In Cardiff, the capital of Wales, the enchanting and melodic Welsh language is spoken almost as readily as English in the streets. Duck into a shop or eatery and you will likely hear a storekeeper or waiter chatting away in words beyond comprehension. It is clear that there is a culture here unique to the region. Toto, we are not in England anymore. What’s more, this distinctive culture is also reflected in the food.
While visiting the diverse and metropolitan city of Cardiff, I went on a tasty tour with Loving Welsh Food. My guide, Shawn, explained that Welsh food is, in essence, peasant cuisine. Preparations are simple, hardy, and delicious.
These are some of my favorite typical Welsh food classics I got to try on my tour around town.
Welsh rarebit is the Welsh version of cheese on toast. But it is given quite a special treatment.
It is usually made with a strong flavored cheese like cheddar that is mixed with local beer and mustard. Then it gets a home atop a hearty slice of freshly baked bread. Welsh rarebit was developed because you can easily repurpose the old rinds and dried up ends of a block of cheese. Even if you don’t have much in the pantry, a delicious meal awaits.
The Welsh rarebit I got to try at Madame Fromage in Cardiff was made even more decadent with béchamel sauce. I could taste a hint of beer and see the mustard kernels throughout. The bread was a multigrain wheat bread that stood up boldly to it’s rich topping.
Originally made on a thick piece of cast iron suspended over an open fire, Welsh cakes are a devilish afternoon treat. They resemble a thin scone but have a texture that is a cross somewhere between a shortbread cookie and a pancake. The traditional version is made with butter, flour, sugar, egg, spices, and dried fruit such as raisins. When they cook their aroma fills the air in the most magnificent way.
Fabulous Welshcakes, right near Mermaid Quay at Cardiff Bay, is a locals’ favorite bakery for Welsh cakes in town. As they are cooked throughout the day you can pick up a stack of cakes still warm from the griddle.
When we happened by their chocolate chip Welsh cakes and traditional raisin spice Welsh cakes had just made it off the griddle. I tried one of each expecting the chocolate to win my heart. But the original was my favorite. As the butter, sweetness and spices hit my palette I felt the immediate pleasure of this comfort food. They are quite an indulgence but they are small enough to make you feel you are just having a little treat. They are often enjoyed with tea in the afternoon.
Cockles and Laverbread
Inside the Cardiff Market we stopped at Ashtons Fishmongers, a neighborhood treasure that has been in business since 1800.
Walking past a massive variety of local fish, my guide led me to the far corner of the display case where two large tubs sat. One was filled with boiled cockles—a baby-clam-like shellfish—already shelled and ready to eat. The cockles were from the Penclawdd, West of Cardiff. Next to the cockles was a tub full of green goop—pureed seaweed which locals call “laverbread.”
Laverbread has a mild, fresh, and salty taste with a hint of the sea. It is often used in baked goods like crackers, scones, and hot cakes. And it is eaten at breakfast. In this case, I got to try one of its most traditional, casual seaside preparations—cockles atop a cracker smeared with laverbread and sprinkled with malt vinegar.
This local treat is a common breakfast item. And as I bit into it, I was pleasantly surprised. The smooth laverbread with the meaty shellfish had a refreshing, clean, and savory taste. I’d say, a very healthy breakfast worth a try when in Wales.
Viewfinder Tip: When visiting Cardiff, be sure to visit the Cardiff Market where alongside produce and poultry are local home goods, clothing and jewelry.
Bara brith is a fruitcake often served with a classic Welsh afternoon tea.
Dried fruits such as raisins and currants are first soaked in cold tea for 24 hours. Then they are mixed into a cake batter with spices and sometimes yeast. And finally, it comes out of the oven moist and sticky with a brown tint.
Some serve bara brith in very thin slices. Others serve it thick. Some put butter on it and others enjoy it dry. Welsh butter tends to be just slightly saltier than traditional butter—helping to make those fruity flavors really pop.
It was at Pettigrew Tea Rooms just next to Coopers Field where I tried my first bara brith in Cardiff. When biting into it I could taste the tea in the fruit and a pungent mix of spices—almost like a gingerbread taste. And for the record, I enjoyed mine with butter on top.
What Welsh food classic are you most interested in trying?
Looking to plan your own trip to Wales? Check out our 365 Days of #OMGB for your go-to travel guide of Great Britain.