Before my adventures into the exciting (and ridiculously unhealthy) world of Scottish cuisine I really never quite realised how many Scottish foods and drinks I was otherwise already familiar with. Which may be due to close family connections, given my mum along with half my family are from Scotland, so my memories of Scottish food span right back to early childhood. But even in Northern Ireland, the food is fairly similar (Northern Irish Food), given the old Ulster-Scots connection, and the 2 countries really are only 12-miles apart at their closest points. So there has and will always be a close connection between food in Scotland, and Ireland and the U.K. And these days we do make regular-ish crossings from Belfast with Stena Line.
Food in Scotland
I would say around half this list of Scottish foods or at least ingredients is actually easy enough to find at the local Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, or supermarket stores through most parts of Ireland and the U.K. At the same time, there are still many foods found only in Scotland itself, as well as Scottish food found only in specific regions of Scotland. So there is always a reason to travel and explore Scotland more and more. Checking out the meats at the nearest butchers, the shelves of the local Coop’s, and there are few things better than my first haggis supper from the local chip shops in Scotland.
Haggis is somewhat synonymous with Scottish food although it can be a bit hit-and-miss with both locals and tourists due to its slightly off-putting ingredients such as liver, heart and lungs of the sheep. It also used to be cooked in a sheep’s stomach. But I personally love the stuff, as both a savoury and slightly peppery pudding with ingredients including oatmeal, onion, suet, salt and spices. And haggis would always be miles on top of my to-eat list and more than not at a local chippie (chip shop) with a battered haggis supper. Although traditionally haggis is served more with neeps and tatties the big-name brand found in most supermarkets is Macsweens Haggis.
Neeps and Tatties
This is more of an extension of the delightful haggis pudding where it is classically served alongside neeps (turnip) and tatties (potato). Where both potatoes and turnip (or swede) have been boiled and mashed and may be flavoured with some butter and cracked pepper. A traditional dish often perfected with a whisky gravy and of course a dram of whisky. So this meal is found more often on the run-up and is essential eating on Scotland’s annual Burns Night. A day that celebrates the revered Scottish poet Rabbie Burns with his personal ode and address to the Haggis. “Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!”.
Similar to the Ulster Fry in Northern Ireland, Scotland has its own interpretation of the full breakfast. And while elements are relatively flexible the Scottish Breakfast typically includes sausage (link and square), back bacon, black pudding, fried egg, tattie scone (potato bread), along with mushrooms, baked beans and a somewhat questionable fried tomato. But this Scottish breakfast changes from shop-to-shop with many including, or substituting, buttered toast, white pudding, Scottish fruit dumpling and, while traditionally haggis is not included in a Scottish Breakfast, it is more common these days in hotels and tourist cafes. It definitely works.
As above, Black pudding is a somewhat inseparable part of the Scottish breakfast, alongside white pudding although this is found less often. So black pudding is a savoury blood pudding mixing a blend of onions, pork fat, oatmeal and pigs blood (it’s mostly oatmeal). Then white pudding is similar again only it does not include the blood making it better for the squeamish. And while they are both better known as additions to Scottish breakfasts, they are also commonly battered and sold with chips at the local chip shops. And this is also where red pudding is better found, fried and battered in chippies, although it is more regional found in the eastern parts of Scotland.
“Ye wan a sausage link?”. “What’s a sausage link?” “a sausage link”. So there are parts of Scotland where your typical pork sausage is known as a “sausage link” and when asking simply for “a sausage” you would more likely get what is better known as a square sausage. Aka Lorne Sausage where it is said to be named after the Lorne region of Argyll. So the square sausage is traditionally prepared with pork and beef minced with coriander, grated nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. And again it is a common part of the Scottish breakfast along with a sausage link.
Scottish Smoked Salmon
A fancy alternative to the traditional Scottish fry up would be Scottish Smoked Salmon. Scotland is famous for its smoked salmon, a delicacy made by curing and drying salmon before hot smoking them in smokehouses. While smoked salmon is found pretty much worldwide these days, there are slight differences between Scottish smoked salmon and others. As traditionally Scottish smoked salmon uses Atlantic Salmon smoked using oak to give a drier and much smokier flavour to the salmon. It can be eaten pretty much any time of the day, often served as canopies, but they do make for the perfect breakfasts in Scotland including an alternative to ‘Eggs Benedict’ called ‘Eggs Royale’.
Scottish Smoked Haddock
Haddock not only is the fish of choice in Scottish chippies, but this North Atlantic fish is also commonly smoked in Scotland, which cames from a common preservation process before fridges and freezers came about. There are also two famous variations of smoked haddock in Scotland with Arbroath Smokies, a speciality from the small fishing town of Arbroath in Angus, and Finnan Haddie from north-east Scotland. The main difference between the two is that Arbroath Smokies are hot smoked and ready-to-eat while Finnan Haddie are cold smoked meaning they need to be cooked before being eaten. Smoked Haddock is also a main ingredient of Cullen Skink.
I remember first seeing Cullen Skink at the famous Green Welly Stop during a winter road trip in the Scottish Highlands and the thought of the traditional fish soup had me squeamish from the getgo. So it wasn’t until recently, after a Scotch or two, that I risked it as a starter and now it is by far my favourite Scottish soup. It is seriously good. Anyway, traditional Cullen Skink is a rich, creamy and filling fish soup made with potatoes, onions, butter, and smoked haddock, and toppings of parsley or chives. It is best served hot with buttered crusty bread and commonly comes as an appetizer. And the time I actually tried it was along the coasts of Kintyre and it was honestly the best seafood I’ve ever had.
Traditionally scotch eggs are a filling snack of soft boiled eggs layered with minced meat and a coating of batter made from flour, bread crumbs and spices. It’s also a snack I have always been put off by scotch as they tend to be bought chilled or at room temperature as a snack from chip shops, supermarkets or butchers. Which are otherwise hard to reheat given the egg would probably explode in the microwave. But made from scratch, and served hot, they really are seriously good food. And we did test this at home with runny yolks, using haggis as the minced meat surrounding, and a batter of Japanese tempura (pictured below right). And in Bangor even, proper Scotch Eggs were made famous at our local “Salty Dog” hotel when Sienna Miller raved about them to Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show .
The Scotch Pie, or Pie as they call them in Scotland, is a distinctive looking minced meat pie baked with a straight pie shell (also known as shell pie) with a top crust around 1cm below the rim to add things like mashed potato, gravy or baked beans. Although I’ve never seen anyone do this before. Traditionally Scotch Pies are made from lamb (mutton pies), but more these days they are more commonly minced beef with a spicy seasoning. To find them, the best place would be local bakeries or chip shops, where they are served both hot and cold, and the big brand name at most Scottish supermarkets is “Bells Scotch Pies “. But even in Scotland, they tend to compete with the likes of Melton Mowbray pies, and outside of Scotland, I have failed to find them at all. We need more Scotch Pies.
Stovies is pretty much the Scottish equivalent of “stew” where a stove is pretty much a dated word for the cooker or cooktop or hob or range, depending on where you come from. So stovies, at its most basic, is a stew of potatoes, lamb (or other meats), onions, and more than not carrot. Although recipes and ingredients do vary from region to region depending on the available meat, potato and various root veg, which are all just thrown together for slow cooking in a cooking pot. And it is, of course, a similar staple and may have influenced, Ulster and Irish stews. Anyway, below is my mum’s homebrew stovies/stew.
For centuries Scotch Broth has been the quintessential dish of Scotland, with references dating back to the 1600s, and it has crossed many borders as the recipe is used globally. And, as stovies would more or less be potato stew, Scotch Broth would be pretty much vegetable soup. And together Stovies and Scotch Broth would probably best showcase the good ol’ rustic way of Scottish cooking. Anyway, Scotch Broth is traditionally a rich and hearty soup made from barley, stewing meat (scrag ends?), and various root vegetables and pulses. Again it the ingredients are completely open for interpretation, and recipes will often change from kitchen-to-kitchen depending on the availability of locally sourced ingredients. Like our own homebrew below.
Before now I really never thought of rumbledethumps as Scottish cuisine. Because, in my house, it was more of a way to use up tatties and veg left over from the weekly Sunday dinner. By just mashing it all up and frying it in the pan. So, like its name, it’s a bit like a less sophisticated equivalent of England’s Bubble and Squeak, or the Irish Colcannon, and I’m near sure I’ve never seen it on a restaurant menu before. But this traditional Scottish dish comes more from the borders of Scotland where it’s served sometimes as a main dish or as an addition to the main meal. Like my smashed burger below.
I randomly stumbled across beef olives at my local butcher after a lifetime never hearing of them. Although they have apparently existed in Scotland since the 1600s. They also nothing to do with actual olives, and instead are thin beef steaks, wrapped around a savoury filling. Traditionally the stuffing would be a pork sausage meat but these days can vary including a haggis filling if you’re lucky. Traditionally they are braised, and so I gave this a go, although I’m guessing my cooking didn’t do them much justice. It is said to be best braised in a gravy.
