Pól Ó Conghaile: Why Irish food is finally worth travelling for
Taste of Ireland
Food is inspiring travel like never before and Ireland is perfectly poised to benefit. Get ready for a revolution...
Last year was Irish tourism's Sgt. Pepper. Its Nevermind or Joshua Tree. Some 10.5 million people visited this island, smashing all kinds of records.
How do you follow that?
One answer lies right in front of our noses. Literally.
In the past, the notion of 'Irish cuisine' would have had tourists choking on their bacon and cabbage. Today, there are Michelin-star restaurants in Belfast, Dublin, Galway, Kilkenny and Waterford. Galway's Food on the Edge symposium attracts rock-star chefs like Massimo Bottura and Virgilio Martínez Véliz.
Food festivals are 10 a penny; Irish food and craft drinks have the word-of-mouth momentum once reserved for the céad míle fáilte.
Yes, we continue to be influenced by foreign food scenes. But we are no longer beholden to them. Ambitious chefs and restaurants are shaking off the shackles of 'fine dining' and finding a sweet spot in a mix of world-class produce, confident cooking and casual rooms. From hipster cafés in North Dublin to B&Bs in the Burren, Irish ideas and ingredients are turning menus into short stories.
There's a long way to go, of course, and rip-offs remain, but tourism has a new trump card - local dishes prepared with love.
As we embrace this, so will visitors. In the past year, I've eaten in World's 50 Best restaurants from London to Lima, and each has given me a moment of realisation… I can now have experiences like this at home.
Slowly but surely, as our round-up of 30 dishes worth travelling for shows, we are creating a distinctly Irish food and a distinctly Irish way of serving it.
Tourists are pleasantly surprised at the discovery, but it's time to let them know before they arrive: to sync Ireland's food and travel industries, to promote our food and drink together, to whet the world's appetite.
We've had our Gathering and our Wild Atlantic Way. What about a Year of Irish Food and Drink - a concerted marketing push telling the world about Europe's hottest food scene? Sgt. Pepper ain't got nothing on this.