Take a look at some of the best traditional food from Wales, in the second part of our series on traditional British food.
I’ve lived in Shropshire, less than an hour away from the Welsh border, for pretty much all of my life. So Wales has always been somewhere that I’ve enjoyed visiting. I love the beautiful coastline, the dramatic mountains and the sense of history and magic that you find there.
And of course, I also love the luxurious Welsh hotels and the delicious food!
If you’re planning a holiday in Wales, you’ll find that there’s masses of local food to try during your visit. So I’ve picked out some of the most popular Welsh foods to sample during your visit. Many of these could claim to be the national dish of Wales, but they’re all worth tasting at least once.
This is the second in my series of four posts about the traditional food of the United Kingdom. Once you’ve finished reading this post, why not discover some traditional British foods and some traditional Scottish foods?
The leek is one of the national symbols of Wales, so of course I had to include it in this list. It’s said that Cadwaladr, the 7th century king of Gwynedd, ordered his soldiers to wear leeks to identify themselves in battle. There’s also evidence that Tudor soldiers wore leeks on St David’s Day.
However it became associated with Wales, the delicious leek adds flavour to so many dishes. Try it in a bowl of leek and potato soup served with crusty bread, the perfect warming lunch.
First time visitors to Wales are always amazed by the number of sheep they see all over the countryside. But it’s no surprise that Welsh lamb is such a popular food, because it’s absolutely delicious.
Whether you try Welsh lamb as a hearty stew, a traditional roast leg of lamb or a quick cooked lamb rump steak, you’ll find that it’s sweet, tender and full of flavour. You might also get the chance to try salt-marsh lamb. This is a Welsh speciality from sheep that graze on marsh land, rich in plants like samphire and sorrel which give the meat its distinctive flavour.
It’s also worth trying Welsh mutton and hogget if you get the chance. Hogget comes from sheep which are aged 1-2 years, while mutton is meat from sheep aged 2+ years. They have a fuller flavour than lamb but are just as delicious.
This recipe may originally have been known as Welsh Rabbit, but don’t be fooled – there’s no rabbit in this dish. Instead, Welsh Rarebit is a delicious savoury mix of melted cheese and other ingredients over hot toast. There’s no clear origin for the dish, and even the spelling of the name varies from place to place.
Everyone has their own way of making Welsh Rarebit. It’s generally based on grated cheese mixed with some kind of ale or beer and seasoning. This could be anything from mustard or Worcestershire sauce to cayenne pepper or even a few drops of hot pepper sauce.
The mixture is then melted before being spread on toast and popped under the grill to brown.
Cawl is another one of those traditional recipes where every family makes it in their own way. Ask a group of Welsh people and they’ll all say that their family’s Cawl recipe is the best one!
The dish has been made since the 11th century and would traditionally have been cooked slowly in a large pot over the fire while the family was out working. It would have provided food for several days as the meaty broth would have been eaten on the first day and then vegetables would have been added to turn it into a filling stew.
Nowadays, you might eat your bowl of Cawl (which rhymes with owl) with some crusty bread or perhaps with some dumplings.
And another Welsh delicacy with a slightly confusing name is Laverbread. This isn’t actually a type of bread, and there isn’t even any bread in it!
Laverbread is made from an edible seaweed that is found along the Welsh coast. Once it’s been thoroughly cleaned, the seaweed is simmered over a low heat for several hours until it forms a soft puree. It is then seasoned and served with seafood or on hot buttered toast, or as part of a full Welsh breakfast.
You can see some laverbread cooked with oatmeal next to the egg on the Welsh Breakfast above, which I enjoyed at Plas Nanteos near Aberystwyth.
Laverbread has the same sea-salt flavour that shellfish has, due to the rich levels of iodine in the seaweed. It might take a little getting used to, but you should definitely try it at least once!
You might also see Glamorgan sausages on your Welsh breakfast, especially if you ask for the vegetarian option.
Because these sausages, like Welsh Rarebit, are totally meat-free. They are named after the historic country of Glamorgan and were first mentioned in the mid-19th century.
The main ingredient in Glamorgan sausages is cheese, which is usually Caephilly but sometimes other cheeses are used. The cheese is mixed with chopped leeks and breadcrumbs, and various herbs and spices may also be added. This mixture is then formed into sausage shapes, covered in breadcrumbs and fried until crisp and golden.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or a confirmed meat-eater, these delicious sausages are well worth trying!
Fish and Seafood
With over 2000 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that you will find great fish and seafood in Wales.
You could choose freshly caught Welsh fish like sea bass, mackerel or hake, like the beautifully fresh hake that I enjoyed when I stayed at Hotel Portmeirion, or indulge in seafood such as cockles, crab and prawns. Either way, there are plenty of options to choose from.
And Welsh cockles are delicious served alongside laverbread, either with a rich white wine sauce or on a Welsh breakfast.
When you’re visiting Wales, why not enjoy a slice of Bara Brith spread with butter and with a cup of tea?
Bara Brith is a traditional Welsh yeasted tea loaf that’s packed full of dried fruit and spices. The recipe has been passed down through generations, and its name comes from the Welsh language – bara means bread and brith means speckled. The fruit may be soaked overnight in tea to make it plump and delicious, and the cake itself needs to rest for a day or two before you cut into it. So it’s not a quick cake to make, but one that’s worth waiting for.
But if you fancy having a go at making Bara Brith at home, you can also find recipes that use self-raising flour rather than yeast as the rising agent. This isn’t the traditional method, but it makes the whole process a little quicker and easier.
And Welshcakes are another delicious Welsh food that go well with a cup of tea.
Unlike the Bara Brith above, these little flat raisin-filled cakes don’t take long to make. They’ve been cooked throughout Wales since the 1800s and are cooked quickly on a hot griddle.
I think they are especially good when you eat them straight from the griddle, covered with a generous sprinkling of caster sugar. But if you manage to have any left over, or can bear to wait for your Welshcakes to cool down before eating, they’re also really good when spread thickly with butter.
A crempog is a type of Welsh pancake that is traditionally cooked on a griddle or bakestone. Crempogau (that’s the plural of crempog) are traditionally served at celebrations such as birthdays and St David’s Day as well as on Shrove Tuesday.
They’re made from a buttermilk batter which has baking soda and vinegar added to make the pancakes rise,. This makes them a bit more like American pancakes rather than thin English pancakes. The crempogau are cooked on a griddle, topped with butter and piled up into a stack.
Have you tried any of these traditional Welsh dishes? Which one do you like the best?