Nine Welsh culinary classics to try, from laverbread to rarebit

Whether it’s Welsh laverbread or Carmarthen ham, seek out a traditional speciality for a true taste of Wales.

Traditional Welsh cuisine is simple and sustaining, with dishes such as rarebit born out of poverty. Yet, many of these creative culinary responses to hardship can still be found across the country.

Photograph by StockFood
By Ross Clarke
Published 6 Oct 2021, 11:30 BST, Updated 6 Oct 2021, 14:58 BST

What comes to mind when you think of Welsh cuisine? More than likely, those foods with a tell-tale ‘Welsh’ in their names, like Welsh rarebit and Welsh cakes. But while these are a good starting point, for visitors looking for a taste of tradition — for dishes with their own sense of place — there’s a much longer list to get stuck into.

The nation’s cuisine is the product of its terrain — its lush, mountainous landscape, ill-suited to large-scale arable farming, but ideal for grazing livestock. It’s this landscape that gave rise to perhaps Wales’s most famous contribution to agriculture: hill sheep farming. One of the world’s most sustainable methods of meat production, it involves leaving the sheep free to roam the hillsides, taming the scrubland as they go, their diet of grass or other forage crops ensuing both healthy animals and flavourful meat.

Welsh lamb is one 17 Welsh foods that have protected status as part of the UK’s Geographical Indication (GI) scheme. It takes its place on the list alongside other produce rooted in tradition and location, such as Welsh beef, Conwy mussels, Anglesey sea salt, traditional Welsh cider and traditional Welsh caerphilly — their status as GI foods marking them out as distinctively Welsh by governing how, where and even when they’re produced.

While ingredients like these are the cuisine’s building blocks, it’s the way they’ve been used down the centuries that’s crucial. Traditional Welsh cuisine is simple and sustaining, with dishes such as cawl and rarebit born out of poverty, yet many of these creative culinary responses to hardship can still be found across the country. So, if you’re planning a visit, here are some of the dishes and ingredients to look out for — and, crucially, where you might find them.

Pembrokeshire early potatoes are small and have an earthy, sweet flavour and a light buttery texture when cooked.

Photograph by Alamy

1. Pembrokeshire earlies (PGI)

Pembrokeshire, in west Wales, is known for its temperate climate. It’s why its sandy beaches and pretty seaside towns throng with visitors come summer, and it’s also why we get Pembrokeshire early potatoes. The mild winter and spring temperatures mixed with fresh, salty sea air means harsh frosts are less likely. This allows the spuds to be planted earlier, meaning they’re ready to harvest as early as May. The potatoes are small and have an earthy, sweet flavour and a light buttery texture when cooked, ideal for spring salads, roasting whole with grilled fish or as a heavenly side for early summer barbecues. And ideally, they should still be dusted with soil when you buy them raw, as it offers their delicate skins a little protection.
Where to find it: While you’ll find them in most major supermarkets come late spring, if you’re in Pembrokeshire, head to Trehill Farm, where they’re sold on the gate. While part of the National Trust, the farm has been in the capable hands of the Smithies family since the Sixties. 

2. Welsh rarebit

If you’re thinking cheese on toast, you’re only partly right. Rarebit or caws pobi (‘roasted cheese’) has its roots in medieval times, when hard cheese was melted in the heat of the open hearth before being spread onto hunks of bread. Fast forward a few centuries, and this rich, cheesy, creamy, gooey concoction is a favourite comfort food. Usually made from a roux mixed with dark ale or cider, Worcestershire sauce and mustard, as well as tangy potent Welsh cheddar, the rarebit sauce is slathered atop a lightly toasted doorstep of bread and popped under the grill until blissfully blistered and golden.
Where to find it: On menus from Cardiff to Caernarfon. Alternatively, head to the International Welsh Rarebit Centre in Defynnog, near Brecon.

Welsh cakes are made with butter or lard mixed with flour and sugar, bound with an egg or milk and dotted with dried fruit and mixed spice.

Photograph by StockFood

3. Welsh cakes

A bakestone is a circular slab about the size of a dinner plate, made from cast iron or steel (it would once have been a flat stone). You can heat it on an open fire or stovetop and it retains its heat, making it ideal for cooking all manner of quick cakes and savouries. In Wales today, however, it’s most commonly used for making Welsh cakes. These durable little disc-shaped treats once provided Welsh coal miners with the perfect sugar boost. They’re made with butter or lard mixed with flour and sugar, bound with an egg or milk and dotted with dried fruit and mixed spice. The mixture is gently cooked on the bakestone for about two minutes on each side, then dusted with sugar.
Where to find it: The Welsh Cake Hut in Cwmbran. 

4. Crempogau

These traditional thick pancakes evolved as easy treats to rustle up for visitors. They go by various names (cramoth, ffroes, leicec, slapan) but should always be light, airy and dripping with butter or topped with fruit or local honey.
Where to find it: Tŷ Crempog at Tyddyn Môn on Anglesey. 

