Here are the 25 Scottish foods you’ll definitely want to try when you’re in Scotland…
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything travel related, which is mostly to do with the current situation. However, it now seems that 2020 is going to look like the year of the staycation, and that’s why I’ve turned my attention closer to home and on, namely, the cuisine of my home nation, Scotland. I’ve lived in Scotland for my whole life so I know I thing or two about Scottish food, from Edinburgh gin, Dundee marmalade, Scottish breakfasts and our famous national dish: haggis, neeps and tatties.
What foods are eaten in Scotland? Truth be told there’s a huge variety, which includes everything from hearty, nutritious meals we’ve been eating for centuries, such a porridge, to some less traditional Scottish food that isn’t quite so healthy – such as the famous deep-fried Mars Bar, which I’m pretty sure you’ve already have heard of. One thing for sure is that you certainly won’t go hungry in Scotland!
So, what do you need to know about Scottish food? Well, as I’ve mentioned it does have a bit of a bad reputation for being unhealthy – we’re often labelled as having a penchant for the deep-fried foods of this world, for example – but that’s probably a little unfair. Our fish is some of the freshest in the world, our porridge oats are known for being healthy and nutritious, and we also really know how to make simple ingredients shine – Scottish dishes such as stovies are a testament to that. Humble yet delicious is the name of the game for Scottish cuisine, although we also know how to be fancy too of course!
All in all, there’s a whole host of Scottish food and drink that’s awfy braw – that means really good – so without further ado, let’s go through my Scottish foods list. Apologies if it makes you really hungry!
What to eat in Scotland…
If you ask anyone what Scotland is most famous for they’re most likely to answer with kilts, bagpipes, tartan, funny accents, and quite possibly… haggis. Yes, out of all the Scottish foods, haggis is definitely the most famous – partially supported by the myth that the haggis is actually a real animal roaming around the depths of the highlands. It’s not, alas, although that doesn’t stop the tourist shops from stocking their shelves with fluffy haggis plushies! I’m all for it, though, why not? Anyway…
Haggis, neeps and tatties is Scotland’s most famous dish and it’s a pretty delicious one at that. Consisting of haggis, mashed potato and mashed turnip, otherwise known as swede, it’s a hearty meal but it’s a good one. We usually have it once a year – on Rabbie Burns night on January 25 – where the haggis is introduced alongside a recital of the legendary Burn’s poem ‘To a Haggis”. People sometimes get a bit freaked out about haggis because of the fact it’s made from a sheep’s stomach but it’s honestly really rather delicious – especially served with a creamy whisky sauce. Give it a try and see!
2) Irn Bru
You can keep your Coca Cola and your Pepsi, in Scotland it’s all about Irn Bru – the drink that’s so popular that it outsells Coco Cola in Scotland. It’s a bright orange, carbonated soft drink made from a secret recipe that’s been a closely guarded secret since 1901 – and it’s also cheekily known as Scotland’s other national drink. Irn Bru is also a renowned hangover cure, so if you go a little heavy on the whisky while you’re in Scotland (see below) make sure you’re stocked up with Irn Bru – you’ll be able to get it from any corner shop or supermarket while you’re here. Oh, and if you haven’t seen their twist on the Snowman as part of their Xmas ad campaign you haven’t lived!
3) Balmoral chicken
Balmoral chicken is another delicious dish that you’re likely to see on the menu of any bistro pub or high end restaurant in Scotland. It comprises of the rather delightful combination of chicken stuffed with haggis, wrapped in bacon or pancetta and doused in lashings of creamy whisky sauce. What could be better? It’s the one thing my partner can’t not have when it’s on the menu! You can have it on Robert Burns night as an alternative to haggis or on any special occasion you’re celebrating while in Scotland.
Consisting of corned beef, potatoes and onions, you wouldn’t necessarily expect something made from such humble ingredients to taste as good as it does. However, I’m pleased to tell you that stovies are epic; rich, filling and melt-in-the-mouth good. They get their name from the way they’re cooked and the fact that they’re stewed – in Scots stewing is known as ‘to stove’. My mother always makes them on New Year’s Day and they’re the perfect comfort food to eat on the sofa when you’re feeling a bit delicate after Hogmanay. My top tip is to add some brown sauce for an extra kick of deliciousness!
Onto Scotland’s national drink, which is of course whisky. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of whisky but that’s more to do with enjoying it a little too much one night as a teenager, which seems to have stayed with me ever since. What can I say, when we Scottish people have a drink we go hard! If you come to Scotland as a tourist then sampling some of the whisky is a rite of passage and there are many distillery tours around the country for you to visit. If you’re a whisky lover then get yourself in the mood by watching the Ken Loach comedy The Angel’s Share, which is all about the industry in Scotland.
