I’m always harping on about the benefits of eating local Welsh produce. We’re lucky to have a bountiful larder to choose from here in Wales – and ‘eating local’ is better for our local economy and the environment, too.
But a recent episode of the BBC’s The Food Programme has opened my eyes to an affordable, sustainable ingredient more recently overlooked – cockles.
This post was originally written as a monthly column for Cardiff Life Magazine. See here.
The thirty-minute episode brought presenter Sheila Dillon to our iconic Cardiff Central Market to chat with Ashton’s Fishmongers about the delicious world of British shellfish and in particular, Welsh cockles.
Once widely popular in South Wales, research suggests people have been harvesting cockles since Roman times; for centuries, Welsh women traditionally hand picked the small shellfish, before selling them at the markets.
But more recently, cockles have fallen out of foodie favour. Despite these bivalves being plentiful – and with the potential to be efficiently farmed at minimal cost to the environment – stats suggest that desire for these ‘uglier’ shellfish is at risk of disappearing as trendier foods take over.
If you’re up for changing that, you can give cockles a try in their purest form, by picking some up from Cardiff Central Market – scoff them straight from the container, simply dressed with a little vinegar.
Alternatively, take a look at what local Welsh chefs and restaurateurs are doing to bring this traditional delicacy right up to date.
At Pontcanna’s favourite all-day spot, a classic bacon, cockles and laverbread on sourdough toast has become a menu staple. Add a poached egg and you’ve got the perfect brunch.
At this Michelin-recommended gastropub in Llandaff Village, you can share a whole baked megrim sole, with mussels, cockles & fennel with family and friends.
And at Matsudai Ramen in Grangetown, a fusion of Welsh-Japanese cooking pairs local cockles with silken tofu, chilli oil and soft strands of pink, pickled ginger. The dish – called hiyayakko – proved so popular at a recent pop-up that later this month it becomes a permanent menu item.
Further afield, Mor Mumbles have cockles, black pudding and samphire on the menu as a small plate or bar snack; the Gower Seafood Hut serves up tasty popcorn cockles right on the beach; and right at the top end, the Michelin-starred SY23 in Aberystwyth serves Gower cockles with Turbot and broccoli as part of its £130 tasting menu.
Not a cockle fan?
Here are three tips for eating more local Welsh produce in 2023, whatever you’re in to…
- Use your local farmer’s markets: These offer a chance to meet local producers face to face and buy directly from small businesses. Alternatively, get to know your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer, and find out more about where your food comes from. Check out my guide to Cardiff’s best.
- Eat at independent restaurants: Independent restaurants often have access to the best local produce – ask about their local suppliers! Find out more.
- Learn about seasonal food: If you know what’s in season when, you’ll know what to look out for on restaurant menus, at local markets, and in the supermarket too. Check out my seasonal calendar.
Want to know more about Welsh food traditions? You should also check out Carwyn Graves’ brilliant book, Welsh Food Stories. Find out more at carwyngraves.com/welsh-food-stories.