Guide to Welsh Food: Traditional and Modern Cuisine
As with many cuisines around the UK and around the world, Welsh cuisine is traditionally based on what could be grown locally and cheaply. Food was functional, hearty and wholesome, fuelling labourers on the farm or workers down the mine.
These traditional dishes continue to be served in personal and commercial spaces. At the same time, Wales has developed its own speciality foods, grown and prepared in the country, from honey and specialist sauces to white wine and whisky.
Thanks to the initiative called ‘Wales, the True Taste’, traditional Welsh produce and dishes are being celebrated throughout the land, in pubs, restaurants and hotels for locals and tourists to enjoy. There’s also a new generation of young chefs, who have stepped forward with innovative and modern takes on traditional Welsh recipes.
In this post, we’ll look at just some of the traditional and modern cuisines found in Wales.
Cawl remains the most traditional Welsh dish. It’s a hearty, one-pot soup stew of meat, cabbage, swede and potato. It’s one of those warm and cosy dishes that you long for when you’ve been walking all day in the hills. Everything is slow-cooked, and hours of patience go into making the delicious dish.
Another famous favourite is Welsh rarebit, which is similar to cheese on toast. Surprisingly, it was originally known as ‘Welsh rabbit’, though at no point was a rabbit one of the ingredients.
Chefs across the country will likely disagree on certain cast-iron conditions, such as the thickness of the toast and whether or not you should add paprika. However, the staple ingredients are melted cheese and bread. The cheese sauce will contain a range of seasonings, including ale, mustard, paprika or Worcestershire sauce.
Over the years, there have been many variants to the recipe, including blending it with a tomato to create the ‘blushing bunny’ dish.
3. Glamorgan Sausage
A favourite amongst vegetarians, the Glamorgan sausage is a cheese and leek mixture that is then coated in breadcrumbs and fried. It’s an old-fashioned Welsh recipe, originating from Glamorgan in South Wales for skinless, meatless sausages. They were first recorded in the 19th century when it was the norm for towns to have their own local sausages. Rising to popularity throughout Great Britain during World War II, the sausages remain a humble and well-loved favourite.
When eaten hot, they are great as part of brunch or breakfast with a side of potatoes and tomato chutney, but they also work well as part of high tea, or cold at a picnic or garden party.
Only in Wales and some parts of Scotland and Ireland is an edible seaweed known as laver gathered and processed for commercial use. The seaweed itself can be found in some parts of the west coast, clinging to the rocks on low tide.
Laverbread isn’t actually bread at all, but a surprising and delicious concoction of boiled seaweed mixed with oatmeal. This savoury treat is often referred to as Welsh caviar. Despite looking rather unappetising in its green and slimy glory, it does hold plenty of health benefits.
Laverbread is usually enjoyed with toast or seafood, but can be incorporated into fry ups and other dishes. Typically, this dish is eaten for breakfast or supper.
Welshcakes are delicate little, sweet cakes which can be eaten at any time of the day. Traditionally cooked over a bakestone, they are now commonly made on a griddle for just two or three minutes each side. They are filled with dried fruit and a mixture of spices, which normally includes nutmeg, sugar and ginger.
6. Teatime Favourites
When it comes to teatime in Wales, there are a few cakes that stand out. Traditional bara brith is the famous speckled bread of Wales. They are sweet, scone-like cakes laced with sugar and raisins and cooked on a griddle. A unique-tasting cake, the bara brith recipe includes adding half a pot of cold tea to the cake mix. You’d be excused for thinking that this was an age-old accident, but without the comforting, familiar notes of the char, the bara brith would just be another fruit cake.
Other teatime favourites for the teable include teisen lap (a shallow moist fruit cake), teisen carawe (caraway seed cake), tease sinamon (cinnamon cake) and teisen mêl (honey cake). These cakes are still made today throughout Wales, although the ancient recipes have since been updated to suit modern methods of cooking.