The Scots are a nation renowned for their love of alcohol so it comes as no surprise that there are so many delicious gins in Scotland! Eden Mill gin is created in St Andrews and has such pretty bottles you probably want to keep them afterwards, you definitely want to try Glaswegin Gin (props to whoever came up with the name by the way), and make sure you carve out plenty of time to sample Edinburgh Gin liquor in a variety of flavours. One is simply not enough, because Edinburgh Gin liquor comes in a huge variety of flavours – everything from raspberry, strawberry and pink pepper, elderflower, and my personal favourite, rhubarb and ginger – so there really is something for all tastes. To be honest it’s so nice you don’t even have to like gin to enjoy it – trust me.
7) Cullen skink
What on earth is a Cullen skink? Well, Cullen skink is a fish soup that originates from the town of Cullen in Moray, which is on the northeast coast of Scotland. You might think a fish soup sounds a little dubious… and to be perfectly honest before I’d tried it I would be on the same page. However, I can reassure you that it is absolutely delicious. Similar to a chowder, traditional Cullen skink is a hearty soup made up of smoked haddock, onion, potato and butter – it’s creamy, salty and delicious. It’s also perfect in the depths of winter when you want to warm up after a hard day of exploring all day.
8) Scottish tablet
No, not that sort of tablet – I’m talking about tablet you can eat. If there was ever a food that’s so sweet it could possibly make all your teeth fall out it’s Scottish tablet, which is a little bit of rich, buttery goodness. Made up of sugar, condensed milk and butter it’s a little bit like fudge but with less of a chewy texture and more of a crumbly feel. That said, you still want it to be a little soft. At every job I’ve worked at there’s always been someone that makes tablet and it always goes down incredibly well! If you want to know what Scottish candy tastes like then tablet is it, so make sure you try it.
Traditional Scottish oatcakes are probably one of the most no-frills savoury biscuits around, but they can be pretty mighty when topped with the right thing. Kind of like a cracker or a biscuit, they’re made up primarily of oats and make the perfect base for both savoury or sweet toppings. Keep it simple with regular mature cheddar with chutney and a slather of butter or be fancy with cream cheese and smoked salmon. Honey or jam are also good!
Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert that you made not have heard of. It’s a little bit like a trifle and is made up of raspberries, double cream, toasted oats and honey layered in a glass – along with a wee dram of whisky for good measure. Originally a celebration of harvest it’s now a dessert that can be enjoyed all year round and why would you not, it’s that good. Roll it out on Burn’s Night, St Andrew’s Day, or whenever you fancy! Looking to try out some Scottish food recipes at home? Give it a go using this DIY tutorial…
11) Scottish salmon
If you’re eating fish in Scotland you can know that it’s going to be as fresh as fresh can be. Scottish salmon is Scotland’s biggest food exports and regularly tops the lists of the best salmon in the world. It’s also super healthy and is packed for of Omega-3, so if you want to take a break from some of the really heavy, stodgy dishes that seem to dominate the Scottish culinary sector (guilty) then get stuck into some fresh Scottish salmon. Like your seafood? You could also try our mussels, which are delicious!
12) Dundee cake
I’ve lived in the city of Dundee in Scotland for the past ten years and so I couldn’t not include Dundee cake in my list of Scottish foods. Dundee cake is a rich fruit cake that is recognisable by its distinctive topping of blanched almonds. Its roots are in the marmalade industry that Dundee was famous for; the city is known as the city of jute, jam and journalism due to its production of textile fibre jute, its comic industry (iconic children’s comic the Beano originated in Dundee) and the famous Keiller’s marmalade.
13) Dundee marmalade
OK, so let’s look at Dundee’s Keiller’s marmalade in a little more detail as it’s one of the products the city of Dundee is most famous for. The story is this: a ship docked in Dundee in the 18th century that was stocked with bitter Seville oranges, which were then discovered and bought by John Keiller. His wife transformed these oranges into marmalade and the industry was born. Unfortunately the Keiller’s factory is now closed but Dundee marmalade, made with Seville oranges, is still produced by McKays in the town of Arbroath. Dundee marmalade is so famous you even get a Dundee marmalade gin.
14) Tunnock’s teacake
Combining mallow, a biscuit base and smothered in chocolate, Tunnock’s teacakes are one of the best Scottish snacks around. They originated out of a small town called Uddingston in the south east of Glasgow in the 1950s and have been going strong ever since. We like them so much over here that you can even buy your own Tunnock’s teacake-inspired cushion, which is actually pretty cool. Tunnock’s also produce caramel wafers, caramel logs, and snowballs, which are up there in the biscuit world – it’s actually pretty hard to pick a favourite out of them all so make sure you sample all of them!
Porridge is such a great breakfast and so it’s no surprise that us Scots have been eating porridge for breakfast for centuries. Made from oats, porridge is healthy, filling, and pretty cheap too. You can add whatever toppings you feel like each morning – have it warm in the winter topped with honey and nuts or make overnight oats in the summer topped with fresh berries. I also like to add grated apple to my overnight oats for extra sweetness.
