DUBLIN — A full Irish breakfast traditionally consists of bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, eggs and tomatoes cooked in bacon grease. As a lifelong vegetarian, I therefore felt some trepidation about planning a trip to the country that celebrates this meal. Yet my experience there turned out to be far from gastronomically challenging, since Ireland has come a long way from its meat-and-potatoes roots, and I ate like a queen for an entire week, from East coast to West.
Traveling abroad as a vegetarian can be a challenge, but Ireland has both a common language and foodie renaissance going for it. My boyfriend and I traversed the nation by car, beginning in Dublin, where we were warmly welcomed with a dinner at Cornucopia, a funky counter service spot on Wicklow Street. This restaurant is a bit of a veggie mecca in the bustling city center; it serves exclusively vegetarian food, all of which we considered delicious. We ate cannelloni with butternut squash and cashew sauce, lasagna packed with garden veggies and lentils, and various sides, the most exceptional of which was an incredibly garlicky potato salad we later wished we had ordered more of. This was in no way fine dining, but the food was filling and tasty, and I appreciated the vegetarian designation, as we wouldn’t find many strictly meat-free restaurants during our travels to Ireland’s less diverse cities.
From Dublin we drove west to Galway, and a classic pub lunch at The Front Door on cheerful Main Street. I ate a falafel burger, chips, and onion rings while surrounded by wood-paneled walls and a waitstaff who called us “love.” Cong, a charming town north of Galway, is tiny, and the restaurant kitchens don’t stay open very late, but we were able to find dinner at Danaghers Hotel Bar & Bistro, where a limited late-night menu is served. It didn’t include anything vegetarian, but the staff was very accommodating and concocted a comforting arrangement of soup, bread, and a pound (or two) of mashed potatoes. I was happy given the carb count — and even more so when the live music started up.
It should be noted that we stayed in bed and breakfasts all along our journey, and I now consider this the only way to go for a vegetarian traveler in Ireland. Each of our hosts was more than accommodating of my diet, and the local knowledge they provided was a major factor in the success of our trip. Our time in Galway, Clonbur, and Cong was followed by a journey to Cork to the south. We stayed at a B&B about 20 minutes from town, where our host told us that under no circumstances should we should head back to the city for dinner, as Kinsale, Ireland’s “gourmet capital” was just a few kilometers away. We didn’t regret taking his advice, since Kinsale ended up being one of our favorite towns. It’s picturesque, but also features a lineup of restaurants among which we had an extraordinarily difficult time choosing. We settled on Hamlets, a hip place with a fun patio and live music. Our meal there was one of the week’s best — we tried local craft cider and beer and homemade asparagus tortellini in a cream sauce crafted by a genius. Kinsale is a must visit for food lovers traveling to Ireland: vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
The last leg of our trip took us back to Dublin via 24 hours in County Wicklow, where we enjoyed my favorite meal of the trip. The Enniskerry Inn, a fairly new establishment in the center of the lovely town for which it’s named, serves extremely good grub. I had potato skins sans bacon, which were divine, and the vegetable pithivier, a flaky puff pastry filled with veggies and goat cheese, presented with celeriac puree and perfectly executed chips. It was seriously tasty, and quaint Enniskerry was the perfect place for a post-dinner stroll. The following day, back in Dublin and missing American indulgences, we ate lunch at The Counter, a build your own burger restaurant right off of Grafton Street. It offers a vegan patty and plenty of plant-based toppings. Our last evening was spent in Swords, just north of Dublin, and thanks to another excellent recommendation from a B&B host, we found ourselves in the beautiful coastal town of Malahide for our final dinner in Ireland. We opted for Thai food at Siam, which features an entire vegetarian menu section and views of the sea. The delightful meal was complemented nicely by the awesome wine selection.
A number of recent developments that benefit the vegetarian traveler have taken place in Ireland. Last year, Guinness announced the forthcoming implementation of a processing change that will render its famous beer vegan, and Sova, a vegan “butcher shop” pop-up was present around Dublin for a time. And a host of restaurants — from modern hipster spots to old-school pubs — have been adjusting to the times and offering vegetarian options. Not once did I struggle to find a good meal, and that made an already magnificent trip all the more memorable. I’ll be back for the landscapes, the culture, and the food.Amanda Matte can be reached at amandaalicematte@gmail