As a Cornishman by heritage, people often ask me what is the best Cornish food to try. Cornwall is a county with historic food traditions rooted in its fishing, mining and farming industries that have thrived for centuries. In this complete guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about food in Cornwall and the best places to try it when you visit. We’ll take a look at the classics like Cornish pasties, cream teas and fresh fish, as well as some great local delicacies you’ve probably never heard of before.

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Cornish food: a background

I have been visiting Cornwall every year from a very early age. My first trip to Cornwall was in the summer of 1982 when my mother was pregnant with me! I grew up learning about Cornish cuisine, and the prospect of enjoying local food in Cornwall is still one of the things I look forward to whenever I return.

Cornwall has one of the most distinctive local cuisines you will find anywhere in the UK. No other county has produced as many unique dishes and delicacies. So, let’s take a closer look at what makes food in Cornwall special.

The UK’s longest coastline

One big influence on Cornish food is obvious: the sea! Cornwall has the longest coastline of any county in the UK – more than 1,000 kilometres of coastline, in fact. 

Fishing has been a huge part of the Cornish economy for centuries, so it’s no surprise that the quality of fish here is incredible. Newlyn Harbour, next to Penzance, is the largest fishing port in south-west England, and the whole coastline is dotted with quaint fishing villages.

Newlyn Harbour Fish Market
Newlyn Harbour is one of the UK’s largest fishing posts, and home to a daily market

Cornwall’s mining history

If you’ve watched any of the TV drama Poldark, you will already be familiar with how the rugged landscapes of rural Cornwall are riddled with old mining stacks and engine houses.

Tin mining was once the heartbeat of Cornwall, and many of my own ancestors worked in the mines of Penwith. At the industry’s peak, in the 18th century, Cornwall was considered to be the mining capital of the world.

This mining history had a big influence on Cornwall’s food traditions. Working in harsh conditions for long hours, miners needed to eat food quickly on the go. And so we have the origins of the Cornish pasty, which were baked by miner’s wives as a hand-held, all-in-one meal.

Food in Cornwall is influenced by its mining industry
Cornwall’s mining history has left a mark on its landscapes as well as Cornish food traditions

Farming in Cornwall

Food in Cornwall comes from both the sea and the land. Agriculture is a massive part of Cornish culinary traditions, with more than 70% of the county’s land used for farming.

Many types of farming are practiced in Cornwall. You’ll find traditional livestock, dairy, vegetable and cereal farming. The fertile soils are also used for vineyards and apple orchards, with Cornish wines, ciders and juices adding to the richness of the local cuisine.

Traditional Cornish foods to try

When you think about traditional Cornish food, what comes to mind? Probably Cornish pasties, fish and chips, clotted cream teas and ice creams. These are some of the most classic local foods in Cornwall, but there’s a lot more to it. 

So, in this section I’ll take you through some of the best traditional Cornish foods for you to try when you visit, a little background about each, and my own experiences and memories of them.

Cornish pasty

Cornwall’s greatest export, the Cornish pasty, is the most famous product of the mining industry. It was the original “food on the go” in the county. Dating back to the 17th century, tin miners’ wives would make them pasties as a quick and easy nutritious meal to keep them sustained through those long shifts.

The classic pasty consists of beef, potato, onion and swede, all encased in a crispy pastry crust. But nowadays you’ll find pasty shops baking them with all sorts of fillings: cheese and onion, beef and stilton, chicken tikka masala, you name it.

Historians can’t agree on whether or not the original miners actually ate the crust or threw it away. There’s no question of that today – a crispy, tasty crust is the most vital part of a quality Cornish pasty!

I’ve been eating Cornish pasties as long as I can remember. My grandmother, born in St Just, used to make them for all the family once every week when I was a kid. I never pay a visit to Cornwall without having one for lunch at some point.

These are some of my go-to places in Cornwall for buying a great Cornish pasty:

  • Philps in Hayle, near St Ives. To this day, I still think this is where you will find the very best Cornish pasty in Cornwall.
  • Rowe’s Bakery, which has been around for 70 years and has pasty shops all over the county. I usually get them from their bakery in Penzance, but the original shop is in Falmouth.
  • Sarah’s pasties, Looe. We tried these on one of our most recent trips to Cornwall, on a holiday with Lisa’s family. I have to say we were impressed – the pasties are a generous size and perfectly cooked, the best I’ve tried in a long time.
  • Pengenna Pasties, St Ives. One of our favourite things to do in St Ives whenever we visit is to get a delicious homemade pasty from here to enjoy on the harbour.

Tip: some pasty shops sell off their stock at discount prices towards the end of the day. If you are hungry for a mid-afternoon snack, you might be able to get one for cheap.

