What would a visit to Mexico be without tequila and tortillas? Or France without wine and frog’s legs? Even Italy without pasta and sambucca? Every country has its own special fare that has often existed longer than the nation itself and one of the great joys of travel is discovering those delicacies.
So, as a visitor from the United States, what are some of the tasty and historical offerings of Scotland: a land surrounded by sea with an abundance of fresh seafood, gorgeous Highland cows, and well, of course, plenty of Scotch?
I know that when I moved here I had hordes of deep fried Mars Bars swirling around in the clouds above my head. Thankfully, for my waistline that is, I haven’t actually stepped over the threshold of a place that sells them. I was also stunned to find out that most Scots don’t actually drink whisky – although I have witnessed quite a few pints of Tennent’s lager being downed. So, I decided to embark upon a ‘tradition inquisition’, trying to understand what indeed makes food and drink distinctly Scottish, and most importantly how foreigners and Scots alike can truly experience Scottish culture: through their tastes and their tummies.
First stop, a German science professor who moved with his young family to Glasgow a couple years ago. Like me, his pre-conceived notions of Scotland also included deep fried Mars Bars, but besides an initial encounter with some deep fried toast, he was astounded by the abundance of fresh food and fabulous cultural options available to him.
A favourite haunt is The Shish Mahal (60-68 Park Road, Glasgow, G4 9JH), which claim to have invented chicken tikka masala. It would be remiss of us when exploring Scottish food to forget the powerful Indian influence. Other Indian restaurants such as Mother India (28 Westminster Terrace, Glasgow, G3 7RU), with the best butter chicken around, are highly popular among knowledgeable Glaswegians.
My next stop was with Vinny, a young mathematics doctoral student from Gloucestershire, living in Glasgow who thought everything in Scotland was deep fat fried. While he may have gained a couple of kilos while living here, his taste buds have exploded and he suggests that you head on over to MacCallum’s of Troon “Wee Fry” (159 Milngavie Road, Bearsden, G61 3DY) to try the best battered fish and chips around.
Interestingly, Vinny wouldn’t touch a whisky, but one of this favorite haunts in Glasgow is the Ben Nevis whisky bar (1147 Argyle Street, Glasgow, G3 8TB), where a rag-tag group of local musicians play live music, paid simply with the beer they drink.
For a luscious burger (yes, you can get black pudding on it), slip on up to the bar at Chinaski’s (239 North Road, Glasgow, G3 7DL), a fabulous pub with mile-high burgers and a great outdoor beer garden.
When in Edinburgh, our resident expert Jessica, a 25-year old North-west American postgraduate student in literature at the University of Edinburgh, says to head on over to Love and Crumbs (155 West Port, Edinburgh, EH3 9DP); a cute little breakfast stop off the beaten track from the castle. Some of her favorites are the violet and bramble cake, the custard cream cake, and the best scones with clotted cream around.
For a nice night out in Edinburgh, try the Newsroom (5-11 Leith Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3AT), a burger and cocktail bar with ‘out of this world delicious’ drinks. Ask for the toasted marshmallow bourbon bottle – you’ll feel like you’re at a campfire telling ghost stories about conquering Highland warriors.
For a bit of exploration, I thought we should take a gander at a couple of restaurants up north, and speaking of up north, who better than Andrew Fairlie, the proprietor of Scotland’s only two-star Michelin restaurant (working on his 3rd) at the Gleneagles Hotel, to give us some idea of what Scottish cuisine genuinely means. After exploring the rest of the world for 20 years he returned to the country of his birth to create his own namesake restaurant. Why? Well, “the restaurants [in London] were using Scottish produce and even in France the chefs were using Scottish shellfish with Scottish produce all over the Parisienne markets. I knew that Perthshire, where I grew up, was rich with the greatest produce in the world. “
So, a couple questions later, I think he gave us a pretty great view of the best way to experience Scotland. If you were to serve a visitor in Scotland one meal that was emblematic of the best of Scottish food, what would you cook for them?
Andrew: A starter of scallops, lobster and langoustine – unrivalled anywhere else in the world. Scottish roast grouse – unique in this world. Red Berries (strawberries and raspberries) – in season, it is the best fruit ever.
I asked Andrew if he had one day to take a visiting friend around Scotland where would you go and what would you eat? “I’d take them for breakfast at this little place in Glasgow called Café Gandolfi; proper homemade sausage, proper black pudding, and great scrambled eggs. For lunch, The Three Chimneys on (the Isle of) Skye. They only cook what the fishermen bring in and there is no place more beautiful for lunchtime in the summer. Dinner; Chez moi…
“And what’s the story about the Deep Fried Mars Bar? “I have never had a deep fried Mars Bar and I have never seen anyone eating one”. To Haggis or Not To Haggis? “If you left without trying haggis you would regret it. And Irn Bru is… “the best hangover cure ever invented.”
From speaking to every one of these visitors and locals alike, it is clear that the warmth and hospitality of the Scottish people is reflected in their food. Whether it’s an Abroath Smokie (haddock), Aberdeen Angus steak, melt in your mouth Tablet, or the Cranachan trifle you must taste; all this hearty food is unique to and unparalleled in Scotland. It is a country of truly fantastic, simple food. Please enjoy exploring it (and make sure you try haggis along the way).