What to eat when in Scotland
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
Whenever we travel, food is part of the experience Hermann and I explore. We enjoy, we indulge and we savor the local fare. After eating mouth-watering food for two weeks in Ireland, we were eager to explore Scotland’s gastronomy. Only a thirty-minute flight separates Ireland and Scotland, so it made sense for us to visit both countries in one trip.
Scotland has abundance of water and fertile soil which influences their diet. Their basic meals centuries ago were stews, broths, soups, haggis, fish and porridge – with the kind of weather Scotland has, warm comfort food is necessary, it warms the belly and provides energy. With the influence of neighboring countries and migrants who brought their own cuisine, food evolved in Scotland, but traditional food is always available and we aimed to have some of it while we were there. It didn’t disappoint. We enjoyed the food as much as we enjoyed exploring Scotland.
For two weeks we get to taste local food, especially seafood, wild game, smoked fish and one food that the Scottish are famous for, Haggis - their iconic national dish. Below are photos of some of the delicious and decadent food we had in Scotland. WARNING! It will make you drool.
FULL SCOTTISH BREAKFAST
I mentioned before that there are similarities in traditional food between Ireland and Scotland. Their dishes have different names but pretty much have the same ingredients and concept. An example is their breakfast. In Ireland they call it Full Irish Breakfast but in Scotland it is called Full Scottish breakfast.
A full Scottish breakfast comes with black pudding and white pudding (similar to black pudding but without blood). Breakfast varies, depending on where you are staying. Here we had a Full Scottish breakfast with bacon rasher, buttered toast, egg, fried tomato, baked beans, lorne sausage, mushrooms and the famous haggis. With this kind of breakfast you can skip lunch. We did! I suggest you get the Full Scottish breakfast first and if it's too much or if you don't like certain foods in the pool (such as haggis or black pudding) then of course you are free to order your own variation.
The Famous Haggis (in front of the tomato)
So, if you don't know what Haggis is, it is made of offal, or innards, such as lungs, heart and liver of a sheep. All parts of an animals are used, no waste there. It was said that Haggis was introduced in Scotland by the Norse invaders. The offal are boiled, then minced and mixed with beef or lamb meat, onions, oatmeal, suet, stock and spices. The mixture is then put inside a sheep's stomach, sewn closed and boiled for several hours. I know it sounds offal, I mean awful, but it is really good. Hermann and I actually love it. You should try it when in Scotland, if you haven't yet. Robert Burns, Scotland's beloved national poet adored haggis s much that he even wrote an entire poem about it - now that's patriotism at its best.
There are options other than Full Scottish breakfast of course. The Vikings brought the methods of salting and smoking fish (as well as pickling and curing) to Scotland. The Scottish pretty much smoke every kind of food I think - even whisky believe it or not. So, serving fried smoked kipper for breakfast is common there. The kipper (whole herring) is butterflied, gutted, salted or pickled and then cold-smoked.
The kipper is served fried and bone-in, topped with a poached egg. Hermann likes smoked fish, but he is not used to eating fish with bones. I do, so I don't mind having it for breakfast. I love it, I only wish they would serve it with fried rice, but that's an Asian thing. The brown or white toast that was served with it is a good accompaniment.
Other breakfast option we love is scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. We have it for breakfast once in a while at home nowadays. Pancakes are also an option, served topped with fresh fruits and a bacon rasher on the side. Don't ignore the porridge. It is after all a staple in Scotland since back in the old days.
We get hungry by lunchtime if we eat a light breakfast, so then we eat a light lunch to keep us going until dinner. You can find good light lunches in pubs and delis or even pastry shops, for a reasonable price - sandwiches, salads or a bowl of soup are good enough to tie us over until dinner.
Fish and chips is of course one of the foods you don't want to miss when in Scotland. When we were in Stonehaven, someone suggested a popular fish and chips shop down by the beach. Indeed it is so popular that we had to wait in line for forty five minutes for our food. We could have gone to the food truck up by Dunnotar Castle, I bet their's was as good as anywhere else.
Leek and tatties (potatoes) and Neeps and tatties are popular soups in Scotland. I had it with bread and butter and then I was good to go. Try the beef sausage rolls as well, delicious and filling, they will definitely sustain you until dinner.
AFTERNOON TEA AND SNACKS
Now, after having a big substantial breakfast you can skip lunch, but by mid-afternoon hunger pangs will start to set in. Hello to afternoon tea! Eating different pastries and cakes with tea (in my husband's case cappuccino) is an adventure by itself. You can have little sandwiches too, which are also served at afternoon tea, but we prefer sweets so we didn't have to have desserts after dinner.
Tea was popularized in Scotland in the early 1600's and Scots were among the first to grow tea on plantations they owned outside of Scotland. In fact Thomas Lipton (of Lipton tea fame) was a Scot born in Glasgow.
Afternoon tea (or low tea) was actually popularized in England by one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, by inviting her friends to her afternoon ritual of drinking tea, with bread, or cakes. It went down in history and became a popular social event.
In Scotland, a tea retailer in Glasgow and his sister started the trend of afternoon tea. The retailer thought that if people could sample his tea he would sell more, so he set up a table and chairs so people can buy and have tea. Cake was extra though. His sister got the idea and began opening tea rooms as a result of which afternoon tea became popular in Glasgow Society.
