Last month on a whistle-stop visit to London, I made the drizzly drive up to Wales for a weekend of climbing and stargazing in the Brecon Beacons - a gorgeous green expanse of hills, valleys and moorlands in South Wales.
However, just in time for the long weekend, the heavens decided to let loose a steady stream of hazy rain and rolling mists to obscure both, the hills I wished to climb and the skies I wanted to gaze at.
It all worked out for the best though, as the poor weather meant I had to stay under cover, and I decided to take that to the extreme with a trip down a coal mine at Big Pit, and a wander around Blaenavon Ironworks - an utterly fascinating trip back to Wales' starring role at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th and early-19th centuries.
The trip also gave me a chance to try some uniquely Welsh food. I will have to confess that my knowledge of Welsh food is near zero - the only dish I can claim to have eaten before visiting Wales that I was aware was Welsh is Welsh Rarebit. And even that left me confused for a long time. (Welsh rarebit having more in common with a fondue touched with mustard than any form of roasted bunny).
So here's a round up of some of the other rare bits I got to taste in Wales. Mwynhewch eich bwyd! That's bon appetit in Welsh. I don't claim to know how to pronounce it :)
My first taste of traditional Welsh cuisine were these crumbly, castor-sugar dusted cakes left in my room at the twee B&B I stayed at near Llangorse Lake. Also known as griddle scones, the sultana-starred cakes are made by cooking sweetened scone dough on a bakestone or flat griddle pan. Perfect with tea on a rainy afternoon in Wales!
Another staple of the Welsh diet that also left me confused was laverbread. Offered along with eggs, bacon and cockles for breakfast, the last thing I expected it to be was seaweed! Harvested along the Welsh coast, laver (more popularly known by its Japanese name nori) is a seaweed that is rich in protein, iron and iodine, which makes it taste a little bit metallic as a result. The seaweed is boiled and mixed with oatmeal to create laverbread, which adds a healthy dose of nutrients to a standard fry-up.
This yeasty cake, also known as "speckled bread", is yet another perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee to warm you up after a damp day wandering around Wales. The "speckles" are most often raisins soaked in sweetened tea until they are plump and juicy, although sultanas and other dried fruit are sometimes also used. The cafe I ate it in served it with butter - much like Dutch koek - and who can deny that butter makes everything better?
There were many other specialties I didn't particularly get the chance to taste - Welsh cheese, for instance, or the country's famed salt marsh lamb, obtained from animals who graze on samphire, sorrel, sea lavendar and thrift along the salt marshes of the Gower peninsular.
I did, however, see a lot of sheep! I was in Wales after all ;)
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