Scottish Cuisine

Scottish cuisine can indeed be quite good. This is just a short file talking about some of the tasty items to be found in Scotland. While, unlike, say, France or the Far East, Scotland is not known for its cuisine, I found myself quite satisfied while eating there.

I have one of those sets of taste buds which will try just about everything at least once. However, I am not much of an eater of deserts, so I cannot be raving on about the tasty Scottish pastries and scones. They do come recommended from other sources, however. I will sing the praises of Scottish shortbread; occasionally one can find a good imported brand here in America. The Scottish shortbread is laden with butter, and is quite rich and delicate, and not overly sweet. A small amount goes a long way, but is well worth the enjoyment.

Breakfasts are not the Scottish strongpoint, at least in my eyes. Typically, I would eat the English breakfasts (readily available). Bread tends to be plain white and tasteless; the brown bread is slightly more palatable. Eggs are served sunny side up unless one requests otherwise, and tend to be a bit oilier than my preference. I got to try kippers (English) for breakfast on one occasion -- this is a smoked and salty fish which was tasty but too hearty for my appetite. (If one knows me, one realizes this is hard to do.) Still, I recommend trying them. I belong to the belief system that attempts to travel in such a way that I avoid seeing and eating and visiting in such a way so like what I can find at home that I may just as well have stayed home.

As a digression, I just read in the New York Times (February 16th, 1996) an article discussing cruise line excursions to the Caribbean where small islands are essentially owned by the cruise lines, and they can cater to people whose tastes are satisfied with everything Just Like Back Home, except with sand and sun. No Thank You. When I travel, I want to spend a good portion of the time sightseeing and exploring off the beaten path; when I travel I want to eat foods I don't see at home. If you are not adventurous, yes, they have McDonalds, Burger King, and Dunkin' Donuts over there in Scotland. There are even one or two fancier establishments specializing in American style menus -- I ran into a Chicago-style rib house in Glasgow. Have fun.

If one is a vegetarian, the cuisine of Scotland is more limited than here in America. There are a few vegetarian restaurants; one could also go to an Indian restaurant. Indian food in Scotland (and England) is very prevalent; the small town of Arbroath had at least one excellent one near the train station. This is because many areas in the UK have a thriving Indian community; many individuals hailing from India have come there to make their home. It is worth your while to take in an Indian restaurant while in the UK -- many of the dishes and the combinations of seasonings may differ from the items on a standard Indian restaurant in the US.

Prevalent meats are lamb and beef*. Chicken and pork were not listed on the menus I saw with as much frequency as in the States. The lamb is exceptionally good. Meats in the UK tend to be raised with less "additives", ie, the hormones, antibiotics, and whatnot that foodlots in America seem so insistent on supplying. Lamb and mutton are especially flavorful -- mutton may be too rich and "gamey" taste for most Americans, but many diverse recipes are made with lamb. I tend to not eat much beef, but companions found it to be of the highest quality, even in simpler, less expensive restaurants. Some game meats can also be found -- they are not that common in restaurants, but more common than in America.

One other meat is haggis. Yes, haggis. I like it. Traditionally, haggis is made from ground sheep offal (NOT awful) with oatmeal and a few simple spices, and boiled in the lining of a sheep's stomach. It is NOT to everyone's taste, but far better and more healthy than hot dogs. I saw it served in a variety of fashions, usually with the lining removed (or never used at all). At one restaurant, it came with a Drambuie cream sauce for the dipping.

