Pól Ó Conghaile: Could food be the new drink for Irish tourism?
It's time to step past the pub and celebrate our glorious grub in promoting the country overseas, says our Travel Editor.
Not long ago, the notion of an Irish food scene would have had tourists choking on their beef and Guinness stew. Today, it's altogether different.
Galway and Kilkenny have Michelin stars. Food festivals and trails are ten-a-penny. Northern Ireland is celebrating a 'Year of Food and Drink'. New bars, cafés and restaurants have locals and visitors alike clamouring for their Instagram eye candy.
There's a long way to go, of course.
Price can be a problem, not all food trails are worth their salt, and it's still as easy to find a bad meal as a good one (hold the paninis, for God's sake!).
By and large, however, food has been a big success story, with Ireland evolving from the Full Irish to a food island whose producers, chefs and restaurants routinely exceed visitor expectations. It's been a decade of very tasty change.
The latest piece of the puzzle is the food tour. Although still lagging by international standards, we now have decent options by Good Food Ireland and Irish Food Tours, as well as walking tours from Fabulous Food Trails, Ketty Elisabeth's Delicious Dublin, Caroline Wilson's Belfast Food Tours and Sheena Dignam's tours in Galway.
Similar to Foods of New York, or Frying Pan Adventures in Dubai, the best of these lift the lids on sizzling food scenes, providing surprisingly rich experiences.
Food links heritage, landscape, people and place in an ultra-shareable way. It engages people, draws them into a destination, and it's big business, too. According to Fáilte Ireland, tourists spend some €2 billion a year on food.
Alcohol offers strong images of Ireland, but also a host of embarrassing stereotypes. Could Irish grub finally take its place alongside the pubs?
Food for thought.
At first glance, Food Tours can seem expensive. Fabulous Food Trails' (fabfoodtrails.ie) tours of Dublin and Cork cost €55pp, Delicious Dublin (deliciousdublintours.com) charges €45pp, while the Belfast Food Tour (belfastfoodtour.com) is priced at £45/€57.
But think about what's involved. The tours last 2.5, three and four hours respectively. They provide you with the services of a clued-in and enthusiastic guide that knows their city and its food scene. And they offer multiple tastings (I've never left one hungry).
Birthday present, anyone?
Marking its 10th birthday, Good Food Ireland's (goodfoodireland.ie) new gourmet getaways and cooking adventures are aimed at both home and international tourists.
Tours range from a two-night 'cultural epicurean' experience based out of Kilkenny's Mount Juliet (pictured, €605pp), to a foraging weekend with Darina Allen and Kevin Aherne from Midleton's Sage restaurant from €620pp.
The prices include most meals, experiences and drinks, and serious foodies can bundle three tours for six nights at €1,072pp. Bon appetit!
Read more:Ireland's 100 best places to eat - they're not as expensive as you think Dublin's Casual Food Revolution: 21 ideas for your next foodie trip