Scottish Cuisine A Foreigner’s Impressions

Plain meat, tatties and two veg. That was my first impression of Scottish food. Almost twenty years later my first impressions haven’t changed much, although they have embraced a few culinary delicacies that only the Scottish can produce with such talent.

When talking about Scottish cuisine, the first idea that comes to the mind of most foreigners is that horrid mixture of animals’ insides cooked in a sheep’s stomach… iagh! I must admit that before arriving to Scotland I had never heard of Haggis, a meal which now I adore when it is properly cooked and accompanied with fluffy neeps and tatties and washed down with the best malt whisky only found in Scotland.

I grew up in South America fed with spicy pulses, chicken, fish and rice. Yes, in Peru we had rice with every single meal. It is strange that the country where the potato originates does not have potatoes in its main meal. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about the whole of Peru, but rather Lima, where us snobby Limeños do not consume potatoes very often, in fact, we leave the potatoes for the natives and the poor who can not afford other foods.

Millionaire's Shortbread

Also called "Caramel shortbread," the confection consists of three layers; a shortbread biscuit base, a caramel filling and a milk chocolate topping.
Also called "Caramel shortbread," the confection consists of three layers; a shortbread biscuit base, a caramel filling and a milk chocolate topping. | Source

My first year in Scotland, 1994

My first impressions of scotland
My first impressions of scotland | Source

Tatties Everywhere

If I mentioned the situation of the humble potato in Lima it is only to try to make you understand my surprise when I arrived in Scotland and everyone had tatties with every meal. There was no rice or freshly baked bread to be seen at any meal! My first impression –I was very young then- was that the Scottish people were very poor because they could not afford other foods like rice, freshly baked bread and fancy sauces and spices. To my idea of how poor the Scottish were, was to be added their custom of drinking tea with a drop of milk. In Peru only the very poor, those who cannot afford a glass of milk, drink a little drop of milk in their tea; it is the only way to make a ½ pint of milk last for a big family. For the rest of us who could afford a better diet, we would always drink a big cup of milk with a drop of tea or coffee for flavour.


I was very puzzled at how such a developed country could be so poorly fed in comparison to the third world country where I grew up. It took me a long time to understand the Scottish ways, a long time to learn to like their food. The first things I liked were their puddings and cakes. In comparison, my Peruvian cakes and desserts were dry and very simple. Another good surprise was the Whisky, a drink that before I could never have because it was always too rough on the throat. In Scotland, the whisky was divine, so smooth, full of body and taste that I never tired myself of trying new makes.

Things I missed from South America.


Apart from my daily ration of rice the things I missed the most when I moved to Scotland were the freshly baked bread every morning, the juicy exotic fruits during the summer -mangoes, papayas, pineapples, passion fruits, aguajes-  the hot peppers and the variety of foods and cooking styles available.

The Foods That I Learnt To Like In Scotland

Among the many foods that I learnt to like in Scotland and now I often crave are: The haggis, the Scottish steak pie, fish and chips, oats, smoked salmon, fresh salmon and trout. And of course who couldn’t embrace the delicious shortbread, millionaire’s shortbread, éclairs from Mathieson’s, and vanilla slices. I shouldn’t forget to mention my favourite desserts, a cranachan and the atholl brose.


Haggis

Haggis an tatties
Haggis an tatties | Source

Fish And Chips

Fish and chips
Fish and chips | Source

Scottish foods that I will never like

Some of these foods are British and not only Scottish but as they are largely eaten in Scotland I will mention them here. Among my food phobias are the stinky Marmite and Bovril, the aberration called “brown sauce” made with everything found under the sun including the maker’s soaked dirty socks for added colour. Those cheap tins of mushy peas and baked beans. Christmas pudding and trifle. And I’ll better stop here or my list is in danger of never finishing and offending those Scottish people who I love and respect so much for their brave history and their friendly manners.

Atholl Brose

Atholl Brose
Atholl Brose | Source

The Atholl Brose


This is a very different recipe from the one I am used to preparing with whole cream, but as it was made by the Atholl family I am including it here. The recipe below was published by the Atholl family and drunk by Queen Victoria when she visited Blair Atholl in 1844.

To make a quart, take four dessert spoonfuls of runny honey and four sherry glassfuls of prepared oatmeal; stir these well together and put in a quarter bottle, fill up with whisky; shake well before serving.

To prepare the oatmeal, put in into a basin and mix it with cold water to the consistency of a thick paste. Leave for about half an hour, pass though a fine strainer, pressing with the back of a wooden spoon so as to leave the oatmeal as dry as possible.

Discard the meal and use the creamy liquor for the brose.

Some of the wonderful baked goods to eat on visit to the Small Talk Tea Room on Perth, Perthshire.

Why Scottish Food Is The Way It Is?