Cornish pasties St Ives
Enjoying a Cornish Pasty on the harbour from Pengenna Pasties in St Ives

Hog’s pudding

If you want to try a proper traditional Cornish breakfast, it needs to include a slice or two of hog’s pudding. This large, hearty sausage is a Cornish variation on similar British delicacies like white pudding, black pudding or haggis. In fact it is sometimes known as the “West Country haggis”.

Hog’s pudding consists of pork meat minced up with breadcrumbs, suet, fat, oatmeal and pearl barley, and fashioned into a sausage shape. 

You’ll find hog’s pudding at any good local butcher in Cornwall. Kittow’s in St Austell is particularly renowned for the stuff, and this is also where you will find The Cornwall Hotel & Spa, which serves hog’s pudding on its breakfast menu.

Cornish yarg cheese

We love trying different cheeses on our trips overseas, but there are none I like better than this one from my family homeland. Cornish yarg is a creamy, semi-hard cheese that is produced solely by Lynher Dairies between Truro and Falmouth, but exported all over the world.

The most distinctive feature of yarg is the fact that it comes wrapped in nettle leaves, which are edible. The leaves are frozen during the production process to remove their sting.

Local cheese shops are often a feature of Cornish towns and villages. We always pick up a wedge of yarg from Newlyn Cheese and Charcuterie to enjoy with a cheese board on our visits to Penzance. Another place we love to shop for yarg is at The Old Cheese Shop in Truro.

Yarg is believed to have dated back many centuries, but it faded out of existence. A Cornish couple called Allan and Jenny Gray found a recipe on an old note in their attic and decided to revive it. The name “yarg” was then taken from their name “Gray” spelled backwards!

If you’re into your cheeses, there are many more you can try in Cornwall, as dozens of variations are produced across the county. Look out for local takes on classics like cheddar, gouda and camembert, as well as another one of our favourites, Cornish blue.

Cornish yarg cheese
Cornish yarg cheese comes wrapped in edible nettle leaves

Food in Cornwall: seafood classics

Fresh fish and chips

Whenever we eat in Cornish restaurants, I’m always naturally inclined to order fish from the menu. I don’t usually do that anywhere else, but I do in Cornwall because I know that most of the time, the quality of the fish will be amazing.

Fish and chips is a staple English dish, but nowhere does it better than Cornwall. It’s always a fresh catch, and the most satisfying meal to have after a day on the beach!

I’d say there are two typical ways to eat fish and chips in Cornwall: from a proper fish and chip shop to take away, or as a sit-down meal in a homely pub or restaurant.

These are a few of our favourite spots for fish and chips in Cornwall:

  • Fraser’s Fish and Chips, Penzance. Our number one go-to. One of the most authentic things to do in Penzance “like a local” is to grab some fish and chips from here to eat on the promenade overlooking the sea.
  • The Ship Inn, Mousehole. A proper Cornish pub! We had the most amazing fish and chips here after walking all the way from Land’s End to Mousehole.
  • The Witchball, Lizard village. At the tip of the Lizard Peninsula, this place is the southernmost bar in the UK, and they also do great fish and chips.
  • Becks Fish and Chips, Carbis Bay. We’ve made it a bit of a tradition to get fish and chips here to eat on the beach while on the walk from Lelant to St Ives.
Cornish food: fish and chips
Fish and chips at the Ship Inn, Mousehole

Newlyn crab

Fresh crab is one of Cornwall’s more expensive foods, and it really is a special treat. You should definitely try some at least once when you visit.

Newlyn, neighbour to Penzance, has become famed for its crab. It’s a versatile delicacy that you can enjoy in many different ways: crab soup, crab stew, crab sandwiches, crab tacos (ok, I’m beginning to sound a bit like Bubba from Forrest Gump talking about shrimp).

Simple dressed Newlyn crab is hard to beat. You will often see it served in a seashell. We had a fantastic bit of this at The Old Coastguard in Mousehole, albeit only on a plate.

Other great places to try crab within the vicinity of Newlyn include Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar (right near the harbour and fish market), and Artist Residence, one of our favourite places to eat in Penzance.

Dressed Newlyn crab is a classic food in Cornwall
Dressed Newlyn crab at the Old Coastguard, Mousehole

Stargazy pie

Now for a Cornish food that is steeped in local legend: the stargazy pie. This dish is very hard to find, as it is traditionally only served in Mousehole on 23rd December on what is known as Tom Bawcock’s Eve.

A stargazy pie is topped with pastry crust and filled with pilchards, eggs, potatoes and white sauce. It is instantly recognisable as it is traditionally baked with the pilchards’ heads poking out of the top of the crust, “gazing at the stars”.

