitivities, to severe food allergies. Any of these make eating while traveling a BIG challenge. Fortunately, it is NOT a challenge in Ireland (at least most of the time).

Beautiful & Tasty Bean Salad from Péarla na Mara

Péarla na Mara Bean Salad

Those with dietary restrictions have several things that make Irish travel easy:

  • A culture of welcoming

  • Well labeled menus

  • A diverse culture

The openness of the Irish is legendary. It starts with the traditional welcome in Irish, Míle fáilte roimh (a thousand welcomes) … not just welcome, not just hello … but a thousand welcomes. It is also reflected in the hospitality, even down to the wait staff and cooks in a small pub.

I have a few vegetarian or vegan friends and they tell stories that at first seem out of place for Ireland. One gentleman, who is vegetarian, was traveling by motorbike (motorcycle) over the back roads of Ireland and stopped at a rural pub for lunch. He was resigned to having the soup of the day that is almost always vegetable and almost always vegetarian (the vegetarians will know what that last phrase means). The cook/chef happened to be the one to take their order, and they engaged in a short conversation where the cook found out they were vegetarian. At the end of the conversation the cook offered “to whip something up” for them (or the Irish equivalent words). My friend claims the dish was one of the best he has had in a restaurant in Ireland. This degree of hospitality may not be everyplace in Ireland, but the wait staff are always at least willing to discuss the ingredients for dishes on the menu, and will ask the cook if they don’t know.

The Irish seem to be “kindred spirits” to vegetarians as many have some genetic food sensitivities. Many Irishman are celiac sensitive, even to the point of a very severe celiac allergy (severe life threatening reactions to just physical celiac exposure). To meet the needs of celiacs and others, the menus in Ireland are well marked with major allergy and vegetarian information. If you don’t see the information, ask for the menu with the allergen info, they are required to have this information available.

Each menu item will be labeled with a tag indicating any food allergens that are used in preparation. Usually, at the end/bottom of the menu will be a key to decipher the tags. The figures below are an example menu from one of our favorite local cafes (thanks Town Café). The tags for this menu are G, C, E, F, P, So, M, Su, N, L, Cel, Mu, Se, and Mol. These would be Gluten, Crustaceans, Eggs, Fish, Peanuts, Soya, Milk, Sulphur Dioxide or Sulphites, Nuts, Lupin (Legumes), Celery, Mustard, Sesame Seeds, and Mollusks. I never knew there were so many food sensitivities! In addition, in small restaurants the cook is usually open to “working with you” to find something to meet your needs.

Town Cafe Menu - Page 1

Front Page of Town Cafe Menu with Allergen Tags for Menu Items

Town Cafe Menu - with Allergen Key

Town Cafe Menu with Allergen Key at Bottom

Many Americans are surprised by the diversity of cultures represented in Ireland. It isn’t as diverse as California, but it is more diverse that many mid-western US towns. Remember, Ireland was part of the British Empire for several hundred years, and a few immigrants from that empire have made their way to Ireland. This includes immigrants from: India, China, Africa, and the Middle East… and then there are more modern immigrants, mostly from Africa and India. This includes the Indian parents of our current Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Leo Varadkar. As a result of this diversity there is also a diverse offering of restaurants given the underlying culture and the size of many towns in Ireland.

In Galway, a town of ~80,000 people, there are restaurants offering several cuisine styles including Asian, Indian, Mexican, and Vegetarian among others. These cuisines have several standard dishes that are vegetarian or can be easily modified for vegetarians. I do need to add one caveat from my experiences: the food for these diverse restaurants will probably be very edible and even good, but it may not be as “authentic” as you are accustomed … the dishes have probably been modified to the tastes of the average Irish taste palate … go with the flow.

After giving this rosy picture of Irish Restaurants for people with dietary restrictions, I need to add a little dose of reality. You WILL be able to eat the food you require in Ireland with very little or no inconvenience, but the selection is not always great, especially in small towns and villages. There is almost always one vegetarian dish on the menu for even the smallest pub in the smallest village… but it may be “the standard vegetarian dish” … limp mixed vegetables on rice with a Curry sauce …. Or it may be the best vegetable curry you have ever had …. Just make it part of the adventure!

See You In The Pub!

Jet Lag Jack

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