If you haven't had shortbread before then you will when you travel in Scotland. You can tell this is a popular confection since you can find them in every souvenir and gift shop, enclosed in a beautiful tartan-printed container. These biscuits (yes, they call them biscuits and not cookies), come in all shapes and sizes, and apparently different tastes as well, depending on the makers. We had them for snacks while traveling in Scotland. They are buttery, sweet, crumbly and delightful to eat. Also good with tea.
Shortbread is among the symbolic items a Scot presents on"First Footing", a tradition celebrated on Hogmanay (Scottish New Years Eve) to bring luck and prosperity to the household. Shortbread is also traditionally given as a Christmas gift.
Although the first printed recipe for shortbread was in 1736, it was already popular during the 12th century. But it was Mary, the Queen of Scots, with an obsession for this confection, who was responsible in perfecting and refining it to become the traditional recipe today.
Malt Whisky Cake
The use of alcohol as an ingredient in food works well, especially in baking. I don't drink alcohol but I use it myself in my cooking, or baking. Here we found one baked goody while visiting a whisky distillery, a Malt Whisky Cake, enclosed in a printed tin container. I haven't tasted it yet - I'm saving it for Christmas, but from what I read on the recipe this is like fruit cake, which we all know is heavy and dense. I confess, I actually bought this for its beautiful tin can and not for the cake.
For meat lovers:
Scotland has plenty of wild game, though some of them are farmed nowadays. Pheasant, grouse, partridge, pigeon, hare, rabbit and wild boar. These they say are best consumed in autumn and winter. We were there in spring, but it didn't matter to us, we just had to try some of them. We did, in one dish called a Highland Game Casserole. It's a combination of venison, rabbit, pheasant, goose and duck cooked in red wine sauce - it was good.
Another time we tried venison by itself, as well as roasted duck; both were good, but If you are "steak and potato" guy, you can never go wrong with the beef here. Scotland is known for its high quality beef. Their soil, climate and topography create perfect conditions for cattle ranching. It is believed that the famous Aberdeen Angus cattle was brought to Scotland by the Vikings when they first raided the British Islands.
Game and beef are popular among Scots; however, pork was not their favorite "good eats" back in the old days. Today, you couldn't tell that they had an aversion to pork based on the amount of bacon rashers they serve for breakfast. You can find pork dishes in any restaurants.
We once had roasted pork cheek in Portugal and we loved it. So, when we saw this dish in Grandtully, we didn't hesitate. In fact, Hermann and I ordered the same dish which we don't usually do - we usually order two different dishes when we dine out so that we share two different tastes. But yes, it was that good that we didn't need to share.
For Seafood lovers:
While in Scotland we indulged in eating seafood, especially fish - salmon, sea bream, sea bass, halibut. Scotland's surrounding sea, rivers, streams and lochs (lakes) supply the country with fresh seafood - fish such as salmon, haddock, trout, mackerel and herring, as well as shellfish such as lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and mussels.
When in Scotland you have to have salmon. We took advantage of the knowledge that salmon is said to be the best - known for its perfect texture and terrific taste. Indeed it was. It is said that Scotland's fresh water is a prime breeding ground for salmon.
We ate fresh seafood everywhere in Scotland and some of the best can be found in the coastal town of Oban. This must be the most varieties of seafood we ever ate on a trip. The way they cook it was just simply delicious.
DESSERTS & SWEETS
We don't often eat dessert because after dinner we don't have room for it. But sometimes you just can't resist when you find something that really sounds decadent. This is one of them, the look of this passion fruit and mango cheesecake with vanilla ice cream on the side makes you drool, doesn't it? The passion fruit makes it different from the usual cheesecake. With decadence like this, I just thought that it's worth mentioning. We had it in Fort William.
Sometimes you just want something refreshing while walking around the city. You see an ice cream shop and it's like a magnet, it pulls you in. This ice cream here is the best and they are not stingy about the servings either. That is one serving, believe it or not, and we paid less than what we pay here in Colorado for less the amount.
For a different refreshing drink, there are local brews that you can try, which Hermann prefers. Then there's a popular non-alcoholic drink called Irn Bru, a local beverage that the locals consume more than Coke or Pepsi. It actually tastes like orange soda. Wine in Scotland is mostly imported although there are few local wines that are fruit-based. That is due to their weather; grapes need a lot of sun and heat which Scotland lacks.
Scotland (especially the Highlands) is famous for the hundreds of brands of Scotch whisky (without an 'e'). It is their national drink and has its own menu book in restaurants. We were amazed! You really have to be a connoisseur of whisky to find out what you like on those long lists. Hermann decided to just ask the experts. The Scots distilled whisky for centuries and it seems like every village makes its own particular brand.
The word whisky originates in the Gaelic word "uisge beatha", or "usquebaugh", meaning "water of life". It can be traced back to 1494 when King James IV of Scotland granted the rights for making "aqua vitae"(whisky) to the monks. Monks are known for creating all kinds of alcohol. What else are they going to do with their time after prayers? Anyways, there are around 100 whisky distilleries in Scotland, and we took a tour of one of them. Of course we brought a bottle back home with us as well. Haven't opened it yet, though.