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Gluten-Free Ireland

Gluten is a big enemy of the Irish. Ireland is reported to have the highest frequency of coeliacs in Europe. There might be two reasons for this: 1) geography and 2) milk. Wait, actually, three. 3) The Romans.

Before blaming the Romans (and lack of them) for everything, let us look a few thousand years back, when wheat was first cultivated in ancient Babylonia. From there to here, it took a good 2,000 years before it reached Ireland, so no wonder that Irish digestive system failed to adapt to gluten as well as that of the Middle East and continental Europe.

Furthermore, Ireland always seemed to rely much on milk. The abundance of dairy cattle in Ireland, like nowhere else in Europe, determined that it did not need as much bread for staple food. Due to the climate and soil, Ireland has graced its people with ample pastures for thousands of years. The use of milk or ‘white food’ had become more and more prevalent. Cows were not only great for milking. Beef, mutton and venison have played a heavier role in the Irish diet, whether prince or pauper, for most of history, not to mention the role of fishing in the life of coastal communities. The Irish never really had a spare minute to produce bread.

Finally, the Roman Empire. Urbanization came to Ireland quite late because the Romans never got here and never settled on the island, with their advanced architecture and engineering. This meant that Ireland continued on a different path to most of the rest of Europe, because urbanization, among other things, led to the industrialization of food, i.e. bread production. Without this need for the staple loaf, the Irish rural way of life was less focused on one food type and turned out to be more dynamic, seasonal and versatile.

All of this has means that bread was never as fundamental in the Irish diet and so the Irish haven’t built up a tolerance for gluten. On the hand, we handle our milk pretty well!

photo courtesy of National Library of Ireland

There is a whole bunch of websites dedicated to this aspect of Irish diet. Right now, the vast abundance of international restaurants caters to your every need: from Nepali to French, from Vietnamese to Brazilian, some of them more gluten-free than others.

But by all means, check out these places for gluten-free menu and Irish food:

1) The Lo-cal kitchen is the cosiest corner for brunch and late lunch that serves a whole lot of salads, main courses and desserts.

2) The Mulberry Garden is Irish fine dining at its finest: they use seasonal produce of the local Irish farms and never disappoint with creative combinations.

3) The Farm Restaurant is an affordable, pretty darn tasty and healthy option for eating out in Dublin. It stays open quite late, in case you get carried away with your healthy dinner and lose track of time.

4) O’Connell’s Restaurant, a family-run place that serves delicious Irish meals worth several generations of family traditions.

5) KC Peaches is a colourful venue that has it all: whole foods café, great wine cave and organic shop.

6) Rustic Stone restaurant is not just simple, local and nutritious, but also adds creative touch to the cooking process: you can mix the salads and dressings by yourself, and watch the food being cooked in front of you on a hot volcanic stone.

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