  1. Rationing
  2. Calvinistic Morality, and
  3. The Weather


According to my mother in law, during war times under severe rationing which lasted for more than 13 years, The Scots learnt to eat simple. They had to eat whatever they could harvest from their gardens or get from their war bonuses. Even tea at those times was a luxury, and it was then that they learnt to do without many things. Food was fodder, not fun. Many years later, although the wars are over, the Scots have remained with a siege-mentality more in tune with war times than with the relaxed appreciation of the pleasures of the table.


Another excuse to the lack of gastronomic richness and appreciation found in Scotland and most of the UK is a strict Calvinistic morality in the late half of the 20th century. In England it was Cromwell and the Puritans who put an end to feasting while in Scotland it was the Protestant church and John Knox who regarded good drinking and eating as sinful.


Personally, after living in Scotland and other European countries for a few years, I am of the opinion, that no religion or war could stop a good gastronomic feast. I prefer to think that it is the weather that heavily influences the Scottish gastronomy.

Whether in other countries where eating and drinking are highly regarded -I am thinking Italy, Spain and France- the lack of general gastronomic interest in Scotland could be linked to their weather. Warmer Mediterranean countries have gentler weather which allows them to grow a wider variety of crops. The Northern situation of Scotland has never made it a great agricultural country where traditionally the main crops have been oats and barley. Also warmer weathers are more inviting to the epicurean pleasures of drinking and eating. Scotland, on the other hand, has developed a traditional cooking style more appropriate to long cold winters with dishes based on warming broths, sustaining stews and hot filling puddings.

The Future Of Scottish Cuisine Losing Their Gastronomic Tradition...

In the past few years, there has been an opening for new cuisines, for new flavours. However, a hectic lifestyle and the use of processed and ready made foods contributes to the fact that people are not gastronomically educated and consequently they will lose whatever little gastronomic tradition the Scottish had. I think that is a great loss because Scotland has delicious fresh produces like their beef, berries, fish and many other products that are best when eaten fresh. It is true that there are great Scottish cooks and that you can find exquisite Scottish restaurants with Scottish menus, but the prices are extremely high and not affordable for the ordinary Scot who have to rely on tins and processed foods for their daily meals.

Scottish Food in Edinburgh with Chef Neil Forbes cooking Roasted Lamb served with roots

© 2010 Wendy Iturrizaga

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Comments 21 comments

alexandriaruthk profile image

alexandriaruthk 6 years ago from US

nice tour on the foods that Scot pople like, and you look good there Mam, thank you as I have never known about this before!


ralwus 6 years ago

Well you are a well rounded woman now. I think maybe Haggis could be cooked in a ship's stomach, but I really think you meant it is prepared in a sheep's stomach. Typo! LOL We can't get real Haggis in the states as it is illegal, the stomach that is. USDA did that for our best interest in good health. You are quite right on the whiskey and shortbread, love it.


AARON99 6 years ago

A very nice hub indeed. You have given an entire overview about this topic from every nook and corner. Well done. All the very best.


Wanderlust profile image

Wanderlust 6 years ago from New York City

Scottish fish and shellfish is absolutely delicious and obviously different from the south of Europe. Prawns, lobster, mussels, oysters, crab, langoustine and scallops are to die for. Scottish smoked salmon is one of the best. And of course Whisky - you've got it right!


CaribeM profile image

CaribeM 6 years ago

Very good hub indeed... extremely honest, yet very respectful and didactic.

Nothing like a nicely done ceviche! ; )


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Glad you learned to like haggis, Princessa, I never was able to make that leap of faith when I visited Scotland. But I must admit the countlry is extremely beautiful and the Scottish people extremely warm to aliens - I mean foreigners.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

I really liked this hub as you were able to write from personal experience and having lived in a number of countries you were able to make comparisons that made this hub very interesting. I felt I learned more about Scotland because of your personal experience, so thanks for the tour.


H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

It is a good hub. I liked it. Those who have anything plenty, they don’t like it. Where potatoes are in plenty, people don’t it. People will like something which is scarcely available.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

First I love the photo of you with the two handsome Scotsmen! And Scottish shortbread - the best. I've had the pleasure of traveling through Scotland with a cousin and when we really didn't know what to eat - we went to an Italian restaurant in Edinburgh - and filled up. Maybe not traditional but it was super.

Those shortbread cookies are sold all over NYC - and they are great!

Great hub! Thank you!


northweststarr profile image

northweststarr 6 years ago from Washington State

Have to admit, I've never thought of Scottish food as cuisine before and I've actually had haggis. I'm a good bit Scotch-Irish and love to find hubs that help me learn about my heritage!


Kendall H. profile image

Kendall H. 6 years ago from Northern CA

I loved reading this! I tried haggis my first trip over and loved it, which was probably due to the excellent Islay single Malt Scotch that was paired with it. :) Not to mention the shortbread for dessert!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Scottish people are supposed to also eat fried Mars Bars. This is a chocolate bar which is then deep fried. Hello diabetes.

