Without doubt, Ireland’s culinary landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last half century, a change that has been greatly influenced by membership in the European Union. As we mark the 50th anniversary of EU membership, it’s evident that our eating and drinking habits have evolved, reflecting not only the economic and political integration with the EU but also a new found appreciation for diverse flavours, ingredients and culinary traditions. I’m happy to report that while potatoes will always play a large part in our diet, things have changed in the past 50 years. From burrata to bitterballen, joining the EU has not only opened borders but also opened our minds to other cuisines and traditions and today you are more likely to be served a dish of European origin at a friend’s dinner party than something traditionally Irish. As we have discovered, European recipes +Irish produce = a match made in culinary heaven.

One of the most significant effects of EU membership on Irish cuisine has been the expansion of available ingredients. Ireland, historically known for its reliance on potatoes and meat, now boasts an extensive array of international foods, and for many, pasta has become close to a new ‘national dish’. The EU’s single market has facilitated the import of fruits, vegetables, spices and products from across the continent, diversifying Irish meals and encouraging experimentation in the kitchen.

While the EU has brought global flavours to Ireland, it has also encouraged the revival of local and artisan food production. European regulations and quality standards have allowed Irish farmers, cheese makers, chocolatiers, brewers and other food producers to compete on an equal footing with their European counterparts, resulting in a resurgence of traditional and locally produced foods, celebrated for their authenticity and quality. As a result, our diet has evolved significantly toward more Mediterranean style eating with the European focus on healthy living and nutrition encouraging Irish consumers to embrace a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and lean proteins. This shift towards a healthier lifestyle can be somewhat attributed to the increased variety of available produce, making these choices easier and more interesting and, of course, EU health guidelines.

Joining the EU has also played a pivotal role in how the Irish enjoy alcohol and drinks in general. Prior to joining the EU, Ireland had a limited wine culture with the majority of people choosing beer or spirits as their regular tipple. The common market facilitated wine trade and led to a drinks list that went beyond Guinness and increased wine consumption, craft beers and cocktails in Ireland. Today, Irish people enjoy a diverse selection of wines and drinks from across Europe, complementing their meals with wines from France, Italy, Spain and beyond. And for a nation of tea drinkers, we have certainly embraced the coffee revolution wholeheartedly. The availability of high quality coffee from EU countries has led to a surge in coffee consumption with cafés and independent coffee shops springing up all over the country.  The morning flat white, espresso, cappuccino, or latté is now more popular than the once beloved ‘cupántae’, or cup of tea.

Perhaps the most important culinary impact of Ireland’s EU membership has been the cultural exchange through food. The influx of immigrants from various European countries has brought previously unknown culinary traditions to Ireland and today, you can find authentic Italian, Spanish, French and other European restaurants the length and breadth of the country. This multicultural food scene has broadened Irish palates and fostered a deeper appreciation and interest for the diverse cuisines of across Europe. Of course, this works two ways. Ireland too has become a destination for culinary tourism, thanks in part to its EU membership. The vibrant food scene, rich cultural heritage and influence of European gastronomy have made Irish cities like Dublin and Cork hotspots for food enthusiasts. Visitors from around the world come to Ireland to experience its unique blend of traditional and international cuisines while also enjoying the stunning landscape.

Fifty years of Irish EU membership have undoubtedly transformed the way we eat and drink as a nation. From a once predominantly insular culinary culture, Ireland has evolved into a nation with a diverse and dynamic food and beverage landscape. The EU’s influence on ingredients, artisan producers, dietary habits, and cultural exchange through food has enriched Irish cuisine and introduced us to the world of global flavours. I look forward to seeing what the next 50 years bring.

As we say in the EU, sláinte, cincin, cheers or salud!

Ciara McQuillan
Ciara McQuillan is a Dublin based freelance food and travel writer and regular columnist for The Irish Times.

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