Re-tracking and speaking of price -- yes, due to the exchange rate, meals in the UK currently tend to be more pricey than here in the States. One exception is fish -- buy whatever fish is local to the region you are passing through. From what I've been able to learn, seafood in Scotland tends to be low in pollutants, whether fresh or saltwater. Salmon and trout (it's the pink type of trout, although they don't call it "steelhead" over there -- it may be another variety entirely) comes well-recommended. Smoked or fresh, it is delicate and highly recommended. And the fresh fish is so fresh, in many cases you know it is caught the day before. Poached salmon in Scotland is wonderful; food of the gods. Smoked salmon is also of the finest quality. On one occasion, in Edinburgh, I tried smoked trout; this was also of high quality. Along the eastern coast (Perth to Aberdeen), haddock from the sea seems to be the fish of choice. Arbroath is known for its "smokies", haddock (or a few other species) smoked in smokehouses near the docks. The aroma permeates the entire coastal portion of the town. The recipe I enjoyed consisted of hot smoked haddock in butter and lemon. Highly recommended.

As for vegetables, the Scottish folks tend to cook them far longer than those of us living in the American northeast are wont to do. (Southern Americans who tend to like well-cooked vegetables will be pleased.) "Taters and neeps" are a common dish, often as a side. That's potatoes (mashed) and turnips (mashed). These I found to be good. Vegetables don't tend to be seasoned much; perhaps with butter. Usually with butter. Brussels sprouts are often common, as are carrots. The turnips are not always served mashed. Salads don't tend to come with the meals, except at the pricier restaurants, but there may well be salads on most menus. One does not run into arugula or sun dried tomatoes in salads from the UK.

Due to the closeness to England, there are many tea houses in Scotland, especially in the larger cities. Some of the tea houses also serve inexpensive breakfasts. They will serve a variety of teas -- more like Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, rather than the Celestial Seasonings creations. Nowadays it may be possible to find a decaffeinated tea, if that is your preference. (Coffee also seems to be available everywhere now, as well.) Tea houses will serve some pastries as well as small, dainty, crustless sandwiches, made of items like smoked salmon, cucumber, and the like. I found these to be a refreshing break in the middle of the afternoon on days I did not have lunch proper. (Most lunch proper meals seem Americanized, at least in the larger cities.)

Besides tea and that upstart, coffee, other beverages of course include the whisky (Scotch is called "whisky" in the UK, and no my spell checker didn't fall down on the job; Scotch "whisky" is truly and really spelled without the "e"). There are distilleries in many regions; there are tours just based around the distilleries. The resultant whisky is sold either as "blends" of several of these, or as single malts, ie, one unmodified product from a single distillery. Single malts are quite varied, but tend to have more of that "Scotch" taste that people either like or don't than do the blends. Beer is also of importance here -- there are many alehouses devoted to hops. I understand it is now possible to get chilled beer in the UK. I am not the person to ask these questions of. What I can tell you is that alcohol is much more prevalent as an unquestioned part of the society than it has become in the United States. Trains will serve coffee, tea, beer, whisky, and so forth even in early morning. Pubs are quite prevalent. More substantial food than is typically found in American pubs may be served here, although the menus in both places tend to be small. While many stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays (and most of the rail system except between Glasgow and Edinburgh seems to go on holiday that day), it is still possible in the larger cities to buy bottles of alcohol, if one finds an open store. There are even little mini-bottles in the Glasgow tourist center.

Other beverages include the old milk and juice standbys. Water is like in America -- some neighborhoods have better sources than others. There is at least one brand of UK soda (and they don't call it soda) which is tasty simply because it is not overpoweringly sweet like most of the American brands seem to me.

In this conversation, I have not discussed a lot of regional cuisine that I may have missed, simply from having not visited all areas. Scotland is geographically small, but relatively small distances between areas bring one into whole new regions with their own cultures and styles. I may have inadvertently omitted or forgotten other things in the above writings. This has been written six months after the trip. I take credit for any errors to be found in the above. Food is one thing, however, that I do seem to remember with reasonable reliance.

* Okay, I didn't know about Mad Cow Disease when I was over there. Make your own best judgement. I understand it comes from the habit of feeding cattle sheep brains, probably uncooked. Funny, I'd always thought cattle were vegetarians.

Go to the Scotland Page.
Last Updated: Saturday, March 23, 1996