To mark World Oceans Day, we meet an award-winning sustainable seafood enterprise that champions the best of Pembrokeshire’s coastal bounty.
Street food doesn’t have to mean pimped-up burgers or exotic dishes from far-off lands. The award-winning Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company has been quietly making waves over the past few years with its distinctively Welsh take on street food. Starting from a small beach shack built from driftwood called Cafe Môr, it’s been dishing up treats made from local seafood and ingredients foraged on the Pembrokeshire coastline to the surfers of Freshwater West beach, festival-goers around the country – and it supplied its healthy “seashore wraps” to athletes at the London Olympics in 2012. Earlier this year it scooped the Best Street Food category in the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards. We caught up with founder Jonathan Williams to hear how he has reimagined Welsh traditional dishes to capture the tastes of the Pembrokeshire coast.
Where did you get the idea of selling Welsh street food?
My grandfather is Greek, and on family holidays in Greece I discovered that they always have amazing seafood available to buy and eat on the beach. In Wales, we have incredible food and beautiful beaches, but you can’t find the local food on the beach. Growing up, I collected cockles with my gran, and made beach pies in my teens from fish we’d caught. I wanted to bring the food you can forage or source from local beaches in our part of Wales to eat on the beach.
How did you get started?
I’ve always been a massive foodie. I love cooking and as a student in Swansea I spent more time in the kitchen than anywhere else. After university I ended up working as a chef at a local army camp. It’s one of those jobs that’s really handy because you can use it everywhere, so when I went travelling I got work as a chef, too. When I was 25 I thought I should probably get a “proper job”, so I did a master’s and then worked as a sustainability consultant in Swindon. But I was desperate to move back to Pembrokeshire, and the only option was to start something myself. The tender came up for an old harbourmaster’s office in Tenby and I decided to go for it. I didn’t win it, but it was a blessing in disguise. One of my friends said, “Why don’t you bring a table outside and just start?”. So in 2010 I started Cafe Môr, a beach shack pop-up where I got to play for a year with different seafood menus, and in 2011 I left my job to go full-time.
What kind of seafood dishes do you make and sell?
We’ve taken old recipes and given them a twist, so we make ship’s biscuits, which were traditionally made in Angle and the beaches nearby to send to sea with sailors. We dry laver, which is a type of seaweed you find on the Pembrokeshire coast, and sell it in our deli as “Welshman’s caviar”. We also use fresh, locally caught lobster and crab to make into chowders and flatbread wraps. I got the idea for the wraps in Zanzibar. There, they wrap food in flatbreads and fry them into something called a Zanzibar pizza. So instead of chilli and meat, I took a flatbread dough and filled it with salmon, laver and cheese into a flatbread, folded it, fried it and gave it a Welsh twist.
So do you use a lot of seaweed in your food then?
Yes! We use laver in pretty much everything, even cakes and brownies, to add flavour. This part of Wales is known for laverbread, which is what laver is called after it’s been boiled. Back in the day, people would knead laver after boiling it to break it down in the same way that you knead bread, which is where the name comes from. Traditionally, it’s added to rolled oats for a Welsh breakfast with bacon, eggs and cockles.
I was always interested in seaweed as a food, so I went out with a marine biologist to learn more about it. In other parts of the world – Japan, Scandinavia, parts of the US and Canada – they’re mad for seaweed. There’s loads of it there and none of it is being used, but I think that in the future seaweed as a vegetable will play a massive part in our diet.
It’s World Oceans Day on 8 June. How important is preserving the local coastline environment to your food?
All our food is either foraged from the beach or is locally sourced. The Pembrokeshire coastline is a National Park and we also work with Natural Resources Wales to get a licence to collect the seaweed we need. I like to know who my suppliers are. I use people who allow the lobster and crab to mature – so that they’re reproducing before we’re catching them – rather than selling undersized creatures. When you’re on the coastline you can see the fish being landed, so you realise even more that you have to trade consciously and carefully. Mackerel used to be easy to catch, for example, but now – like quite a lot of fish – the stocks have gone down. We’re always changing the menu because we don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket, but rather to go with what’s available and sustainable.
Discover a delicious Laverbread cakes recipe with Flavour First.
FIVE WAYS TO EAT SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
Seafood is a primary source of protein for humans, but many of the world’s fisheries are in severe decline. World Oceans Day (8 June) aims to raise awareness about how we can take action to protect the oceans. Here are five tips on eating seafood sustainably:
Think globally, act locally. Locally caught fish is often the most sustainable option, cutting out transportation costs, supporting your community’s economy and the global ecosystem.
Skip the shrimp! Much of the world’s wild shrimp fishing industry is wasteful, with an average of five pounds of “bycatch”, which is killed and discarded, for every pound of shrimp brought to port.
Make smart seafood choices. If you know where your seafood comes from, you can weigh up the environmental impact. Type the name of the fish into the Marine Conservation Society’s Fish Finder for the facts and for information on which fish to eat and which to avoid.
Ask! In restaurants, food doesn’t come with labelling, so ask where any fish dishes on the menu are sourced and whether the fish was caught in the wild or farmed, so you can make an informed decision when you order.
Download the Seafood Watch app. Rather than memorising what’s sustainable, use this app created by Monterey Aquarium to receive up-to-date recommendations on which fish is “ocean-friendly”, so you can make informed choices about what fish and seafood you eat while you’re out and about.
Find out more at worldoceansday.org
Read this article as it originally appeared on Flavour