Wales v England: potatoes and coffee
August 26, 2018 4:34 PM   Subscribe

I lived in England in 2001, splitting time between Cambridge and London, and visited frequently until 2006. Now I have just come back from a wonderful trip to Wales, and I noticed a few things were not how I remembered them, specifically potatoes and coffee. Are the differences reflective of the differences in English and Welsh culture or just a change over time? See inside for details.

I have distinct memories of the coffee in England being so bad I had nightmares, and I eventually switched over to tea in the morning. Sure, you could get a nice cappuccino, but I like a regular cup of brewed coffee in the morning (not an Americano). In 2001 in England that just was not happening. In 2018 Wales, however, the coffee was exactly how I like it everywhere I went. Do the Welsh prefer coffee or is this just the effect of coffee culture in general improving in the UK since I was last there?

Secondly, I remember from England that Bangers and Mash was on every pub menu, and that the mash covered half the plate. In fact, anytime mash was a side dish, the portion was very generous. In Wales (Pembrokeshire Coast to be specific), however, not only was Bangers and Mash not on the menu, mash was not on offer. Well, mash was on offer but it was mushy peas. Potatoes were offered as chips, jacket potato or pan-fried new potatoes. My friend thought it might somehow be a seasonal thing. The one time I saw mashed potatoes was as the topping for a fish pie. Are mashed potatoes just not a Welsh thing?

I am burning to know the answers to these questions!
posted by maggiemaggie to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Completely unscientifically as someone who lived in England throughout the 90s and has been Welsh for 40 odd years....

The coffee (and cuisine in general) has steadily improved in the UK even in the last 20 years. This probably explains the mash too, which is terrible because I fricking love mashed potatoes. From my experience it's a UK thing rather than a Welsh thing although Wales probably had further to improve so to speak.
posted by fullerine at 5:16 PM on August 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Coffee is better everywhere. Or at least, you can get brewed coffee relatively easily, even in unglamorous towns, when you'd probably have had to make do with instant in lots of places. That said: South Wales had a significant influx of Italian immigrants, like a lot of industrial areas, and with them came coffee and ice cream.
posted by holgate at 5:56 PM on August 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Yeah, the coffee is a lot better. I lived in England in 2001 and again in 2002-03 and it was generally dreadful. Back in 2010 and 2014 and a lot had changed on that score.
posted by Automocar at 7:22 PM on August 26, 2018

Yup, coffee culture has invaded everywhere.

Sausage and Mash? That sounds an interesting one, it’s still late summer, so possibly a seasonal / demand thing as far as restaurants go. Sausage and Mash is more a cold weather dish.
posted by Middlemarch at 12:30 AM on August 27, 2018

The coffee wave hit London in the mid-2000s. Before that it was difficult to get good coffee even in London. There was some small roasters like Monmouth coffee and then high-end coffee shops like Fernandez and Wells but as late as 2008, I, living in Bloomsbury, had to take a decent hike to go get decent coffee.

The wave spread out a little later to the West country and to Wales. Probably 2011 is when things started to get really going out there. That was the year that Coffee 1 went from an obscure coffee place in Cardiff to having shops all over Wales.
posted by vacapinta at 1:27 AM on August 27, 2018

Coffee is certainly better in England -- a lot of people tell me this again and again. I've noticed that it has improved over the past ten years myself. This is why tea and coffee drinking in the UK is now about 50/50, with some estimates saying there are more coffee drinkers.

Haven't seen bangers and mash on a menu before, it seems that it was a home thing for me but I have little evidence for this.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 2:01 AM on August 27, 2018

I grew up in the Welsh valleys where we were drinking great coffee and eating bolognese sauce (both with very hard to find dried pasta) or with mashed potatoes (on top as a sub for pasta or underneath and baked like a cottage pie).

Why? Because we welcomed many Italian families who went on to open bracchi - the class registers at Catholic schools became populated with Viazzanis and Fulgonis alongside the Jones, Watkins and Davies families and church events became food and recipe sharing occasions. They of course served the "milky coffee" that you describe but were very happy to share the authentic coffee the staff were drinking.

(This was followed by the building of a large hospital to serve the heads of the valleys, bringing Indian, Pakastani, Bangladeshi and Goan doctors & other medical colleagues so our eating and then home was filled with the best home cooked curries.)

Sausage and mash has been a Welsh staple for as long as both have existed but I agree with Middlemarch that it can be seasonal in the restaurant trade, especially on the UK coasts.

I've lived in mainland Europe, the US and now in England for many years and I still think Welsh working class home cooked food is one of the best in the world because we have great local resources and are (were?) so open to newcomers.
posted by humph at 6:15 AM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

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