16) Scotch egg
A Scotch egg consists of chopped egg, surrounded by sausage meat, and coated in breadcrumbs. Just to level with you here: Scotch eggs aren’t actually Scottish. The ‘Scotch’ aspect of the name actually refers to the way they’re made – the process of mincing the meat to go around the egg is known as scotching. However, I’ve included them in the list because, Scottish or not, they’re pretty darned tasty and if you’re not from the UK you might want to sample them while you’re here.
A tin of shortie is something that would always have pride of place on the table on Hogmanay, but any time of the year is fine! With the first printed recipe originating in 1736, shortbread is made of three ingredients: one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts plain wheat flour. In Shetland, an island off the north east coast of Scotland, it’s traditional to bread a shortbread cake over the head a of a bride at the entrance to her new house.
18) Scotch pie (or peh)
Something of a Scottish delicacy, you definitely can’t come to Scotland and not try a Scotch pie. They were traditionally served a football matches and have become a delightfully portable fast food of choice for the Scots. My city of Dundee is known for its charming pronunciation of a pie as a “peh” so if you visit you know what to ask for! If you really want to impress the locals you might say “Geez a peh and an ingin ain ana” which translates as “Can I have a pie and an onion one too”.
19) Fish supper
A fish supper consists of deep-fried haddock in batter with a portion of chips, and is delicious! One of the most famous fish and chip shops in Britain is in the small fishing village of Anstruther in Fife, not too far from St Andrews. It’s called the Anstruther Fish Bar it’s legitimately one of the best places to eat in Scotland – they’ve won multiple awards and the queues out the door speak for themselves. You’ve not lived until you’ve sat on the seafront looking out onto the water while eating piping hot fish and chips straight out the paper. It’s definitely one to include as a must-visit when you’re in Scotland.
I also need to mention the culinary divide on what you add to your chippy – that’s your fish supper – in terms of condiments. What you add in terms of condiments varies from region to region; in Edinburgh it’s all about salt and sauce while in the rest of Scotland people prefer salt and vinegar on their fish supper. For me, I like a bit of everything! One last tip: if you’re having your fish and chips at home then definitely serve with a pot of tea, as there’s truly nothing better than a fish supper with tea.
20) Black pudding
Black pudding is another famous Scottish food, similarly to haggis, that may get a dubious reception from people who haven’t tried it before. That’s because yes, it does consist of blood along with cereal, herbs and spices. Leaving that aside, black pudding is a staple part of any fry up in Scotland and one that you’re likely to see on any traditional Scottish food menu as it’s so versatile; you can have it for breakfast in a roll in a greasy spoon cafe or enjoy it at an upmarket restaurant served alongside scallops – a heavenly combination. If you are brave enough to try it you might be pleasantly surprised!
21) Full Scottish breakfast
What is a typical breakfast in Scotland? Well, aside from porridge which I mentioned earlier it would most likely be a full Scottish breakfast. So ell, it’s pretty much the same as an English breakfast, just that little bit better. That’s the Scottish bias talking! In all seriousness, there isn’t much in it: a Scottish breakfast consists of eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes and a few things you might not come across before – of which tattie scone is one. Read on for more!
22) Tattie scone
Tattie means potato in Scotland and so what you have here is a potato scone. It’s not a scone that you would top with jam and clotted cream, however, it’s a flat, savoury pancake made from leftover mashed potatoes that you’d serve as part of a full Scottish breakfast. Apparently, they’re so popular in the city on Inverness in the north of Scotland they’re the second most ordered item on Deliveroo – good on ye, humble tattie scone.
23) Bacon butty
A mobile alternative to the full Scottish breakfast is the bacon butty, which constitutes a white roll filled with bacon and is heaven on a plate! Make sure you’ve got plenty of butter and tomato ketchup for the full experience. If you fancy a bit of variety you could also order Scottish square sausage on a roll, also known as Lorne sausage, which is equally tasty. It’s made up of minced meat and spices and is melt-in-the-mouth delicious. Try it and see!
24) Battered Mars Bar
In terms of weird Scottish foods that battered Mars Bar is definitely up there. A battered Mars Bar is exactly what it says it is: a Mars Bar deep fried in batter. The sheer unadulterated decadence of it all! Apparently, the battered Mars Bar originated out of a chippy (fish and chip shop) in the town of Stonehaven in the mid 90s and has become the stuff of legend ever since. Confession: as a Scot I’ve only had a battered Mars bar once in my lifetime and not even in Scotland – I tried it on a Spanish island when I was about 16. However, it made an impression, so I’d definitely recommend trying one here!
25) Mackies crisps
If you’re anything like me you like nothing more than munching your way through a bag of crisps or two, especially after a busy few hours of being a tourist. All that fresh Scottish air definitely makes you hungry, right? Swerve the mainstream brands and tuck into some Mackies crisps while you’re here. You could even have them on a sandwich, also fondly known as a ‘crisp piece’, which is a nice bit of Scottish slang for you. We also say things like jam piece and cheese piece. Don’t knock the crisp piece till you’ve tried it – many Scots swear by a good old fashioned crisp sandwich.