Now, just as a little disclaimer, there is A LOT I’ve missed out- particularly the sweet stuff. I couldn’t find a Bara Brith within a 50-mile radius and Welsh cakes are suspiciously similar to our home grown Eccles Cakes and I didn’t want to start a riot.
That aside, I have tried my hardest to get a real feeling for Welsh cuisine- so I really hope I’ve done it justice.
Everyone loves a bit of cheese, so I’m going to dive right in. There are lots of Welsh cheeses which are highly regarded all over the world, one of the most famous of which is Caerphilly which originates from the Welsh county of the same name.
It is said that this cheese was designed to feed the miners in the area as it does not dry out in the conditions underground due to the high salt content of the cheese. Caerphilly is a light, almost white cheese made from cow’s milk. It is crumbly with a mild lemon tang and is comparable to Crumbly Lancashire cheese which we learnt all about a few weeks back.
Caerphilly is an excellent addition to any cheese board and most good delis and cheesemongers will sell Caerphilly cheese- such as The Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury Village.
Sticking with Cheese is another Welsh delicacy called Rarebit. No, It isn’t another dyslexic faux-pas or what a frog says – I am instead talking about Wales’ answer to cheese on toast.
This dish is the ultimate cure for a hangover, and it has been doing just that for hundreds of years. It consists of a rich, cheese sauce which is poured over toasted bread and grilled in the oven to brown the top. Many recipes include the use of mustard, ale, paprika and Worcestershire sauce for added flavour – but the heart and soul of it is the best cheese on toast you have ever had.
I would eat it at any time of day, but many people enjoy Welsh Rarebit at breakfast. You can find it on the Breakfast menu at The Albert Square Chop House with a runny fried egg if you want to go down the classic route. If you are after a something a little more unique- look no further than the Smoked Applewood Rarebit on the brunch menu at Tea Cup Kitchen
A Welsh food product that I am slightly less familiar with would be Laverbread. I know what you’re thinking- but it is not some obscure bread product like Soda Bread, or Crisp Bread or Pumpernickel as the name misleadingly suggests. Oh no, think again.
Laverbread is an edible, spreadable seaweed which is boiled and puréed and served on toast. It is nicknamed ‘Welshman’s Caviar’ as it has the same dark hue and slippery texture. The seaweed itself is plentiful along the rocky Welsh coastlines.
It is typically served on buttered toast with shellfish, but it can also be made into cakes which are rolled in oats and fried. These are served at breakfast time. You can enjoy a Cockle and Laverbread Cake with your Welsh Breakfast at The Koffee Pot in the NQ and pretty much nowhere else until you get over the Welsh border.
While we are on Laverbread, it seems appropriate to talk about Welsh seafood. Now, when you think of fish capitals of the world we may think of Atlantis first, and then places like the Scottish West Coast, The Mediterranean and the Caribbean without Wales even crossing our minds.
Truth is, the Welsh rivers, coasts and beaches are teeming with some of the best seafood in the world. Take cockles for example. The cold water from the Irish sea is the perfect condition for a cockle to thrive. Wales also has a strong cockle picking tradition in its history, and it was once a painstaking job done by women since the Middle Ages- something which continued pretty much until someone invented the machine to do it instead.
In case you don’t know, a cockle is a small mollusc with a hard outer-shell which make their home by burrowing into the wet sand when the tide is out. In Wales, cockles are eaten at breakfast time with Laverbread and bacon, but are also made into pies or even pickled and eaten as a snack.
You will get your fill of traditional cockles on the aforementioned Koffee Pot Welsh Breakfast- but if you fancy something with a little extra je ne sais quoi then head straight to Common, get yourself a beer and order a portion of their Popcorn Cockles– you will never look back.
The Isle of Anglesey is well known in the food world for two reasons. First is its Halen Môn sea salt and the second is fish. Many fine establishments choose to serve Anglesey or Meni Sea Bass– such as Don Giovanni who bake theirs whole in a salt crust which is just as theatrical as it is delicious.
However, the thing I really want to talk about is Lobster. Anglesey lobsters are some of the best in the world. They are much smaller than their Scottish cousins, but the flavour is even sweeter and the flesh more tender if that is even possible.
Welsh Lobsters are something quite close to my heart though- so perhaps I’m biased. The number of times I have driven in the middle of the night with my mum to meet a suspicious looking van on the layby of a motorway to hand over a large, white polystyrene box – the most middle-class late night cash exchange that has ever been.
All you have to do is grill them to fulfil their full potential. If you ever find yourself on the Island, make sure you go to the Lobster Pot near Church Bay. It looks like something out a Kubrick movie, but the food is impeccable. Over here in Manchester – look no further than Randall & Aubin who are strong advocates of British seafood who have been known to stock Anglesey lobsters.
I desperately wanted to talk about the Welsh Oggie because they are one of the best things to ever grace this planet. They are basically a big Cornish pasty which is made with lamb rather than beef- and when I say big… I mean BIG.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anywhere here in Manchester which stocks them, nor could I find anywhere that had a pasty which compared. So, until someone pulls their finger out and starts selling them at the Arndale Market, we will have to go without. I have dedicated my title to them until that day comes.
Salt Marsh lamb is perhaps the most famous of its kind to hail from Wales. The meat is much sought after in the restaurant world as it is highly regarded for its flavour. The sheep are fed on the unique environment of the Welsh Salt Marshes – which in turn flavours the flesh and makes the meat taste like nothing you have ever had before. I strongly suggest you buy some straight from the source for your next Sunday roast.
Cawl is a traditional lamb stew made with vegetables and stock and is a lowly dish which is packed with history and flavour. Think you’ll have to ask a Welsh grannie, if you know one, to make you a steaming bowl of Cawl though- but I imagine it has magic healing properties or something like that.
Keep things simple when it comes to lamb though- I suggest the Grilled Welsh Lamb Rump from Dukes 92, or if you really want to splash out the Spring Lamb from Wood Restaurant on First Street. This is cooked to perfection with potatoes, peas and a rich, meaty sauce.
My final offering in this guide to Welsh food shouldn’t really be in this section- but it’s getting to the end of the day, and I want to go home, pour myself a large glass of wine and make myself the Welsh Rarebit I have been thinking about since 8 am this morning.
Glamorgan Sausages are not really sausages as we know it. They are 100% vegetarian and are made from cheese (usually Caerphilly), leeks and breadcrumbs. These sausages have been made in Wales since the 18th Century, but they gained popularity during the Second World War when meat was rationed, and people were struggling with is now known as the ‘sausage famine’ of 1941.
Alright, I made that up – but the WW2 bit was true. Glamorgan sausages are actually really delicious, and as far as vegetarian food goes, they are a revelation. I couldn’t find them on a menu right now in Manchester (they seem to be a bit more of a Winter thing) – but what you can find is the next best things over at Simon Rimmer’s restaurant Greens in West Didsbury.
These ‘sausages’ are made with local Lancashire cheese, which if you were paying attention 1250 words earlier you would know is similar to the traditional Caerphilly. They are flavoured with sage and onion, rather than leek and served with seasonal greens, mustard mash and beer gravy.
Not only can I vouch for this dish myself- but an avid carnivore friend of mine described this dish as the best bloody bangers and mash he’d ever tasted. True story.