After last week’s post about the birthday party, I have had several questions about food here in Ireland. I mean, what 4-year old doesn’t love peanut butter and jelly?! There are many things to love about Ireland, but food is not one of those things. In general, the selection of ingredients is not as wide, the quality can be lower, and everything is more expensive, except Irish cheddar and potatoes. Here is a brief look into food here in Ireland.
There are three main grocery store chains in Ireland: Dunnes, Superquinn, and Tesco. Dunnes and Superquinn are Irish companies, and Tesco is based in the UK. Interestingly, Berkshire Hathaway (i.e. Warren Buffett) is a major shareholder in Tesco. We primarily shop at Superquinn and Tesco. Superquinn is more upmarket and has a better selection of produce and better quality. Tesco is closer to home, open 24 hours, and has better prices on basics such as flour, eggs, diapers, etc.
Shopping here is just different than the US. If you have been to an Aldi, that is the most comparable store experience. To get a cart or “shopping trolley”, you have to put a €1 coin in the slot to unhook your cart from the others. When you return the cart, you get your coin back. The carts have this VERY annoying feature where all 4 wheels turn. Carts at IKEA in the US are like this. These carts are almost impossible to steer! You bring your own shopping bags to the store. No store provides paper or plastic sacks. If you forget your bags, you can buy some reusable bags at the checkout, or you can just load your groceries back into your cart, without a bag, and put them in your car. There is no one to help you sack your groceries, even at the nice grocery stores. Occasionally there is group that is fundraising at the store – and they’ll sack your groceries for a donation to their cause.
One of the funniest things about shopping in Ireland (and Europe in general) is that eggs are sold on the shelf, not in a refrigerated case. This was an extremely disconcerting sight the first time we went grocery shopping. I was convinced that we would get salmonella, even though I know that chickens don’t lay their eggs in a refrigerator.
The selection of food is generally not as good as stores in the US. I would consider that even United Supermarkets in Amarillo has a better selection than we find here in Ireland. This is partly due to the fact that Ireland is an island, and that it is so far North (very short growing season). Most warm-weather produce such as tomatoes and peppers come from Spain, Turkey, or South Africa, and the quality is definitely sub-par compared to south Texas produce. When an avocado has to travel from South Africa to Ireland, it is not the best avocado you have ever tasted.
American foods not commonly available here:
- Macaroni and cheese – The boxed variety of this American favorite is not sold here. You can find macaroni and cheese in a can, similar to ravioli. Gross.
- Decent salsa or Rotel – There is virtually no selection of decent Mexican food staples here. The tortillas are stale, the salsa is weak, and trying to find Mexican oregano is impossible.
- Velveeta – Brad and I joke that Velveeta isn’t sold here because it is not recognized as a food product in the EU.
- Plain tortilla chips – We can find Doritos, but not the same flavors as the US. It is really hard to find plain tortilla chips, although I did find some at a heath-food store. The irony…
- Monterrey Jack cheese – Most grocers have never heard of Monterrey Jack cheese or Colby Jack.
- Chocolate chips – Chocolate chip cookies, apparently, are an American favorite. The last time I bought a bag of Nestle Toll House chocolate chips, they were from a specialty retailer, came in a 6 oz bag which is half the size of the standard size bag, and were €4/bag. This is one of those items that I have family members bring from the US.
- Cooking spray, esp. Baker’s Joy – I don’t saute with cooking sprays, but they are exceptionally useful for greasing cake pans and muffin tins. My mother brought me a can of Baker’s Joy the last time she was here. Hopefully I can make it last until Christmas!
- Cornmeal – So much for homemade cornbread…
- Peanut Butter – The Irish have tried to create a decent peanut butter, but it is not great. JIF peanut butter is sold at a few specialty retailers and the Harvey Nichols food hall (for a price).
- Unsalted butter – All of the butter here is salted butter. Occasionally I see half-pound blocks of unsalted butter. Interesting fact: Even though Ireland is on the metric system, butter is sold in one-pound (454g) blocks. This is not separated into sticks.
- Italian or breakfast sausage. The Irish have their own type of “sausage” called white pudding and black pudding. I am not sure why anyone would voluntarily eat black pudding, but people here don’t understand why we eat peanut butter!
- Quality plastic bags – I don’t know why, but finding decent freezer bags here is impossible. Thanks to our families for sending us some ziplocs!
It has been hard to adjust to the price of food over here. In general, groceries are 30-40% more expensive here than in the US. Our grocery budget for a family of 4 is €150/week. We only eat meat 1-2 times per week, and make most of our meals from scratch. The only things that are cheaper or comparable price to the US are potatoes and root vegetables, and cheddar.
The best food in Ireland has to be the great sharp cheddar. The ‘cheap’ store brand cheddar we buy is better than the specialty ‘Irish Cheddar’ sold in the US. The butter is also great. If you ever find Kerrygold butter in the supermarket, buy it, and spread it on toast. It is fantastic. It also makes amazing coffeecakes! Butter and cheddar aside, the quality of the food is not as good as the US, especially the produce. This is especially frustrating because we pay more for lower quality.
We have found several ways around this. We belong to a organic vegetable co-op, Absolutely Organic, which delivers a bag of vegetables to our door once a week. (More on delivery below.) The selection is better than what we can find in the stores, and the quality is great. The vegetables that come from Ireland are incredibly fresh. The potatoes still have the moist dirt on them from when they were pulled out of the ground! We also have our milk delivered to us. The milk comes straight from the dairy, which is great. We have recently discovered several ethnic grocery stores nearby that stock good meat and vegetables. Rasputin (great store name, btw) is a great little polish grocery store that makes tasty pork sausage, and also sells ground turkey and ground pork, which we have trouble finding in the regular grocery stores. Of course, you just have to ignore the bowl of chicken hearts and pork tongue in the butcher case! There is also a middle eastern grocer that has an excellent selection of Mediterranean foods, homemade pitas, and great fresh herbs.
I couldn’t write a post about food in Ireland without mentioning grocery delivery. Due to the population density, price of petrol, and the fact that many families have one or no car, grocery delivery is incredibly popular. We use grocery delivery for almost all the time. Our vegetables are delivered from the co-op, we use a milkman, and all the grocery stores offer online shopping and delivery. The milkman delivers 2 liters of milk 3 times per week. (Our refrigerator is really small, so storing 1L containers is easier than a large 3L container). I was suspicious of online grocery shopping at first. I mean, what is I don’t like the produce? Will I get what I order? Are the prices higher? Overall, I have been very pleased with the grocery delivery service. The produce is good, I have the option to select substitute items, and the prices are the same as in-store. If something arrives damaged, the grocer will either replace it, or take it off the bill. Although there is a nominal delivery charge, we usually save money because we don’t make any impulse purchases.
That’s a not-so-brief look into food in Ireland. If you have more questions, let me know!