Great hub but I love tinned beans and mushy peas lol. I do like lot's of other food also thouugh


elayne001 profile image

elayne001 6 years ago from Rocky Mountains

Very enjoyable hub. I loved my visit to Scotland and I especially enjoyed their custards and yogurts. We also had fish and chips in Edinburgh and they served large portions which were quite yummy. I love eating mutton, since my grandparents raised sheep. I tried Haggis while in Scotland, but the texture put me off. Some of my ancestors are from Scotland, so I was very happy to have the chance to see the beautiful country of Scotland and taste some of their foods.


Princessa profile image

Princessa 6 years ago from France Author

alexandriaruthk: That was so long ago, I was amazed to find that photo!

ralwus: LOL, typo fixed, thanks for the heads up! Did you know that there are vegetarian haggis cooked in loaf tins and baked?

AARON99: Thank you, I just wanted to share my experience.

Wanderlust: You are right, that is why I think that it is a shame that the great majority of Scots do not eat all that fish and seafood.

CaribeM profile image

CaribeM: I tried to be honest and respectful at the same time. There are lots of things from the Scottish cuisine that I don't like but there are others that I do.

drbj: LOL actually, I have the "policy" of trying something to see if I like it or not before I ask what it is. It is risky -I've tried some weird things- but it is exciting not to know what you are eating, trying to guess the flavours and ingredients from each mouthful.

Pamela99: You are welcome, this was my humble opinion on Scottish food.

H P Roychoudhury: That is true in some places. I have found that in France people are more respectful of their environment and they tend to eat seasonally and according to what they produce locally. That is why I find French food so interesting and tasty.

BkCreative: I always found men in kilts incredibly sexy ;-)

northweststarr: I think that Scottish cuisine is very underrated. There is a long tradition of Scottish dishes mainly influenced by the French in the past and by the Italians and Indo-Pakistanis in recent years. It would be great to see the Scots learn to appreciate at school their culinary past just like the French do in here from a very early age.

Kendall H: That sounds delicious, you are making my tummy rumble...

Ethel: I've tried those, bizarre, but I had to try, they used to cook those in my local "fish & chips" shop, they were very popular. Personally, like many other deep fried foods -haggis, black pudding and even ice cream bars- I found them horrible. The only deep fried meal that makes my mouth water is a fish supper!

elayne001: Maybe you should try again the haggis. I've tried several times and it is good only when it is properly done, otherwise it can be rather off putting. I am glad you enjoyed your trip to Scotland :)

elayne001:


kimberlyslyrics 6 years ago

how cool is this, thank you

kimberly


Princessa profile image

Princessa 6 years ago from France Author

Kimberly! so happy to see you back :)


Angela Harris profile image

Angela Harris 6 years ago from Around the USA

Very interesting hub. I hope to visit Scotland someday. I'm not sure I'll be brave enough to try haggis, though!


WriteAngled profile image

WriteAngled 6 years ago from Treorci, Cymru

Some of the best food I have ever eaten was in Scotland. I had some wonderful restaurant meals. The most memorable was the Olive Tree in Oban with an awesome fish in pernod dish followed by divine cranachan. Shopping at specialty food shops introduced me to a smoked soft cheese wrapped in oatmeal which was perfect when spread on oatcakes. The Loch Fyne Smokery has the best smoked trout I have ever found. Then I discovered a winery that makes delicious wine from fruits, included a dry and aromatic raspberry and a sparkling wine from oak leaves and elderflowers. As for whisky, my favourite is the Glenmorangie whisky that is matured in port barrels.


Princessa profile image

Princessa 6 years ago from France Author

Angela: You cannot visit Scotland and not try the haggis :-) Honestly, it sounds bad, but it is really tasty. I wouldn't miss it!

WriteAngled: Oh my, you made me really hungry now. I am taking note of those addresses for the next time I visit Scotland. Or maybe I should just follow you, it looks like you managed to find the best places over there. I love cranachan but I haven't tried the smoked cheese. I am a cheese fan, so I'll be looking for that!

I've tried the raspberry wine, but it was not really my taste. Glenmorangie, on the other hand, is heavenly!


WriteAngled profile image

WriteAngled 6 years ago from Treorci, Cymru

Found it: Lochaber Smoked Cheese

http://www.smokedproduce.co.uk/shop/product.asp?s=...

"Winner of the coveted award for 'Best International Cheese In France', Lochaber Smoked Cheese is regarded as one of the most desirable of all smoked cheeses yet created."

Disclaimer: I have no financial or other relationship with the producer. I'm just a fan :)


michael ely profile image

michael ely 5 years ago from Scotland

Hi Princessa, Being Scottish this was a great Hub to discover and also to read the comments and see what food has been well liked and other food that hasn't been liked too much.

Great stuff.

Michael.

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