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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 August 2006, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
What's cooking at the seaside
By Nigel Barden
Food critic, BBC London

Candy floss
A sweet tooth helps at the seaside
Holidays are all about indulgence, but there's more to UK seaside food than candyfloss and ice cream.

As an ankle biter, I always thought that sandwiches wolfed down on the beach were named after the key ingredient, sand.

The gritty texture dominated the potted beef, or apricot jam fillings. I never liked apricot jam, but was too frightened of my grandmother to say anything.

Ham fat on toast (nice and crispy by the time we hit the Blackpool beach) was particularly good at attracting the gritty stuff, as we were regularly engulfed by the mistral which swept that part of the Lancashire coast.

Seaside holidays spent in North Wales, Yorkshire & Lancashire evoke memories of fish & chips, ice-cream, pints of prawns and chewing on whelks, which had the texture of a squash ball. Fish was usually battered and chips were everywhere and particularly good for taunting seagulls.

Nigel Barden
For islanders we eat remarkably little sea fish
Nigel Barden

Enjoying the working class resorts of the North, I appeared to share the same diet as the other kids on the beach.

As we under-five-footers gathered in gangs, shivering behind wind breaks, it became apparent I wasn't the only one to think that sand was the main component of sarnies.

Now as an adult I've holidayed in other British seaside resorts (yes I journeyed south) and fish and chips, candy floss and shellfish in polystyrene containers appear to be pretty uniform.

Maybe they owe their success to the holiday atmosphere encouraging visitors to indulge in food that isn't good for them, as in batter, chips and spun sugar.

For islanders we eat remarkably little sea fish and only really opt for a few varieties, such as cod, haddock, halibut, plaice and sole, with the odd bit of mackerel and skate on occasion.


However, fishing villages have become popular with tourists, helping to supplement the income brought in from a declining fishing industry.

Padstow in Cornwall has been reinvented as a culinary destination and affectionately known as Padstein, owing to Rick's influence.

Tony Blair
Everyone loves fish and chips

An overnight success of more than 30 years, he pays the perfect homage to British sea food by not messing around too much with it and using as much locally caught produce as possible.

He does however decry the fact that the fisherman's traditional breakfast is based around bacon and eggs, rather than the contents of his nets.

It isn't just munching on sea creatures that attracts diners to the coast.

Having woken with the mother and father of all hangovers whilst holidaying on the southern Welsh coast in my early 20s (too much Brain's bitter, good as it was), I was served a blotting paper fried breakfast including laver, a spinach shaped red seaweed rolled in oatmeal and fried.

Seaside cuisine is set to get healthier

I managed to keep it down and since then have often enjoyed it (honest).

In Ireland, dulse, another seaweed, is harvested. It's a tough beggar and needs plenty of soaking before boiling until tender and then served as a veg.

Marsh samphire is a coastal plant and often served with fish. The green tip is about 3cm high and 2mm across and it's a tender, salty mouthful.

Now you might think I'm getting a bit poncy here and moving away from proper seaside grub, but like all things our diets are evolving and I first had samphire at a restaurant overlooking the sea, nestling up to a piece of smoked fish.

I now make a regular pilgrimage to a favourite restaurant, the Butley-Orford Oysterage, in the middle of the ever-so-cute coastal Suffolk village of Orford, which is run by a family of fishing folk who happen to have a smokery next door.

It's a cross between a sit-down fish and chip shop and a fishmonger, with its tiled walls and wooden tables.

Foodie king

This Suffolk coast is a great foodie destination, as further north is Southwold, home of Adnams brewery, and fish can be bought directly from the fishermen in their huts on the pebble beach.

Next door, the village of Walberswick even has a fish and chip hut on the beach and there are fab English wines produced near by to wash it all down.

The coastal restaurants of France and Italy are famous for the freshness of their fish and local ingredients and let's hope we see more of this from our eateries which overlook the briny.

More Brits are holidaying at home, lured by our "getting hotter by the moment" summers, deterred by lengthy airport check-ins and an increasing interest in food.

It's therefore likely that seaside cuisine will become healthier and more varied and ideally based around ingredients harvested on and off our own shores.

So I'm off to grab my Speedos, bucket and spade and Good Food Guide.


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