Whether you’re venturing to Scotland to attend an Open Championship or to take on its storied links courses, the adventures awaiting you won’t be confined to the golf course. While not generally regarded as a top destination for gastronomy tourists, the Scots eat well and so do their guests. Scottish cuisine is wide-ranging—that is, if you like your meat and veg.
At every meal, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy the bounty of Scotland’s farms, forests, and waters. And chances are the foods you enjoy will be fresh, if not sourced from a provisioner right down the lane. Scottish salmon and the country’s flavorful angus beef are in high demand the world over. And Scotland’s fish and chips are similarly lauded (depending on where you acquire them). You’ll find those items offered on almost every restaurant’s menu. But there’s also a world of more, shall we say, unique menu options—including many with equally unique names.
Here’s your guide to a few of the delicacies awaiting you in Caledonia. Be adventurous and try them all!
Full Scottish Breakfast
The Scots love a hearty breakfast and fueling up before you hit the links for the day is always a good idea. Order the “Full Scottish Breakfast” you’ll see listed on most breakfast menus and you will definitely leave the table full. Usually included in this old standby are: fried eggs, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, Lorne sausage, tattie (potato) scones, black pudding, and bacon. A word on these last two items… Black pudding is a kind of blood sausage usually made with beef or pork blood, some fat or suet, with a portion of oatmeal or barley groats thrown in for good measure; it’s not for the faint of heart. And the bacon in Scotland is more like thinly sliced ham than the strip bacon served in the U.S. But it’s just as salty and flavorful.
Not in the mood to eat five pounds of food first thing in the morning? Oat porridge may be just the ticket. It’s savory, not sweet, but with a little butter and some seasonal berries on the side it makes for a healthful breakfast.
Eating fish for breakfast isn’t common in America. But it is in Scotland. As the name implies, Arbroath smokies got their start in Arbroath in the 1800s. The traditional process involves salting the fish then grilling them over a hot fire. A half-dozen of these and you’ll be well fortified for your morning activities.
Simple and tasty, the Bacon Butty (also known as a bacon roll) consists of a buttered roll, bacon, and a dash of brown sauce. They’re served around the clock and many clubs have piles of them on hand for golfers to grab on their way to the first tee or at the turn.
The dish is more appetizing than the name! Cullen Skink is one of Scotland’s more popular menu items and is usually enjoyed at lunch or as a starter before dinner. It’s a creamy smoked haddock soup with potatoes and onions and ideal for chilly and/or rainy days (of which Scotland has its share).
Stovies (short for “stove tatties”) is a hearty potato casserole made with meat, onions, and a variety of other seasonal vegetables. With a side salad and some brown bread and butter, it’s a solid lunch that will stick to your ribs ’til suppertime.
More jokes have probably been told about haggis (and more noses turned up at it) than any other culinary creation. In days of yore, its ingredients were typically baked in a casing made from sheep’s stomach, but that’s usually not the case now. Those ingredients? Well, in restaurants that honor the traditional recipe they would include ground sheep’s heart, lungs, and liver; oatmeal; a little fat or suet; and a range of tasty spices. But most establishments make their haggis now with minced beef, pork, or mutton (or a mixture of these). Either way, you have to try haggis at least once and you’re likely to enjoy it—especially at a (Robbie) Burns Supper when they’re properly piping in the haggis to the accompaniment of bagpipes (and drams of whisky all around).
Neeps and Tatties
You can’t have haggis without neeps and tatties, but you can have neeps and tatties without haggis! These are mashed and roasted turnips and potatoes, spiced to perfection. If you see “Clapshot” on the menu, that’s neeps and tatties mixed and served together. Yummy!
Cock-a-Leekie is chicken soup for the Scottish soul. A favorite throughout the land, it traditionally includes chicken and chicken stock, rice or barley, leeks, and sometimes prunes. I’ve asked many people why the prunes but haven’t gotten an answer that makes sense yet. The sweetness they add is a welcome touch, though.
Scottish pies are small meat pies with buttery crust all around and minced meat inside—sometime mutton but more usually lamb or beef. One is seldom enough. Restaurants and pubs routinely compete with one another to see whose pie is best.
This traditional and jovially named dish hails from the Scottish Borders region. It’s a little like the English dish, Bubble and Squeak. It’s sometimes served as a side dish, but when meat is added to the usual potato, cabbage, and onion—with cheddar cheese melted on top—it becomes a meal unto itself.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
No Scottish meal is complete without dessert—and this one is a source of great Scottish pride. Sticky toffee pudding consists of a soft sponge cake made with dates and flavored with spices like clove that’s drowned in warm toffee sauce. Usually served with custard or vanilla ice cream, it is absolutely worth saving room for.
Deep-Fried Mars Bars
An oddity for sure, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Frying this chocolatey, nougaty candy bar in a sweet batter creates a molten mess that when served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream is a taste treat for the ages.
Should you happen to be in Scotland at Christmas or another holiday, you might be fortunate enough to spy cranachan on the menu. Long ago, it was served in celebration of raspberry harvest season, and today it’s still a delicious concoction of raspberries, oats, honey, whipped cream—with a sprinkle of whisky.
A clootie is a rag or piece of cloth, similar to the ones the grandmothers of Scotland would have boiled this spicy pudding in back in the day. It includes currants or other dried fruits, cinnamon, ginger, and golden syrup—topped off with custard or ice cream. No Christmas, Hogmany, or Burns Night celebration would be considered complete without a generous portion of clootie dumpling to finish it off.
What is your favorite food from Scotland?