The story behind the stargazy pie dates back to a particularly stormy winter in the 16th century. The seas were so rough that the fishing boats in Mousehole were stuck in the harbour, and the village population began to starve. Step in local hero Tom Bawcock, who braved the treacherous waters in his modest boat, and caught enough fish to bake a huge pie to feed the village.

You might find stargazy pie on the menu around Christmas time in restaurants around Cornwall, but for the true authentic experience you need to be in Mousehole. I mentioned the Ship Inn earlier for their great fish and chips. This wonderful pub overlooking the harbour bakes a huge stargazy pie every year on Tom Bawcock’s Eve, with the proceeds going to RNLI.

An added bonus of visiting Cornwall in winter is you can combine it with witnessing the Mousehole Harbour Lights, which sees the harbour illuminated in colour throughout the festive period.

Mousehole harbour lights
The Mousehole Harbour Lights at Christmas, the best time to enjoy a stargazy pie at the Ship Inn

Food in Cornwall: sweet treats

Hevva cake

One of the lesser known Cornish delicacies is hevva cake, or “heavy cake” as it is also known. It’s a simple fruit cake that is typically made with just five ingredients – milk, flour, butter, fruit and sugar (notably no eggs or raising agents).

As with many old Cornish foods, there is a story behind hevva cake that is rooted in fishing traditions. When out fishing for pilchards, boats would be assisted by a “huer”, who would stand on the clifftops looking for shoals of fish. As soon as they spied one, they would let out a cry of “hevva!”, alerting the boats.

So, hevva doesn’t mean heavy at all – it’s actually quite a light cake that local fishermen’s wives baked for them on their return.

Many local bakeries around Cornwall serve hevva cake. You’ll find a delicious one at Porthreath Bakery, overlooking the sea along one of our favourite parts of the Cornish cost. It makes the perfect treat after completing the spectacular scenic walk from Godrevy to Portreath.

Saffron cake

Every year when we went on family holidays to Cornwall, my aunt would make a saffron cake for the whole family. I always looked forward to the taste of this exotic cake, which happens to have its roots in Cornwall.

Saffron is believe to have first arrived in Cornwall many centuries ago, when traders from the eastern Mediterranean arrived on the coast, and exchanged aromatic spices, wines and oils for tin from the Cornish mines. Today, saffron is one of the most expensive materials in the world – even more valuable by weight than gold.

In Mediterranean cuisine, saffron is used mainly for savoury dishes, in Cornwall it has been repurposed to make sweet buns and cakes. The classic saffron cake is a light and fluffy yeast-raised cake, made with real saffron and usually currants. It’s absolutely delicious toasted with a little bit of butter or clotted cream.

It’s easy to find saffron cake pretty much anywhere in Cornwall. Most of the bakeries that specialise in Cornish pasties, like Rowe’s or Warrens, also make saffron cakes. 

Cornish clotted cream ice cream

My earliest experiences of trips to Cornwall were most often summer holidays, and that meant ice cream!

Cornish ice cream is one of the county’s most popular exports, and you will see it on the shelves of supermarkets across England. But if you want truly authentic Cornish ice cream, you need to be close to the source.

Wherever you decide to stay in Cornwall, there will probably be a local little ice cream shop nearby. Make sure you take the chance to treat yourself! It comes in many flavours, but you can’t beat the original Cornish clotted cream flavour.

A personal favourite flavour of mine has always been blackcurrant and clotted cream, but it’s quite hard to find. For some more imaginative flavour combinations, pay a visit to Moomaid of Zennor, a little village just along the coast from St Ives. They have some incredible concoctions to try, like orange and mascarpone, or rum and raisin with brandy.

Cornish ice cream in Penzance
Enjoying a traditional Cornish ice cream from Jessie’s Dairy in Penzance

Cornish cream tea

It’s an age-old conversation in my home country: do you put the jam on the scone first, or the cream? This debate is most fierce in the south-west, as the counties of Devon and Cornwall are both have proud reputations for cream teas.

In Devon, you will be told that’s always cream first; but in Cornwall, that’s tantamount to sacrilege. Allegedly, the late Queen Elizabeth II came down on the side of Cornwall in the debate, when it emerged that she preferred jam first.

Let’s not even get started on how you pronounce the word “scone”…

The real star of the classic Cornish cream tea, as with Cornish ice cream, is the local clotted cream. Cornish clotted cream has a Protected Destination of Origin classification, and it must be made with 100% milk from the county and contain a butterfat proportion of at least 55%. Aside from all the technical jargon, it’s delicious!

You won’t need to look far to find a tea room in Cornwall that serves a classic local cream tea. If you happen to pass through Truro on your travels, make sure you try one at Lily’s, a lovely independent café and creative space in the town centre.

