The days are getting shorter and those balmy sunkissed memories of summer have all but faded away. But what better way to warm the soul on these bleak nights, than comfort food. LAURA LEA finds out what the people of Newport will be turning to this winter.
FOOD is a powerful thing; it can heal heartbreak, home-sickness and a rotten cold. The comfort food of choice varies massively between people but it always seems to be hot, rich and reassuringly familiar.
For some, it’s minimal effort baked beans and toast which cheered up so many nights in a dank student house. For others, it’s the bowl of crumble and custard your Nan would bring you when you weren’t feeling well or perhaps the tub of Ben and Jerry’s finest your best friend dutifully provides when the tears are dried up.
Of more than 40 readers who responded to the question on Facebook, only one mentioned fast food – a KFC family bucket to be precise. While no one can deny the satisfaction from a double cheese burger for just over a pound, it seems people crave something more wholesome and home-made in their times of need. The overwhelming favourite from Argus readers online was good old-fashioned stew and dumplings.
Michael Turner is a butcher at family run AD Turner and Sons, in Newport Market. After a long summer of BBQs, they’re now getting ready for the winter appetite.
Diced steak, chopped lamb and rolled brisket will all be very popular over the next few months and cooked slowly, these meats are perfect for stews and casseroles.
Mike said: “We have a job keeping up with the demand for minced steak.” And it’s no surprise that his comfort food of choice involves the produce he deals with on a daily basis.
He said: “I would definitely go for home-made casseroles – especially with mash potato with leek in it.”
One of the key parts of comfort food is ease. None of the dishes mentioned are ones that require you to slave over.
For many people in Wales, the traditional stew is favourite. Wholesome, filling and relatively inexpensive, it’s not hard to see why.
“My mother always did a lot of stews,” Mike said. But another thing his mother made was a unique creation called spaghetti pie. Bacon, tinned tomatoes, mushrooms and spaghetti are all put in the oven, topped with grated cheese for very filling treat.
Mike said: “I always remember that.”
But comfort food doesn’t have to be meaty - vegetable stew, curries and hot pots can be just as nourishing. In the vegetarian cafe, Vegetopia in Abergavenny, the winter menu promises chilli and lentil cottage pie and a hearty vegan sausage hotpot. For owner, Yvonne Falon, her personal comfort is something slightly less culinary.
She said: “It’s mashed potato for me. It was a staple of ours in the winter months, a nice big dish of cheese and potato pie with tinned spaghetti. They go together fantastically.”
For ultimate ease, you can get cooking brought to you without leaving your sofa. Editor of Voice Magazine, Emma Corten’s comfort food has turned into a Friday night family ritual.
She said: “Mine is Indian takeaway – the coriander special balti. It has lamb, chicken and prawns. I have one of those with a tandoori roti. It’s our end of week treat.”
AM for South Wales East, Mohammad Asghar – or ‘Oscar’, loves his wife’s cooking.
“My wife is a wonderful cook and her lamb bhuna is the best. It has to be fresh, I love the fresh ingredients.”
But when his wife isn’t in the mood for cooking, the couple opt for an altogether more British affair.
Oscar said: “I like Indian curry, but I love fish and chips.”
If it’s not a trusty bowl of porridge, Newport Gwent Dragons player Jonathan Evans, goes for his granny’s apple pie. The 21-year-old scrum half said: “She makes great apple pie. Warm pie with ice-cream is the best.”
But if he plays on a Friday night, Jonathan is allowed a night off from his strict diet following the game. “It’s always pizza after a game,” he said.
Traditional British pubs have long been the go-to place for proper warming grub. The recently re-launched pub, The Lamb in Newport centre have made sure all the old favourites are on their winter menu, from faggots and peas to pie and mash. Bar manager, Will Pannell, said: “Steak and ale pie with mash and a pint of beer – you can’t beat that.”
Landlord, Jon Thomas, said: “Faggots and peas from Newport market. We always used to go out for them when I was younger.
Faggots from the market are now available at lunch times at The Lamb. Mr Thomas said: “Everyone asks for it. It’s very popular.”
Another Welsh classic that only seems to be getting better with age is cawl, Wales’ own version of stew.
Michelin-starred chef, Newport-born Hywel Jones said traditional cawl was still his favourite. The chef, who works at Lucknam Park hotel in Bath, said: “It’s a dish I remember growing up with. If I’m feeling a bit ropey, cawl sorts it out.”
“The key is using the scrag on the neck on the bone.”
Carrots, swede, cabbage, leek, turnip, rosemary and garlic all go into Hywel’s version, but the award-winning chef still prefers his mum’s.
He said: “I was trying to time it to perfection. But my mum just puts it all in together and leaves it to cook for hours. Her cawl is far superior to mine.”
So whether you’re going out or staying in, stewing up a feast or heating up a tin, batten down the hatches and cwtch up, it’s time for some comfort.