The Great British Bread Debate: is it baps, buns, rolls or something else entirely?
Us Brits take our food seriously.
Forget football, griping about the weather or communicating in thinly-veiled insults, the subject that unites us most is our love of chips, crisps, cake, bread and all things carb. So great is our love for our scran – alongside our fervent support of our fair region’s dialect and traditions – that we’ll stick steadfastly to the names we dub our favourite meals. Do not mess with our dinner or we will come for you.
Recently, Buzzfeed posted an article about Brits and the many ways we like to eat baked beans (mostly on a carb and smothered in cheese, obviously) and while residents of other countries commented that we were all a bit nuts for worshipping tinned goods in such strange ways (I will fight anyone who reckons baked beans don’t belong in a toastie), British commentators went for the jugular. Don’t insult our mighty nation’s food choices, humans of the world. Just don’t.
Weirdly, the scrapping continues on home soil. When it comes to how we choose to eat things or what we name our foodstuffs, it’s a critical issue. Move over Brexit, there’s a new divisive debate in town. The subject? The humble bread roll.
In the spirit of investigative journalism, Northern Soul asked t’interweb the following question: what do you call a bread thingy? We weren’t prepared for the passionate response or some of the odd names – more of this later.
I’m what they call a plastic Northerner. Originally from the South Midlands (Warwickshire, specifically), I’ve lived in Manchester on and off for the past 13 years. Ever since arriving in the city as a wide-eyed, teenage country-bumpkin, I’ve been fascinated with the regional language and dialect. I love a Northern accent but it didn’t half take me some time to wrap my head around the meanings of certain words. Then I started venturing further North and that’s when it got really complicated.
Recently, Northern Soul‘s Editor Helen Nugent (and instigator of the GBBD) took a trip to her local chippy in Ramsbottom. She became embroiled in a confusing exchange centred around a baking misunderstanding. She posted the following exchange on Facebook and, unsurprisingly, was met by a bunch of different opinions (like I said, don’t mess with our grub).
Me: I’d like chips, mushy peas separate, and a roll.
Chippy girl: A roll?
Me: A barm?
Chippy girl: [blank look]
Me: A bap?
Chippy girl: [blank look]
Me: A butty?
Chippy girl: [blank look]
Chippy girl: Oh, you mean a muffin!
Me: Yeah, that’s right.
[in head: no, I jeffin’ don’t, a muffin is flat and you toast it]
To me – and my family – a muffin comes in a cake case and is either sweet (double chocolate if you’re my dad) or savoury (all the cheese if you’re me). It took me a long time to realise that an oven bottom muffin was something else entirely. But I agree with Helen, muffins are flat (and a bit naff unless toasted and coated in butter – for me, butter makes everything better).
I remember when Housemate was working in Halifax and popped to her local butty shop for her usual. “Do you want that on a teacake?” the proprietor enquired, much to Housemate’s horror.
“Of course, I didn’t want it on a bloody teacake,” she later recalled. “A teacake has currants in it. Why would I want my ham salad on a teacake?”
Chris Park, Northern Soul’s Travel Editor, had a similar confusing teacake experience. “Coming from the Lakes, I had always called it a bread roll so when I was working in Little Chef, and someone asked for chips in a teacake, I gave them a portion of chips inside a toasted teacake. They weren’t happy. I’ve now converted to barm because I like how it sounds.”
Same. As a Stockport resident, barm seems like a safe bet. But then, wait…isn’t ‘roll’ universal?
Our Liverpool Correspondent, Damon Fairclough, has also experienced some currant confusion. “The biggest controversy in our family used to be when visiting grandparents in Bradford, where a plain breadbun was a teacake. They referred to the ones with currants on as a ‘currant’ teacake.”
He continues: “In Sheffield, where I grew up, it tended to be a breadcake or breadbun. Occasionally bap. I was totally thrown when I moved to Coventry to study and realised it was called a batch. I’d never known that word to be associated with bread before.”
Clearly, it’s not just Housemate and I who are perplexed.
“We take bread very seriously in Scotland,” divulges Drew Tosh. “My waistline is testament to that. We have bridge rolls, which are sort of eclair-shaped and slightly sweet but not into brioche territory. Then there is the classic ‘buttery’ – sort of a savoury cross between a yum yum and a croissant – and often used in a classic hangover filled roll, fried egg and buttery within another normal bread roll. The potato scone is also a handy substitute for the buttery. Ultimately though a roll is just a roll. Poetic, eh?”
He adds: “Just don’t get me started on ciabattas. That’s just wrong.”
Chris Wallis says: “I’ve lived all over the place, and it’s been principally called a bap, a barm (short for barmcake), or a roll (Scotland). There’s something called an oven bottom muffin which is similar. My grandmother used to give her bridge parties miniature submarine style rolls which were oddly called bridge rolls.”
And it wasn’t just our lovely contributors who gave us their opinions. We took the GBBD to social media – people had a lot to say.
“Sorry, mate,” replied one person to Helen’s Facebook thread. “But it’s totally a muffin. An oven bottom muffin.”
“OK,” replied Helen. “Oven bottom muffins were new to me when I moved back North. But if I go into the Ramsbottom sandwich shop and ask for a muffin, they look at me like I’m a mentalist.”
“On Merseyside,” another person chips in, “they call them a batch. Longer, thinner rolls (but clearly not a baguette) are nudgers.”
In Newcastle, it’s called a stottie. What even is that?!
“Yup,” agrees another. “In the bakers near me, they do breakfast sandwiches Two items on a batch, three on a nudger, and four on a binlid. I forgot about them. Big flat rolls. Binlids.”
Meanwhile, in Middlesbrough. “My Dad used to have a cheese and onion fadgie for his bait box every day.”
Not quite sated, we took to our weekly Northern Soul poll. The results? Some 39 per cent said it was a roll, 29 per cent referred to it as a bap, and 26 per cent insisted it was a barm. Only 6 per cent reckoned it should be called a muffin.
“I think your poll was infiltrated by Southerners,” one Twitter follower accused us as we posted the results.
“No scufflers?” said another.
“Muffin. 100 per cent.”
“No one in Newcastle ever says roll. More bun.”
“Easy – it’s a muffin,” said one passionate reader. “Or, if it’s made with yeast leftover from brewing, it’s a barm cake.”
“An oven bottom muffin is the superior option,” added someone else. “Whenever choosing a barm/roll/bap/whatever. Therefore, it is a muffin.”
“All wrong,” said another Twitter user. “It’s a cob, spelt C.O.B.”
Having grown up in the Midlands, it was a roll if you were referring to a sandwich, or a bap if you were talking about bread for a BBQ. When I settled in Manchester I’d refer to it as a barm if I was ordering something in a café or chip shop (because otherwise, it just gets confusing).
So, who’s right?
Let the Great British Bread Debate continue.
- Food Review: The Creameries, Chorlton, Manchester
- Review: Viv Albertine in conversation with Jeanette Winterson, Manchester Literature Festival, The Dancehouse
- Video: Nesh. Bobbins. Brew. How well do you know your Northernisms? Northern Soul heads to the streets to investigate.
- Egon Schiele and Francesca Woodman at Tate Liverpool: Northern Soul chats to curator Tamar Hemmes
Freerange Comedy Festival at Brewery Arts Centre Kendal
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