Locals who grew up eating them have been known to call Staffordshire oatcakes “magical circles of deliciousness.” To those in the know, there are no better portable breakfast eats than these light crêpe-like pancakes made with oat flour, which are malleable to a variety of fillings, from the basic cheese to the full English with sausage, eggs, and baked beans.
The oatcakes are a regional specialty, popular in North Staffordshire, in the area known as the Staffordshire Potteries (owing to the local ceramic industry). Although their exact origins are unknown, oatcakes were being cooked at home in griddles as early as the 17th century. But the expansion of the local pottery industry made way for industrial ovens in which to cook the oatcakes by the thousands.
Wry British humor has earned them such inventive nicknames as “Potteries Poppadum,” and “Tunstall Tortilla” (though some say locals would never use such terms). They look like the Indian flatbread, chapati, and some locals will call their oatcake the “Staffordshire chapati,” believing that the origins of the pancake may be traced to soldiers from the North Staffordshire regiment who had returned from India, bearing a love for and determination to re-create the chapati on home soil. Many farmers in the area grew oats, which became the favored base for the Staffordshire chapati. But their closest cousin, based purely on visual resemblance, might be the Ethiopian injera.
Do not draw the ire of North Staffordshire by confusing their oatcake with the Scottish oatcake (which is actually a biscuit). Staffordshire oatcakes are more like soft pancakes with the distinct flavor of oats. Some say the best kind are to be had in the city of Stoke-on-Trent, where Potters (residents of the Potteries region) may be found carrying an oatcake to work as snap (local slang for food, especially meals taken to work).
Traditionally, hole-in-the-wall bakeries would sell oatcakes from their window, but now artisanal bakers have a more formal set-up for the relaxed enjoyment of oatcake. Both filled and plain oatcakes are popular, although the argument over the best oatcake filling is ongoing. Shops will typically sell a filled oatcake for £1–2 (about $1.30–2.60). Considering the prices commanded by some other regional specialties, fans consider them one of the culinary world’s most underrated delicacies.
You haven’t visited the Potteries until you’ve been properly oatcaked, the locals like to say.
Need to Know
Stoke-on-Trent's Stoke City Football Club has a strong association with the oatcake, naming its chief fanzine after the dish and, of course, serving it at matches.
Where to Try It
High Lane Oatcakes Website595A High Ln, Stoke-on-Trent, England, ST6 7EP, United Kingdom
The owners took over a 100-year-old bakery in 1980, also purchasing its traditional oatcake recipe. They've tweaked the recipe slightly and have been churning out award-winning oatcakes ever since.
Castle Oatcakes Website78 London Rd, Newcastle, England, ST5 1LZ, United Kingdom
In addition to traditional oatcakes, this family-run bakery also makes a "mega" oatcake that's 18 inches in diameter.