A bara brith is a wonderfully rich tea loaf laced with plump, tea-soaked dried fruit and mixed spice.

Photograph by StockFood

5. Bara brith

The name translates as ‘speckled bread’, which is accurate, as an authentic bara brith should be made with yeasted dough. While supermarket versions might feel more like fruit cake, the real deal is a wonderfully rich tea loaf laced with plump, tea-soaked dried fruit and mixed spice (or sometimes caraway). Perfect with a cuppa, as is customary in Wales, it should be served thickly spread with butter. It’s not uncommon to see bara brith used as part of a cheeseboard, as its sweet fruit pairs well with a mature cheddar such as Snowdonia Cheese’s Black Bomber.
Where to find it: Popty Tandderwen Bakery, part of the Spar shop in Betws-y-Coed. 

6. Carmarthen Ham  (PGI)

First created in 1962 by Albert and Brenda Rees, this salt-cured, air-dried ham is made from pork legs, hung to mature for up to nine months. The resulting meat has a deep pink colour and the ideal amount of fat to add flavour as it melts on your tongue.
Where to find it: Visit the Rees family stall in Carmarthen Market

The Welsh love their seaweed, and one of the best-loved varieties is laver, which is stewed with a little salt to make laverbread.

Photograph by StockFood

7. Welsh laverbread (PDO)

Like the Japanese, the Welsh love their seaweed. One of the best-loved varieties is laver, which is stewed with a little salt to make laverbread. Nicknamed ‘Welshman’s caviar’ by actor Richard Burton, it has the salty, mineral taste of the sea and is rich in vitamin B12. Most visitors encounter it in a Welsh breakfast with cockles, bacon and egg — usually mixed with oatmeal and made into small cakes, cooked in bacon fat.
Where to find it: At Café Môr in Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire, the ‘breaky roll’ is filled with bacon, egg, Welsh cheddar, a laverbread patty and KelpChup (a kelp-based sauce). 

8. Vale of Clwyd Denbigh plums (PDO)

As the only plum variety native to Wales, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Denbigh plum enjoys Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. That they’re able to grow here at all is testimony to the Vale of Clwyd’s naturally fertile soil and quirky microclimate. It’s not known exactly how far back the plum’s heritage stretches, but there are records of the fruit being grown here by monks as early as the 13th century. The fruit is a wonderful, deep red colour, verging on purple, depending on its ripeness. It can be eaten off the tree in August or allowed to ripen into September, when its juicy sweetness makes it ideal for cooking and baking.
Where to find it: Local markets, such as the Celyn Farmers’ Market in Mold, as well as greengrocers in the Denbighshire region.

Glamorgan sausages are cheesy, veggie croquettes made with breadcrumbs and what would have traditionally been Glamorgan cheese.

Photograph by StockFood

9. Glamorgan sausages

Glamorgan sausages aren’t really sausages — in fact, they don’t contain any meat at all. Think of them more as a cheesy, veggie croquette made with breadcrumbs and what would have traditionally been Glamorgan cheese. Sadly, the population of Glamorgan cows has dwindled, leaving just a small herd at Margam Country Park, where there are plans to re-establish the breed. This means that even though these sausages bear the Glamorgan name, they’re mostly made with tangy caerphilly or cheddar cheese these days. They’re a favourite on vegetarian menus, as they can be easily adapted with flavours such as chilli, tarragon or sun-dried tomato.
Where to find it: Set your sat nav for the Vale of Glamorgan and snag a table at the Red Fox Inn to try its take on the crispy, golden sausage. 

Gareth Ward, chef-owner of Ynyshir Restaurant & Rooms, runs Wales’s most highly-awarded restaurant.

Photograph by Francesca Jones

Welsh surprises


Ifor’s Welsh Wagyu
A staple on the tasting menu at Gareth Ward’s Michelin-starred Ynyshir restaurant (pictured), this Kobe beef comes from cows lovingly reared by Ifor Humphreys and family on his farm in Powys. They graze in clover-strewn fields and — to keep up the Japanese tradition — are occasionally given Monty’s ale as they approach maturity. The final product is tender, marbled and extremely flavoursome. 

Teifi Organic Halloumi
Originally created as a one-off for a festival, Caws Teifi Cheese’s halloumi proved so popular, the Ceredigion-based producer has made it a permanent part of its organic cheese selection. It’s delightfully squeaky, lightly salted and ideal drizzled with some local Welsh honey. Even better, for every kilo of halloumi sold, Teifi donates 10p to the Welsh Wildlife Centre.

Rhug Estate Bison burgers
As well as its Welsh lamb and beef, in recent years the Rhug Estate has become equally well-known for its bison, which produce lean meat with a gamey taste. Head to the estate’s takeaway restaurant, On The Hoof, and get a bison burger to go. The estate has also intrdouced a herd of Japanese sika deer, with the first venison from it available next year. 

Published in the Wales guide 2021, distributed with National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Follow National Geographic Traveller (UK) on social media

Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Read More

Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us

Subscribe

  • Magazines
  • Newsletter
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2016 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved