Rugged Scotland is known for its foreboding and eerie brown moors, stark mountains with a handsome stag perched proudly atop, roaring fires, grey stone buildings, misty harbors, and whisky. What deserves more attention is the region’s food.
The proud inhabitants of Scotland have rich culinary traditions which, to the uninitiated, may initially appear overly preoccupied with the lining of sheep stomach and the various gastronomic utilities of blood. Admittedly, the names of the dishes don’t sound too promising either, but the Scots certainly do deliver on flavor. There’s a beguiling array of waistline-enhancing comfort foods to be discovered, perfect for gobbling up when curled in front of a fire, whisky in hand.
These are the traditional Scottish dishes you need to try.
1. Haggis with neeps and tatties
No dish is more Scottish, yet it’s challenging to describe haggis in a truly appetizing way. It’s made with all the bits of a sheep, combined with spices and oats, boiled in the sheep’s stomach (though today, artificial casing is often used) and served as a crumbly pudding. You’ll either love it or hate it. It’s usually served alongside mashed neeps and tatties, which is how you’ll find turnips and potatoes referred to on any good Scottish pub menu.
The dish is eaten with reckless abandon by Scots on Burns Night, a huge celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns (of “Auld Lang Syne” fame) who loved haggis, and wrote a poem about it. Arcade Haggis and Whisky House in Edinburgh comes highly recommended by locals for its take on haggis, neeps, and tatties.
2. Cullen skink
Quell any preposterous images that spring to mind after reading the name of this dish. Cullen skink is a smoky Scottish version of creamy fish chowder that’s traditionally made with smoked haddock and potatoes. This hearty soup originates from the small fishing town of Cullen on the northeast coast of Scotland. Fabulously, there is an annual Cullen Skink World Championship, which in 2018 proclaimed Lily’s Kitchen Cafe in Cullen itself to have the finest.
3. Black pudding
The production of black pudding in Scotland is a tradition hundreds of years old. Usually, it’s a mix of oatmeal, pig’s blood (but sometimes blood from a sheep or cow), suet (lard), onion, and spices. Although hotly contested, many Scots claim that the black pudding from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis is the most delicious. Fortunately, Stornoway Black Pudding is immensely popular, so you won’t need to travel to the island to taste it. Any hotel will include black pudding in its traditional “fry up” breakfast, along with eggs, sausage, tomato, beans, and tattie scone.
4. Fish supper
Get yersel doon the chippy fer a fish supper (that’s Scottish for “go down to the local takeout shop to get fish and chips for dinner”). This ultimate comfort meal involves fish (often haddock) battered and deep-fried until crispy and served alongside deep-fried, fat French fries. The fries are to be consumed with salt, but depending on where you are in Scotland, perhaps also with vinegar or sauce. This meal is best washed down with a can of sugary Irn Bru, a vivid orange Scottish soda. The Bay Fish and Chips in Stonehaven on the east coast of Scotland has received much acclaim for its fish supper. For the traditional, queue alongside the locals at Merchant Chippy in Glasgow.
Traditionally eaten for breakfast, kedgeree is a spiced rice dish containing flaked fish (often smoked haddock), cream or butter, parsley, and hard-boiled egg. The Anglo-Indian dish is thought to have been popularized in Scotland in the Victorian era. Nowadays, perhaps because of its historical place on a rich Victorian breakfast spread, it tends to feature on the breakfast menus of upmarket hotels, such as The Balmoral in Edinburgh and Kinloch Lodge on the Isle of Skye.
Oats have been a staple crop in Scotland for generations, and feature heavily in many traditional dishes. Porridge is one such classic example and can be found on just about any breakfast menu in Scotland. While it was historically made with just oats, water, and salt, you’ll now discover multiple sweet and savory adaptations. A decadent modern favorite includes the addition of cream, sugar, and the ubiquitous cheeky wee dram of whisky. So integral is this dish to Scottish culture that the local tourism board has created the Porridge Grand Tour so that everyone can taste the best on offer in their locality.
Oats make another appearance in this dessert concoction, delectably layered alongside raspberries, honey, cream, and, of course, whisky. Reminiscent of England’s Eton Mess or perhaps a berry trifle, this variation is undeniably Scottish. Locals will tell you that Scottish raspberries are the best in the world when in season in June, which is, unsurprisingly, the best time to be eating cranachan. You’re likely to find it on many dessert menus, and Edinburgh’s Whiski Rooms is a great starting point.
8. Clootie dumpling
This dessert’s name is derived from the cooking method or boiling a dumpling inside a clootie, which is a piece of cloth or rag. Similar in taste to Christmas pudding, the clootie dumpling usually contains dried fruit, spices, and suet, and is served warm with a good dollop of custard or clotted cream. We highly recommend visiting Cairngorms National Park to work up an appetite by hiking or skiing, and then indulging in a slice of the Speyside Heather Centre’s famous clootie dumpling.