Cornish drinks

It’s not just the array of traditional dishes that make food in Cornwall so special. The abundance of orchards, wineries, breweries and craft distilleries give an extra layer of depth to Cornish cuisine. Let’s take a look at some of the classic Cornish drinks to try on your travels.

Cornish wine

When you think about wine made in Europe, it might be the valleys of northern Spain or the rolling hills of central Italy that come to mind. But wine-making in the UK has grown a lot in recent years, and Cornwall has been at the forefront of this.

UK wine production is focused in the south, as that’s where the climate is warm enough – and Cornwall has some of the best conditions of all. The mild temperatures and long hours of sunshine in Cornwall enable vineyards to flourish.

Half a century ago there wasn’t a single vineyard in Cornwall, but we’ve been thrilled to see wineries springing up around the county. Our favourite is Polgoon Vineyard, which is just outside Penzance, within walking distance of the town. It has some fabulous sweeping views from its sloped hillside setting above the sea, and like other Cornish vineyards, you can take tours and tasting experiences.

Polgoon makes a variety of red, white and rosé wines, both still and sparkling, but we’d say the whites are the best – particularly the bacchus.

Polgoon vineyards Penzance
The vineyards at Polgoon, one of Cornwall’s small number of wineries

Cornish ciders and apple juices

There aren’t many phrases that sound better in a Cornish accent than “scrumpy cider”. The entire south-west of England is known for cider production, and it’s no surprise it’s a big thing in Cornwall.

Some of Cornwall’s apple orchards are community spaces. Newquay and St Ives both have community orchards for example, and they hold regular festivals where you can drink ciders and juices made from their own apples.

There’s also a big home-brewing scene in Cornwall. Some local pubs will serve their own ciders, often with special recipes that have been passed down families for generations.

The above-mentioned Polgoon Vineyard has its own apple orchard, too. Look out for Polgoon apple juice in restaurants around Cornwall. It’s a refreshing accompaniment for a crab sandwich at lunch.

Newquay Community Orchard
Newquay is one of the places in Cornwall that has a community orchard

Cornish gin

Independent gin-making has surged in the UK in the last decade after a licensing law change in 2009 got rid of an outdated prohibition of small-batch production.

The growth of craft gin that followed this landmark moment has been focused in counties with strong agricultural roots. Cornwall is among these new gin hotspots, and the county is now brimming with small-batch producers.

Tarquin’s, which made its first batch of gin in 2013, has been one of the most successful. From humble beginnings it now has shops and gin schools in Padstow, St Ives, Fowey, Falmouth, Bude and Weybridge. Tarquin’s gins can now be found on supermarket shelves around the UK.

We like Tarquin’s because of some of the quirky flavoured gins it produces. The pink lemon, grapefruit and peppercorn gin is a personal favourite! But they’re always introducing new flavour combinations and there’s something new to try on every trip.

Cornish drinks: ale
Stopping for a pint of Cornish ale in the Admiral Benbow, Penzance

Cornish ale and mead

While wine and gin making in Cornwall are relatively new, beer-making in the county goes back hundreds or even thousands of years. It’s believed that ale was first brewed in Cornwall in Celtic times.

Breweries in Cornwall really began to thrive in the medieval period, and you can still see the legacy of this era today. The Blue Anchor Inn in Helston has been brewing beer for more than 600 years and was even named by the director of the V&A museum as one of England’s most important historic sites.

This homely village inn began its life even further back in the 15th century as a monks’ rest house. Monks were integral to the advancement of beer-making in Cornwall, developing brewing techniques in monasteries and abbeys to support their communities.

Beer surpassed honey mead as the alcoholic beverage of choice in Cornwall. But you can still find mead in Cornwall as well, and it’s even had a bit of a resurgence in recent times, with a wave of new producers experimenting with different spices and flavours.

The craft beer and ale scene has exploded in Cornwall over the last two decades. Some Cornish beers have become national brands. Doom Bar by Sharp’s Brewery and Proper Job by St Austell’s Brewery are the foremost examples. I love a Proper Job! It’s a real classic malty, hoppy ale with some subtle fruity hints.

Many more microbreweries have emerged across the county, and Cornwall now has more breweries per head than anywhere else in England. Just pop into your local village pub when you’re visiting and see what guest ales they have on tap. 

Have you tried any Cornish foods on your travels? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

Planning a road adventure in Cornwall? See our Cornwall road trip itineraries for 7 days and 10 days.

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What is the best Cornish food to try on your travels? Our guide to food in Cornwall covers the best local dishes and culinary traditions. #Cornishfood #FoodinCornwall

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