Food and National Identity

Hong Kong

By Yi Lam Tang

Ever since I came to Cardiff, the one thing I miss the most is food from home. As a Hong Kong citizen, the cuisine which represents me is the Hong Kong Cantonese variety.
Cantonese cuisine is well regarded for using delicate seasonings to bring together the
original taste of the ingredients. As a coastal region, Canton has the perfect geographical
location for fishing. Therefore, there is always an abundance of seafood which is mostly
boiled or freshly steamed. In Hong Kong, the hybrid of western and eastern cuisines can be
found everywhere. As a port well known for its spices, “The Typhoon Shelter” crab was
concocted with the spices and crabs freshly caught out of the sea. New types of Dim Sum
(bite-sized food served in steamers or small plates) such as fruit salad spring rolls or egg
tarts can be found in most Dim Sum houses.
Cantonese cuisine plays major a part in my life, it is common to go Yum Cha (Directly
translated as “drinking tea”, with a better translation being the drinking chinese tea alongside Dim Sum) in the morning with your family, reflecting the traditional Chinese family core values. Also, Hong Kong’s cuisine can be traced back to its varied historical background;
Hong Kong has been one of the main Chinese ports since 1684, and grown up alongside
and experienced much of China’s tumultuous history. The influence of western food started
to affect the traditional eastern cuisine when Hong Kong was colonised (from 1841 to 1997).
Although my national identity is built up by many other things, food definitely plays a major
part of it.


By Sarah Belger

A home cooked Sunday roast with all the trimmings, fish and chips by the beach, a pint and a grab-bag of ready salted Walkers with your mates down your local. In the UK we associate
so many periods of our lives with certain foods, from somewhat questionable school dinners
to your fancy graduation meal. These are memories which bring us all together, helping to shape who we are as a nation. Remember when a certain someone banned turkey
twizzlers? I think the outrage that followed can be seen as nothing less than true national
comradery. We, as Brits, don’t always like to take ourselves too seriously but as soon as
someone tries to tell us how gross they think a fry-up is, it can seem as if they’ve tried to
personally insult everything we stand for. Would it be a true British Christmas without
enough roast potatoes to cure world hunger? Or without a leftover-roast-dinner-sandwich on
Boxing Day? The food we eat is so central to so many of our traditions that I’m struggling to
think of a major holiday where food isn’t one of the main focus points. It’s how we socialise,
reunite with friends and family and, sometimes, the only reason we do so.


By Angharad May

We all know about Spanish food; it’s just paella and tapas and sangria, right?
What the majority of people fail to realise is that Spain is a country made up of seventeen
autonomous regions, each with its own regional identity subsequent different cuisines. The
fact that almost each region has a different climate means that the foods they consume can
vary greatly, from copious seafood on the coast to acorn-fed meat inland. (Disclaimer: I am
not actually Spanish; however, I do study Spanish and Hispanic culture and have a healthy interest in food and wine!).
Now, let’s start with paella. Non-Spaniards consider paella to be Spain’s national dish, but in reality, it is a regional Valencian dish. Valencians consider it to be one of their identifying symbols and even hold competitions using ginormous paelleras to cook vast quantities. Valencian paella consists of white round grain rice, green beans, butter beans, meat such as chicken or rabbit and the exquisite seasoning of saffron and sweet paprika.
What about tapas? Tapas is the plural of tapa, which comes from the verb ‘to cover’. Tapas
were originally slices of bread or meat which Andalucían sherry drinkers used to cover their
glasses to stop thirsty flies from getting in. Since the meat was salty, alcohol sales increased
and now tapas are equally important as sherry. In northern Spain, tapas have a different
name of pintxos. It is impossible to definitively name the core tapas ingredients as tapas is
not a type of food and ingredients that remains the same from region to region, town to town
or bar to bar. Hence Spaniards go bar-hopping, eating a single plate in each establishment.
We have heard of Sangria and probably Tempranillo-based wines from Rioja, but Spain
offers an abundance of hidden-gems in terms of delightful drinks. From the cool climate
north-western regions comes the fragrant Albariño; from Ribero del Duera comes the Fino
Tinto; from a variety of regions comes the dependable Garnacha; from southern Jerez de la Frontera comes the intriguing sherry; and from Catalunya comes the outstanding cava full of excitable bubbles, to name but a handful.
It excites me that each region, sometimes even each town has its own speciality which helps
form the people’s identity. Spaniards identify far more with their regions than with Spain as a
whole, hence it is understandable how regional food and drinks play such a significant role in
forming identity.


By Angharad May

Despite the line, ‘feed me till I want no more’, from the infamous hymn, Bread of Heaven, sung at Welsh rugby matches, Wales is not massively famous for its contribution to the culinary world. In fact, Wales’s national food seems only to be the humble leek, but I would like you to tuck in and devour the sumptuous treats Wales has to offer, because we are far more than a nation of leek-eaters. Typically, Welsh food is a wholesome fare, and this, arguably, is a reflection of Welsh identity. Historically, food was seen as fuel whose sole purpose was to fill the appetites of those who worked on the land as this was one of the main forms of employment in Wales, be it farming, coal-mining, fishing or quarry-working. This hard, physical work required substantial, filling meals to provide energy, hence foods such as ‘cawl’ (a hearty broth), Welsh rarebit (similar to cheese on toast) and ‘bara brith’ (a fruitcake) which are very much now intrinsically part of Welsh national identity. Most Welsh farmers or producers consider food to have a vital role in forming their national identity, after all, Welsh lamb and black beef are globally held in high-esteem as being some of the best. Welsh cheese also deserves a special mention. Now I love cheese, and you will often find me woolgathering over the cheese-counter at Wally’s (if you haven’t been – go!) where there is a bountiful selection of Welsh cheeses including Caerphilly, Y Fenni, Perl Lâs and Golden Cenarth to name but a few. Another of my passions is wine which perhaps seems incongruous when talking about Welsh identity. Historically, mead was the only wine Wales was known for, but now there are an increasing number of award-winning Welsh vineyards which is incredibly exciting. In our multicultural world where the whole world’s cuisine is available at our fingertips, it is difficult to state that, for example, ‘I am Welsh because of the food I eat’. However, I am proud of the quality produce we have here in Wales and, as a Welsh gal, I feel strongly about supporting local Welsh producers in a bid to showcase the wealth of delectable foods we as a nation should celebrate.