For me, exploring a place through its food is like getting to the heart of the place. If you ask someone what’s great about Scotland, people will usually respond with obvious answers like whisky or its stunning landscapes. What people usually do not respond with, is its food. Haggis is arguably its most famous dish. But it holds a strange reputation, being banned in America, and the variety of ingredients that comprise lamb innards, among other things. We’ll get to haggis. But I’m here to talk about how food can greatly enhance to Scotland!
In addition to the Loch Ness Monster, endless castles, Glen Coe and whisky, there’s one thing that you can’t avoid in Scotland – the often times “dreich” weather. Dreich (a Scottish Gaelic word, pronounced “dreek”) means dreary or bleak weather, usually with some form of spitting rain. Sunshine is rare, and dreich is the norm. So pack your wellies and raincoat, and throw on a beanie, and carry on!
impeccably fresh and grown with care
Scottish food tends mostly to sit in the hearty, comfort foods category, will warm you up while filling you up. And if the food doesn’t warm you up, the whisky sure will!
Cullen Skink – an absolute favorite of mine. It’s a cream-based soup, with smoked haddock (a fish normally found in the North Atlantic), potatoes, carrots, and herbs. It’s simple fare, but the smoky fish lends a gorgeous flavour to the soup, and instantly warms you up after a long day looking for Nessie.
Scottish Full Breakfast – there is no better way to start your day than a full breakfast. Similar to an English or Irish Full Breakfast, Scotland’s version includes: eggs, roasted/fried tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, bacon rashers, sausage links (or lorne “square” sausage), black pudding, haggis and tattie scones.
A few descriptions for the newbies to Scottish food:
- Haggis is generally considered the National Dish of Scotland. For those who haven’t tried it, it is a savory pudding, comprised of sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, minced with onion, oatmeal, spices. Traditionally, this is all cooked from inside the casing of a sheep’s stomach. Haggis is normally served in slices.
- Another savory pudding, black pudding is typically found in British and Irish cuisines. Black pudding is a blood sausage, typically made with pork’s blood (but also cow or sheep), along with oats, spices, fat and/or barley. Some of the herbs and spices typically used: mint, marjoram, thyme, and pennyroyal.
- For clarification purposes, a lorne sausage is a “square sausage” made from minced meat, rusk (twice-baked bread), and spices. All of my research seems to suggest that the only reason this sausage is special is because it’s square-shaped. If anyone has any commentary on the Lorne sausage, I am happy to hear it!
- Well, first of all, a “tattie” is a potato. Therefore, a tattie scone is … yep! You guessed it, a potato scone! They’re much thinner than scones that you would normally think of. In fact, I would say they’re as thin as a piece of pita bread or a thick tortilla!
Some other traditional Scottish breakfasts include smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and (get ready for it…) whisky porridge! An item made popular by Scotland’s whisky island of Islay (pronounced EYE-lah), add some peaty whisky, cream, and brown sugar to your morning porridge!
Shepherd’s pie – Sometimes you go for a walk and get beat around by the wind, and when you finally make it back to where you hang your hat, all you want is something warm and delicious. A shepherd’s pie is a casserole, made of lamb, veggies (carrots, potatoes, and onions), topped with mashed potatoes. The mashed potato toppers crisp up in the oven, and provide a light crunch to your shepherd’s pie.
When I went looking for puffins on Staffa Island, we were beaten down the majority of the day by rain and high winds. All I wanted at the end of the day was a hearty shepherd’s pie to make it all ok.
A fish pie is very similar to a shepherd’s pie, but with a variety of fish (with carrots, potatoes and peas), with the mashed potatoes on top. Typical fish included can include cod, smoked haddock (of Cullen skink fame) and Scottish salmon. Absolutely one of my favourites!
A meat pie (usually steak, or black pudding), unlike the shepherd’s pie, is meat and sauce encased in a pastry shell, which is covered on top with a pastry lid. The pastry crumbles and melts in your mouth with a savoury deliciousness.
Let’s not forget a scotch egg for a snack – a nicely hardboiled egg, wrapped in minced lamb, which is then breaded and fried to perfection!
While most of Scotland shares the same mainland as England and Wales, there are almost 800 Scottish islands. While they can be slightly off the beaten path and out there, there’s so many incredible things about the islands. Gorgeous, white sand beaches! Puffins, even? And even more delightful – absolutely fresh seafood! There’s so much that you can get that’s fresh here. Scottish salmon (obviously!), oysters, hand dived scallops! Lobsters, langoustines, mussels! Crab, Gigha halibut, and more!
One of my favorite seafood platters is from Glenegedale House on Islay. If you wanted to know exactly where and when each of these was brought from the sea, the owners would tell you!
These are basically the “mains” of Scottish food. But let’s not forget local venison (if you’re wanting a leaner meat, always humanely and mostly locally hunted) and famous, juicy Aberdeen Angus steak.
Most restaurants I’ve visited try to emphasize local produce – opting to support Scottish farms and communities. Because of this, your food has likely travelled a shorter distance than you realize. That means things are impeccably fresh and grown with care. They’re not grown on industrial farms with antibiotics and chemicals. And you taste the difference! For example, some of the best cheese and ice cream I’ve had in the world is in Scotland, because of the local dairy industry.
Now that I’ve mentioned ice cream, let’s talk about desserts. While there are other Scottish desserts that I have yet to try (including something called a clootie dumpling, among others), there are two that stand out as traditional, which you’ll basically find everywhere.
Sticky Toffee Pudding is your quintessential dessert here in Scotland, and can be found in northern England, as well. It’s comprises a delightfully moist sponge cake made with chopped dates, lavishly draped in toffee sauce, usually with vanilla custard or ice cream, and a cream sauce. One of my absolute favorite desserts – it’s roaringly sweet, so get your sweet tooth ready!
The other main Scottish dessert is the cranachan (pronounced cran-a-can). A layered dessert, with oats, fresh cream, honey, fresh raspberries (sometimes strawberries), and maybe a little bit of whisky.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two other well-known Scottish “foods”.
Irn Bru – you can’t call yourself a Scot if you don’t drink Irn Bru. All I can say is that it’s fizzy and orange. But genuinely, everyone loves it! I guess I can’t call myself a Scot, because I haven’t tried it before.
Tunnock’s Tea Cakes – for the most delightful, wee snack, try a Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. A giant, fluffy marshmallow, on a biscuit / cookie base, surrounded in a light chocolate shell. Absolute perfection!
For me, the Scottish food industry is one of those hidden gems the world is slowly waking up to. Although I didn’t mention any in my write up above, don’t fret vegans! There’s plenty of options for you, and especially a Vegan Taste Trails that recently launched. There’s something for everyone!
If you don’t want to jump right into Scottish cuisine, test the waters with a food tour on your first stop in Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Food Tour was my first foray into Scottish food, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to a new cuisine, while walking around and seeing the sites. Plus, you get restaurant recommendations and discounts for your future eating!
Scotland is a magical place, with countless castles and waterfalls, and men in kilts. Now, hopefully you can see how food is part of that magic!
Lannie owns a home on the Scottish Isle of Islay. She swings through often and eats as much as possible each time. While she lives a nomadic life, Scotland is where her heart is and where she hangs her beanie at the end of the day. Give her a full Scottish breakfast or a sticky toffee pudding and she’ll be smiles for the rest of the day!
Lannie primarily writes about food, travel, the Isle of Islay, and now, scotch whisky. You can find her at Lannie’s Food and Travels.