What on earth is a faggot, and what is
it doing on the menu? Remember: you’re in a land where cheese
on toast is the national dish, where boys pin large onions to
their chests once a year, and where sheep jokes are as regular
as lamb is on the table. When in Wales, don’t be surprised
to find yourself ordering the mysterious faggot in a ‘chipper’
near your holiday cottage.
Faggots probably vie with laverbread as one
of the great unknown and probably undertried foods of Wales. Made
from offal, usually liver and perhaps a touch of heart, with herbs,
suet and breadcrumbs, these savoury ducks, as they are sometimes
called, are not a snack for the gourmand of faint heart or for
carrot-chomping vegetarians. Formerly a miner’s lunch, the
balls of offally delight were served with mushy peas and either
chips or mash, dosed with a good squirt of vinegar.
And let’s skip the sheep jokes. In the
Welsh kitchen, it is not just lamb, lamb and more lamb. Opinion
may still be split on whether what’s more stereotypically
Welsh – the rarebit or the roast lamb, but who cares when
there is such a huge variety of dishes on offer throughout the
small country. Whether traditional fare or award-winning modern
cuisine, Wales’ reputation for producing and using fine
local ingredients is growing. Though long subject to ridicule
where cooking is discussed – it should be remembered that
there are hundreds of small and large Welsh farms and companies
producing meat, vegetables, cheeses, even wine.
Besides, Welsh rarebit,
when prepared with care, is more complicated than glorified cheese
on toast. With crumbly Caerphilly cheese, and Brains bitter, it
can be the perfect appetiser.
The Japanese call it Nori and use it in sushi,
and in Wales they call it laverbread, and this sea-speciality
is often joined by cockles, in pies and quiches. Seaweed in good
for you – it contains the vital minerals potassium, iron
and calcium in abundance. Laverbread, or sea lettuce, is one of
the edible sea vegetables to have been harvested in South Wales
for centuries. Many species of seaweed grow in low water, and
shiny black laver is no different, its long locks flowing underwater
whilst it lies flat on rocks.
sausages are an old-fashioned vegetarian version of their
porky relative, with leeks and potatoes. Welsh cawl is the filling
soup-stew perfect for those rainy Autumn afternoons, originally
made from bacon and lamb off cuts, with the national vegetable
– the leek, also used to make another popular soup in Wales
– leek and potato.
As for desserts – make sure you try some
tea bread, or bara brith, and of course a Welsh cake - like a
squashed and condensed version of a rock cake, with sugar sprinkled
on top. Sometimes eaten with jam or butter on top. Or if you’re
lucky – both.
There are many regional ice creams to look
out for. In Aberystwyth there is honey ice cream, and in Swansea
there is the famed Joe’s ice cream in Mumbles. In the valleys
look out for Mr Creemy, and Thayer’s serve soft scoop to
the luxury end of the market. Rachel’s yoghurts, in West
Wales, can lay claim to being one of the first to start on the
organic dairy trend, with her range of products featuring cheese,
yoghurt and ice cream – in all major supermarkets.
Stop when you drive past a farm shop to pick
up local produce, buy regional cheeses when you see them, and
go to farmers’ markets. Eat out and pick the local speciality.
This is only an aperitif … the menu is long. I hope your
appetite is whetted.