The best Welsh specialties are based on home cooking and are most easily found in pubs, casual bistros, and on the breakfast menus of family-owned hotels. Successful Welsh chefs have a habit of moving on to London, adapting their local dishes for fine dining menus. Seek out the real thing in Wales and try these 10 unique dishes.
This Welsh fruitcake is made with brown sugar; mixed dried fruit; and cold, black tea. This tea table essential can be found in tea and coffee shops all over Wales; look for it in village bakeries rather than on afternoon tea menus in elegant hotels.
Cawl is Welsh for soup. When you see it on a menu, it’s usually a thick stew of potatoes, leeks, carrots, turnips (called "swedes" in the UK), and seasonal vegetables. Beef, lamb, ham hocks, or chunks of bacon are also in the mix. Try it at the Stackpole Inn in Pembroke.
Caerphilly (from the town of the same name in South Wales) is tangy and hard with an ivory rind. It is very crumbly and is mostly grated or melted into cooked dishes, including the most authentic Welsh rarebit (see below). Caws Cenarth, Wales' largest castle, is the oldest maker of farmhouse Caerphilly (or Caerfilli) in the country. At their visitor center, you can watch the cheesemakers at work, as well as taste and buy their products.
Welsh rarebit was originally called "Welsh rabbit," and is still pronounced that way even though it has always been a meatless dish. The dish consists of melted cheddar on toast, sometimes topped with a fried egg; the cheese is usually turned into a sauce with the addition of beer and mustard. It's popular for lunch or a late supper, and is easy to find everywhere in Wales, including pubs, workingmen's caffs, and department store restaurants. Try it at the Potted Pig, a popular British eatery on Cardiff High Street.
Laverbread is a seaweed harvested in South Wales—particularly on the Gower, a peninsula west of Swansea. Purple and soft when fresh, it turns into a blackish green pudding when cooked. It can also be rolled in oatmeal and fried. Much nicer than it sounds, it’s served as a breakfast side or with tiny shellfish known as cockles. Try it at the King Arthur Hotel on the Gower, where it comes with cockles, bacon, and cheese.
Glamorgan sausages have neither meat nor Glamorgan cheese, though they once had both. The cheese disappeared with the near extinction of Glamorgan cows, and the meat content was reduced during WWII rationing until it disappeared altogether. Fried in oil or butter, this tasty treat is now made with Caerphilly cheese, leeks, and breadcrumbs. It’s one of those dishes that’s a home cook’s speciality, though you may find it on menus in vegetarian restaurants. Luckily, these sausages are easy to make at home and Visit Wales has a great recipe to try.
Welsh cakes look like little pancakes but are firmer and sweeter. They are made with a dough similar to scones, but usually have raisins or currents as well as nutmeg or other sweet spices. Rolled much thinner than scones, they are cooked on a hot griddle or heavy frying pan until they are slightly crisp on the outside. Eat them at tea time with butter and jam or honey. You may find these in local tea shops, but you're more likely to find them in bakeries. Handily, Visit Wales has published a list of the country's best Welsh cakes, stretching from South Wales all the way up to the Llyn Peninsula near Snowdonia.
In a country that reportedly has more sheep than people, it’s no surprise that lamb in all its forms is terrific. Eat tender, pink spring lamb from April onward, or wait until summer to try salt marsh lamb. The French call it pré-salé (pre-salted) and charge a premium for it, but it’s an everyday (seasonal) treat in Wales. Try it at Tyddyn Llan, a Michelin-starred restaurant near Chester in North Wales.
The leek is the national symbol of Wales. Soldiers in Welsh regiments wear it in their cap badges on St. David’s Day, honoring the patron saint of Wales. There are all sorts of reasons given for this, ranging from stories associated with St. David to Druid practices millennia earlier. Whatever the reason, this mild onion pops up in soups and dishes all over Wales; look for cawl cennin (pronounced "cowl kennen"), Welsh leek and potato soup. Cafés will serve leeks vinaigrette as a starter or under a bubbling cheese sauce as a lunch dish. And expect leek dishes on the menus of lots of restaurants and cafés around St. David’s Day.
If you’re visiting Conwy Castle in North Wales, try some plump, colorful Conwy mussels. Unlike mussels that are farmed on ropes, these are natural and hand-raked from the sea bed. Only 20 local businesses have licenses to harvest them, which are picked September through April. You can try them at the Quay Hotel and Spa in Conwy.