Battered… Anything Really
Every food is apparently better when battered in Scotland, as the local chippies seem to go far above and beyond the traditional fish and chips and obvious chip shop staples elsewhere in the U.K. And there is a rumour that you can call in at any local chippie and just ask to just slap some batter onto anything and they’ll happily throw it into the deep fryer. But the more obvious would include chocolate bars, like the famous battered Mars Bar, and battered pizzas… and the list really is endless. Otherwise the standard menu of battered delights includes sausages, chicken, prawns (scampi), onion rings, mushrooms, and, of course, black, white, red pudding and haggis. Anyway, to batter food, just coat it with a thick egg batter and deep fry until beautiful, golden and delicious.
The Scottish Hoagie would be one of the newer addition to Scotland’s notoriously unhealthy cuisine, and I first came across a “Hogi” (it’s aka as a Hogi or Hoggy) on the menu of a local village chippie in the small fishing village of Tarbert (Loch Fyne Fish Bar). So I obviously ordered one but the chippie had run out of kebab meat and I was therefore on a desperate quest to find a hoagie and finally tracked it down along the west coast of Scotland where it originates in the Indian/Kebab shops of Ayr. Anyway, in short, the hoagie brings together two takeaway favourites; the donner kebab and a cheesy chip, and wraps them together in a massive pita or naan bread Flavour with sauce (chilli a favourite) and maybe add some salad for health. The hoagie is normally found side-by-side with the equally fat-filled “munchy boxes”.
I probably underestimate the soups of Scotland, because almost all the time I will be eating them reheated from a tin, as I will forever prefer something more exciting and meaty when it comes to appetizers and eating out. So Cock-a-Leekie soup is another popular Scottish which I guess is quite similar to Scotch Broth where it brings together a variation of barley, meat, veg and pulses. Only it is more specific in ingredients using chicken as the meat, and leeks in the veg, hence, cock-a-leekie soup. It is also considered to be the national soup of Scotland, it is traditionally eaten in a Burn’s Night supper, and there is oddly a vegetarian alternative using only vegetables.
Oatcakes are said to be the baguettes of Scotland, they are considered to be the Scottish national bread, and they are classified as a griddled flatbread made mainly out of oats (as expected). But I take them more as biscuits where the main difference between biscuits and cakes is that biscuits will go soft over time, while bread or cakes will go hard and stale over time (following a rather fascinating legal battle of Jaffa Cakes). Meaning oatcakes would be more like biscuits. Anyway, traditionally oatcakes were almost like pancakes and would have been served with various Scottish cuisine like stovies, for example. However, in modern times, oatcakes are eaten more as a snack, maybe topped with a tasty Orkney Cheddar Cheese, and a local chutney or preserve. The big brand name of oatcakes would be Nairns Oatcakes.
Porridge is often thought of as being a ‘Poor man’s food’, but it is no doubt a staple at every breakfast table, with traditions dating since way back to 600AD when porridge oats were first introduced to Scotland. It is also simple to make by cooking oats with milk and water (or both), before adding a taste of salt near the end of cooking, and maybe some optional sweetening with a bit of sugar, jam, fruit, or honey. Traditionally porridge is stirred with a wooden stick called a spurtle, stirring clockwise, with the right hand only, to ward off evil spirits. It is then served in a wooden bowl.
Clootie Dumpling is a bit of a festive dessert these days, similar to traditional Christmas pudding, and, in Scotland, they are pretty much interchangeable. And it is a dumpling dessert made from a spiced mix of beef suet, ground cinnamon, ginger, mixed spice, milk, eggs, sultanas, bread crumbs and golden syrup. However, the “clootie” part refers to the cloth that the dumpling is wrapped in for boiling and simmering for an hour or two before it is left to dry by a fire or in an oven. And while the Scots side of my family is relatively familiar with Clootie Dumpling, I have never quite found it myself (this blog is work-in-progress), and the best I can offer is traditional “Scottish Dumpling”. A fairly similar recipe found at local supermarkets (Bells again the big brand) and it is occasionally found fried as part of a traditional Scottish Breakfast.
At pretty much every hotel and guesthouse we stay in Scotland, there will always be a small packet of Scottish Shortbread along with the in-room tea and coffee. Walkers Shortbread being the popular choice with many of them. And it is a biscuit so common throughout the U.K. that I never really realised its origins of Scotland despite the common tartan packaging. Anyway, for those new to shortbread, they are light and buttery biscuits made from one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts plain wheat flour. Making the are rather sweet, sugary but also crumbly and a bit melt-in-your-mouth. They tend to come in three common shapes as well, including round biscuits, shortbread fingers, as well as petticoat tails. Although they pretty much taste the same regardless of shape. They’re also popular treats around Christmas and Hogmanay (New Year).
