Welsh assembly

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Ahead of her upcoming demo, part of a two-day celebration of Welsh food, Beca Lyne-Pirkis reflects on how her cooking is influenced by both her country’s culinary traditions and the vibrant multiculturalism of Cardiff

Growing up in Cardiff in the 1980s, I lived in a vibrant city that offered a rich blend of sporting events and creative arts and a wealth of different cuisines and cultures. I felt lucky to be able to learn about my own Welsh heritage while also learning from some of the many people who had settled in Cardiff and made the city their home.

Cardiff Docks, also known as Tiger Bay, was and still is a diverse melting pot of people from a whole host of different countries and cultures. The port, which played a key role in the export of British coal during the 19th century, attracted workers from across the globe, including one of my family members, Patrick Murphy from Cork in Ireland. As well as the Irish, immigrants arrived from Portugal, Africa, the Middle East, Italy, Greece and the Caribbean, and the area surrounding the docks blossomed into a bustling multicultural borough known as Butetown.

Warmth and energy
I didn’t fully appreciate the diversity and rich cultural heritage of my home city until I was a teenager, going out for meals with my parents and my brother to small family-run restaurants, each of which offered an insight into its owners’ food culture. There was a tiny Italian restaurant that was always busy and you could never book; it was always best to be no bigger than a party of two, otherwise you’d be waiting a long time for a table—but it would definitely be worth the wait to enjoy the fresh pasta and pizzas that were lovingly created in the tiny kitchen and served with warmth and energy like only the Italians do.

We’d often frequent a Thai restaurant in the centre of Cardiff as my parents were friends with the owners, and their children went to the same school as us—a wonderful, welcoming family with a Welsh mother and a Thai father, with Welsh, English and Thai all spoken in the family home. Tasting dishes that were authentically Thai but championed Welsh produce like lamb heavily influenced me as a cook and made me think about how I could use local produce within different cuisines from across the world.

Green and luscious land
I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting lots of people whose families have made Wales their home over the past century, arriving from Poland, Spain, America, India and Italy for any number of reasons, and what unites them is their eagerness to share recipes from their countries and families and their enthusiasm to learn about classic dishes from Wales—seeing what produce we have in our green and luscious land and incorporating them within their own traditions.

Food has a language all of its own and by sharing, we learn so much about those who share with us: their history, culture and personalities. Through tasting each other’s recipes, we adopt, adapt and develop those dishes, absorbing new ideas, new tastes and different ways of using produce. Food has a way of uniting cultures and communities, and in doing so creates distinctive new cuisines—much like what happened in Tiger Bay, thanks to those immigrants who arrived with very little, except for the dishes that reminded them of home. By sharing, they created a new community for their future generations to call home.

Join Beca for tips, tastings and recipes on Thursday 28th February in the Market Hall, 1-2:30pm

Borough Market’s Welsh celebration will be taking place in the Market Hall on 28th February—1st March