Blessed with fresh seafood from nearby waterways and just-picked produce from the Ulster countryside, Belfast has a bounty of food to choose from. While modern dishes are gaining well-deserved popularity, many of the best things to eat in the city are traditional Northern Irish recipes; specialties like deep-fried pasties and high-cholesterol breakfast baps are absolute must-eats.
Be sure to arrive hungry and leave plenty of room to try these 10 delicious Belfast foods.
What's better than a minced meat patty with fragrant onion and potatoes? All of those ingredients mixed together, dipped in batter, and deep fried. The fried patty is known as a “pastie” and is as classic as fish and chips in parts of Belfast. The Ulster speciality is the kind of meal that locals yearn for if they find themselves away for too long. You will find pasties at just about any chipper, but join the hungry crowds at John Long’s to try what is arguably the best version in the city.
You may have heard of a full Irish breakfast, but when in Belfast, the winning morning meal is the Ulster Fry. It has all the classic breakfast ingredients, including fried eggs, sausages, bacon, and black pudding—but what differentiates this Northern Ireland plate is the appearance of both soda and potato bread. In some variations, you might even find tomatoes, white pudding, or mushrooms. Try the heart-stoppingly large Ulster Fry at Maggie May’s or the beloved take on this breakfast favorite at Bright’s.
Oysters and Guinness
Defined by the winding River Lagan, it should come as no surprise that oysters are one of the best things to eat when you are visiting the capital of Northern Ireland. And the briny treat goes perfectly with the creaminess of a dark Irish stout. You can try the classic oyster and Guinness pairing at Whites and The Oyster Rooms, which was established in 1630 and is officially the oldest pub in Belfast. Or, head to Mourne Seafood, a game-changing restaurant that harvests oysters from its own shellfish beds in Carlingford Lough.
Belfast’s take on seafood chowder brings together the best of land and sea by starting with a base of potatoes, cream, and smoked bacon. Added into the mix are cod, smoked haddock, salmon, mussels, and clams (with varying combinations depending on where you order the sublime soup). Made in Belfast always has chowder on the menu, while chef Michael Deane’s Love Fish is a sure bet for fantastic chowder and other fresh seafood dishes.
Colcannon and Champ
Potatoes are a staple of Belfast diets, but that doesn't mean you have to stick to the roasted variety. Spice up the side dish by indulging in colcannon or champ, two takes on mashed potatoes that you can find in the city. Colcannon is made with cabbage or kale, whereas champ is mashed with butter and chopped scallions. These sometimes forgotten side dishes steal the show at family-run Holohan’s Pantry and at local pubs like McHughs Bar.
It is hard to beat Irish stew on a cold Belfast day. This slow-cooked meat and vegetable meal is akin to a national dish in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. A good Irish stew—which includes lamb, potato, carrots, and onions—takes at least 2.5 hours to prepare. It's baked like a casserole, which helps to ensure that all the flavors blend together into an unforgettable comfort food. The Crown Liquor Saloon makes a fantastic stew (and is one of Belfast’s most famous drinking spots, so stick around for a drink or two). Some versions of the dish are made with beef instead of lamb, which you can sample at Kelly’s Cellars.
The beautifully messy breakfast bap is the unofficial cure to a late night out in Belfast—but it can certainly be a treat regardless of the number of pints downed the night before. The gigantic bun is placed on a griddle to toast while bacon and sausage sizzle nearby. Add a fried egg, grilled onions, mushrooms, and a healthy dose of melted cheese, and you have a Belfast treat. On weekends, follow the smell of cooking bacon at St. George’s Market to Sandra’s Grill or the Belfast Bap Co.
There is no single recipe for the traybake, which is made from crushed biscuits and sweet ingredients like condensed milk, chocolate, and dried fruit. Unlike what its name suggests, this Northern Irish treat neither needs to be baked or made in a tray. Traditionally made by mothers and grandmothers and served at home with tea, traybakes have begun to pop up at trendy coffee houses around the city. You can find it at Avoca, a popular café that also serves a selection of freshly baked cakes.
Yellowman is just the thing when you find yourself hankering for a sugar fix in Belfast. The honeycomb candy is popular at fairs in Northern Ireland, but it can also be found at Aunt Sandra’s, a confectionery store that has not changed in decades. Step past the cheery pink storefront and sample the famed Yellowman for yourself.
Delectable Irish steaks are exported all over the world, but at home, many people in Northern Ireland choose lamb as sustainable and local meat. For a traditional lamb shank with rosemary potatoes, try Darcy’s (the restaurant also has a vegan menu to please non-meat eaters). SHU, on the other hand, has a modern Irish menu that includes dry-aged lamb with globe artichokes. The contemporary setting is a wonderful place to sample the best of local Belfast ingredients and complex cocktails on the side.