Many will be familiar with traditional sticks of rock, a popular branded souvenir from popular British seaside destinations, which are typically either peppermint or spearmint flavoured. They’re a bit like stick-shaped boiled sugar lollies, I guess, and are probably more familiar to childhood holidays and weekends at the seaside. Anyway, Edinburgh Rock is slightly different, made from cream of tartar, sugar, and edible food colouring/flavours with a common combination of “flavours” including peppermint, raspberry, vanilla and ginger. All a bit sickeningly sweet. And they are kind of out of favour these days found mainly in popular tourist spots or occasional retro sweet shops although you can buy these traditional Scottish sweets online with Rosses of Edinburgh.
Fudge / Tablet
Everyone knows what fudge is, right? If not, it’s a bit like toffee only softer and a bit like caramel only more solid. It’s also less sticky/chewy and more melt in your mouth than both. However, recipes are fairly similar where they all typically include sugar, condensed milk, and butter, only fudge is boiled only to a semi-hard state. It is also often perfected with additional flavourings like whisky, or vanilla extract, or rum and raisin… Before cut and handed on in cubes. Then there is Scottish tablet, which again is similar to fudge, only it is crystalized and crumbly, and while not as soft as fudge, it is not as hard as toffee. It’s semi-hard I guess.
I personally have both Scottish and Irish heritage, meaning whiskey is pretty much in my blood. And while I do prefer a smooth triple distilled Irish whiskey most of the time, I am also somewhat obsessed by the sexy peat-smoked single malt whiskys of Scotland’s coasts and islands. So much so, that we embarked on a pilgrimage to Islay, an island which is pretty much heaven for any whisky lover. But this adventure only wet my interest for further whisky tours, and what I really loved was just calling in at local pubs along the coastlines to sip on some local and exclusive distillery brews. And it’s an addictive experience in more way than one. Anyway, for those new to the delightfully distinct flavour of peated whiskys, this comes from the smoke of peat fires that are used to dry malted barley before the distillation of whisky.
Tennant’s Lager (1885) is by far the best-selling beer brand of Scotland of all time, and even in these Millenial days, it would be hard to find a normal bar not serving Tennants as pints on tap. But even in Northern Ireland it would be a common pub pint, and in my boozy teen years, it was a weekend staple when we called it 2p Tennants due to metallic taste after around 6 or more cans. But one of my favourite beers of anywhere right now would be Innis and Gunn, a craft beer from Edinburgh based brewers that can be fairly easily found in bottles, cans and as draught throughout Scotland. And while they have a fair range of ales on offer, their flagship beer, sold as “The Original”, is perfectly aged in bourbon casks and weighs in at a hefty 6.6% ABV.
“Made in Scotland from Girders”. While whisky is Scotland’s obvious national drink worldwide, Irn Bru would at least be a close second locally as the top-selling sugary soft drink in Scotland. And while there are a number of copycats of this oddly popular carbonated drink, the original Irn Bru by Robin Barr is by miles the country’s favourite. But there is a good chance that generations ahead will never quite appreciate the sweet sugary goodness of the original Irn Bru since the formula changed back in 2018 when it was ruined due to pressures of the U.K. sugar tax. Anway, Irn Bru is said to taste “orangey”, as in the colour, not the fruit. And some say bubble gum. Otherwise, it’s not easy to describe. Anyway, back to the girders. Irn Bru is not actually made from liquified girders, but there is 0.002 per cent ammonium ferric citrate (AFC) in the recipe meaning it does contain iron. I also remember chewy Irn Bru candy bars as a kid and I am now on a mission to find them.
Buckfast Tonic Wine is a delightful fortified wine synonymous with alcohol abuse, violence and just antisocial behaviour in Scotland. And while Buckfast, aka “Wreck the Hoose Juice”, originates from Devon in England where it was introduced by French Benedictine monks in Buckfast Abbey (my pilgrimage pictured below). Few folk in England actually drink it. But it is otherwise revered in Scotland, so much so that the Secretary of State for Scotland called for Buckfast to be banned due to neverending drunken shenanigans/violent felonies. And Supermarkets refuse to stock it in their shelves (check the local off-licenses). While Buckfast is obviously adored nationwide in Scotland, it is best found around the in the east of Glasgow, known as the “Buckie Triangle” between Airdrie, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld. Anyway, despite its loose French connection, Buckfast is made from unfermented grape juice that is fortified with ethanol. “Up yours”.