10 foods to try on your Scottish Vacation
25th September 2020
You are visiting a new country for the first time - you’ve written your packing list; you’ve got a checklist of must-see locations; you’ve learned a few phrases in the local language to make you look good to the locals; we all know what’s next on you mind, your stomach! Trying local delicacies is one of the most fun things to do on any vacation. A country’s traditional foods are a window into its culture and locals love watching foreign visitors tasting a dish they are fiercely proud of. Almost everyone has a ‘Grandma’s Secret Recipe’ of something or other. Cooking is a wonderful part of the heritage of nearly every country in the world. I’m sure every country has at least one traditional dish that represents the nation. Scotland is no exception.
So here are 8 different foods and 2 drinks you just have to try on your vacation in Scotland. I can’t promise you’ll love them all but they will give you ‘a real taste’ (sorry not sorry) of Scottish culture.
You probably all guessed where I would start this blog, with stories of a four legged, hairy little creature running around the countryside of Scotland… no that really is just a myth. Haggis is actually made from sheep’s ‘pluck’ (and that is all the detail you need or want) along with oats, onions, spices and suet (a type of fat). It might not sound the most appetising but I promise you it is delicious - a meaty, mildly spiced, unique flavour. Traditionally it is served with ‘neeps and tatties’ - mashed turnip and potatoes.
Haggis, neeps and tatties is likely what you would be served on St Andrew’s Day or at a Burns Supper - a celebration of the birthday of our National Poet, Rabbie Burns (1759 – 1796). Burns Suppers take place all over the world so you may have experience of this kind of event, filled with food, drink, poetry and bagpipes. One of the most important parts of the proceedings at any Burns Night is the ‘Address to a Haggis’ - a poem recited after the haggis is carried into the hall on a silver plate, followed by someone playing the bagpipes. Us Scots take our haggis very seriously.
If you don’t fancy neeps and tatties, why not try Chicken Balmoral - the chicken is stuffed with haggis and covered in a creamy whisky sauce. Balmoral Castle is actually the estate at which the British Royal family stay when they visit Scotland. So really, haggis is a dish fit for royals!
I truly believe Cranachan is the best dessert in the whole world. Better than trifle, better than sticky toffee pudding, even better than chocolate fudge cake. I’ve never eaten a bad Cranachan. Traditional Scots Porridge Oats toasted just enough to brown them; cream whipped into majestic peaks; sweet honey and the finest Scottish Whisky mixed through the cream and oats and finally, a smattering of fresh Scottish raspberries to give this heavenly dessert a little tangy kick… Excuse me while I head to the shop for ingredients.
3. Fish Supper
Now back to the hearty savoury dishes us Scots love. Fish and Chip shops or ‘Chippies’ all over the rest of UK will try to tell you that their fish and chips are the best. I can tell you that isn’t true. No one does it like Scotland, with perhaps the exception of Whitby Bay. That is my completely un-biased opinion anyway! A fish supper is a fillet of whitefish, usually haddock, dipped in batter and deep fried, accompanied by deep fried ‘chippy chips’ or thick fries as you would call them in the US and Canada. If you are looking for what our friends across the pond call ‘chips’ you will have to ask for ‘crisps’. Menus which advertise french fries are normally thinner than those from chip shops. Confused? If in doubt just ask for a fish supper and be prepared for the ultimate in Scottish comfort food. Greasy as you’d expect, but oh so yummy.
Ready to go back to sweet? Am I confusing your taste buds?? Shortbread is very much the traditional sweet snack of Scottish cuisine. Butter, sugar, flour and more sugar - the best shortbread should melt on your tongue. Walkers shortbread is a famous Scottish brand that has been around since 1891, another favourite of mine is Dean’s which was formed in 1975, both brands were born in the greater Aberdeenshire area. If you are staying at a hotel that has a little tea and coffee set in the room, take a rummage in the tray as you will often find a complementary packet of shortbread waiting to perk you up after a long day of touring Scotland. It is the perfect afternoon nibble.
5. Smoked Salmon
Smoked Salmon is of course eaten all over the world, but in Scotland it is given a distinctive flavour due to the smoking process which uses old whisky or oak barrels. It will appear on the menu of almost all traditional Scottish restaurants, sometimes paired with poached eggs or in pasta, in quiche or with oatcakes (see more on these below!). It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner and for the real Scottish experience, make sure the salmon you are ordering is from one of our Scottish fisheries. I am sure you will find a restaurant on your travels which is keen to tell you that its salmon is locally sourced.
6. Black Pudding
The mighty black pudding is what separates a Full Scottish breakfast form a Full English. It is also great with chicken - chicken stuffed with black pudding is a popular dish at many restaurants (similar to chicken balmoral). It is made from ‘blood sausage’ and wheat or barley, but like haggis it is best not to look too closely at the ingredients. The best black pudding comes from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, so if you see Stornoway Black Pudding on offer be sure to have a try.
For me, this is food that reminds me of my granny. Sadly you won’t get the chance to try my grandmother’s tablet, it really was the very best, but I’m sure you will be able to find some that’s almost as good during your Scottish vacation. In more upmarket restaurants it is often served at the end of your dinner as an accompaniment to your coffee. My only word of warning is to take a small bite at first. It might not look like much, but it is pure sugar and it can be hard to eat more than a couple of pieces without feeling sick (although you may very well want more!). Tablet is at its essence, butter, sugar, milk and condensed milk but it is often flavoured with vanilla or whisky. Its consistency is somewhere between hard candy and fudge and for those with a sweet tooth it is a real delight.
8. Oatcakes (and Scottish cheese!)
Despite containing the word ‘cake’ Scottish Oatcakes are savoury, however they are often paired with sweet treats. A really good oatcake tastes scrumptious on its own or with just a smear of butter, but of course the best way to eat your oatcakes is with a cheeseboard. I’d highly recommend the Isle of Arran Cheese Shop - their smoked cheddar is to die for, the only cheddar I’ve ever described as ‘velvety’. Arran is a lovely island off the west coast of Scotland and well worth a visit if you have the time. My favourite oatcakes are definitely Nairns oatcakes who’s factory happens to be right next to the playing fields of my old university. The smell of baking oatcakes wafting into your nostrils while you’re running around is absolute torture! I always left training desperate for food.
And now we come to the drinks, starting of course with Whisky, one of the things Scotland is most famous for. I can’t claim to be a huge whisky drinker (although I’ve given it a fair go) but my favourites are definitely the more ‘peaty’ whiskies, many of which come from the isle of Islay. Most opt for a lighter whisky on their first try - the Arran whiskies are very nice. I know what you’re thinking, cheese and whisky, how do the good people of Arran ever get anything done with all these indulgences on offer?! Laphroaig and Talisker are also very highly regarded brands but I haven’t tired either of them, not that I can remember anyway…
10. Irn Bru
Ah Irn Bru. Bright orange, fizzy, a tonne of sugar and who knows what else! Many Scots swear by it being the best cure for too much whisky the night before. If I’m honest I’m not a huge fan, although I can’t say this in front of other Scottish people for fear of social exile. You just have to try it while you are here. There is just something about Irn Bru, it’s cheeky adverts, it’s brash branding, the bold colours, its whacky taste, that completely personifies modern day Scots. So give it a go, have an Irn Bru. You never know, you might just love it!
… and a bonus ‘delicacy’ - Deep Fried Mars Bar
Now this is the one thing on this list I haven’t tried, and I’m not really sure I recommend it. However, many a traveller to Scotland has it in their head that they must go to a chip shop and ask for a deep fried Mars Bar so I thought I’d better include it. I’m not sure who started the rumour that Scottish people actually eat this, but if I’m honest I’m not that surprised people believe it. From what I am told, it is so rich that it is very hard to eat a whole one, so it might be worth sharing with a travel buddy. One of my first jobs was actually in a Chip Shop in Glasgow where tourists used come in and ask for deep fried Mars bars. We never seemed to have any in stock however, so we just offered them a deep fried Snickers instead.
I hope you have enjoyed our tour of traditional Scottish food… as well as the not so traditional. There is certainly plenty of variety on here and something to take you through from your breakfast to your nightcap. If you are touring with us, your driver will be more than happy to guide you through the menu at your evening meals. Let your driver know which of the things on this list you really want to try.
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