If you’re planning a vacation in Scotland, you’re in for an exciting culinary adventure. With the Atlantic on its doorstep and lochs at every turn, fresh mountain waters and fertile hills of green, Scotland is an ideal site for growing and breeding quality produce.
With a natural larder stretching from sea to land, it’s no surprise that Scots eat so well.
You may already have heard of Aberdeen Angus beef, Shetland salmon, or the pure water oysters and shellfish sourced from Loch Fyne. Everything here comes from surrounding nature, and the food is some of the best in the United Kingdom.
So there’s a lot more to Scotland’s cuisine than just haggis and potatoes (although these are staples loved by all who come here). Here are 17 of the traditional foods you have to try in Scotland.
Haggis is a classic dish that you have to try whilst staying in Scotland. It may not sound that appetizing after you ask the waiter what it’s made of, but the taste is deliciously comforting once you tuck in. This savory pudding contains sheep’s heart, liver and lungs and is minced together with onion, oatmeal, suet, and an array of spices. It’s traditionally encased in sheep’s stomach, then left to simmer in hot water or cooked in the oven. Of course, you have to eat this with neeps (swedes) and tatties (potatoes) if you want to dine like a true Scots.
Where to try it: There are plenty of places to try traditional haggis along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. For some Scottish whiskey to chase it down with, book a table at the Whiski Bar.
Cullen Skink is a thick Scottish soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, and it comes from the town of Cullen in Moray, on Scotland’s northeast coast. The most authentic Cullen Skink dishes will only use ‘finnan haddie’, which is a cold-smoked fish done with the traditional methods. This is the perfect meal to enjoy during the winter season (or when it’s raining outside). And because haddock is a mild fish, the taste isn’t overpowering for those who aren’t huge fans of seafood.
Where to try it: Where better to try Cullen Skink than in Cullen itself? Rockpool Café on The Square is a fantastic place to get a taste of this local specialty.
Pies are a British staple, and they can be served in a number of different ways. You can have them piping hot with mashed potatoes and gravy, with beans on the side, or on their own. The Scotch Pie is made with mutton and is strongly spiced with pepper, and recipes have been safely guarded for decades. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘football pie’ due to its popularity at football matches.
Where to try it: Crombies of Broughton Street in Edinburgh is one of the best places to pick up a traditional pie, recently winning the Diamond Award in the Scottish Craft Butchers Savory Pastry Products Awards 2018.
A simple yet satisfying winter warmer, made with potatoes, leeks, heavy cream and meat or vegetable broth. It’s a Scottish favorite, but it’s also a common dish across England and Wales. There are also different variations of the dish throughout Europe, but in Scotland it’s commonly served with a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.
Where to try it: If you’re looking for soup and sandwiches, try Naked Soup in Glasgow. They change their menu to feature different soup dishes regularly.
A traditional dish from the Scottish borders, with a rather peculiar name. Rumbledethumps is a tasty mish mash of potato, cabbage and onion, and it is sometimes compared to the English ‘bubble and squeak’. The making of this dish can be done from fresh, or by using leftovers from a roast dinner. Butter, salt and pepper are added to the sautéed mixture and it is usually served in a deep dish or a pie dish.
Where to try it: Makars Gourmet Mash Bar in Edinburgh is the only place to look for classic Rumbledethumps dishes.
For travelers with a sweet tooth, your quest for sugar doesn’t get any better than the traditional Scottish shortbread. It’s one of the most indulgent biscuits (or cookies) in the UK, made from rich butter and flour, compacted into hard, crumbly fingers with a good bite. In the comfort of your own home, you may enjoy shortbread with a cup of tea, or in a restaurant they can often be found served with ice cream. They make a great dessert or midday snack, and they sometimes come in different shapes depending on where they are sold.
Where to try it: There are so many great shortbread brands and variations in Scotland, but you can’t beat Maclean’s Highland Bakery when it comes to selection. Choose from chocolate chunk, honey and almond, butterscotch, chocolate and ginger, or the simple classic.
Porridge oats can be found in many countries, but it’s particularly popular in the UK and Scotland. Authentic Scottish porridge is traditionally eaten at the breakfast table, and it’s normally eaten throughout the winter season. Not only is a porridge a delicious way to start the day, but it’s healthy too. Packed full of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and with slow release to keep you energized when you’re sightseeing. There are some superstitions in Scotland that porridge should be made with a wooden spoon, and should always be stirred clockwise with your right hand to ward off the devil.
Where to try it: Breakfast cafes always serve up the best porridge in Scotland. If you’re in the Glencoe area, visit Glencoe Café in Ballachulish – there are plenty of porridge and cereal options here. Or for a specialist porridge and grains café, go to Brochan Café in Edinburgh.
Smoked salmon is a wonderful delicacy in Scotland, and it’s often served with cream cheese on traditional Scottish bannocks (oat cakes). Lemon juice, salt and pepper, and sometimes a dash of Worcestershire sauce is added to taste. If you prefer your salmon cooked, you’ll find no shortage of great fish restaurants both in the highlands and lowlands. And the closer to the sea, the better the fish.
Where to try it: Some of our favorite places to taste local salmon is The Fish People Café in Glasgow, River House in Inverness, and The Ship On The Shore in Edinburgh. We would also recommend the Oban ‘Smoked Salmon Experience’ for anyone who is interested in tours and tastings.
A classic dish for fish lovers, originating from the town of Arbroath in Angus. The Arbroath Smokie is made up of haddock (which has been smoked in the regional way) served with melted butter, lemon and chips or potatoes on the side. It’s a simple yet delicious meal, and the fish is still produced in small, independent smoke houses to this day.
Where to try it: The Old Brewhouse Restaurant & Bar by the Arbroath Harbor waterfront is known for its famous Arbroath Smokies.
When in Aberdeen, you’ve got to try the steak. This quality Scottish breed of small beef cattle is native to Aberdeenshire and is known for its finely marbled meat. This marbling means that the fat is evenly distributed, giving any cut the perfect flavor whilst cooking. Aberdeen Angus beef is tender and juicy, and is great in burgers and other meat dishes. But as many locals will agree, the best way to enjoy the meat is a simple steak. And where better to try Aberdeen Angus beef than in Aberdeen?
Where to try it: Book a table at No. 1 Bar & Grill on Queen’s Terrace, or for a late night bite go to Jack’s Steakhouse and Grill on Crown Terrace.
Scotch broth originated in Scotland, but today it is eaten worldwide (and can often be found in cans). It’s a thick savory soup with principle ingredients being barley, braising cuts of lamb or beef, root vegetables, and dried pulses. At the very end of cooking, leeks and cabbage are usually added in for texture and taste. Served with crusty bread on the side, this makes for an easy yet tasty winter meal. The distinguishing feature of Scotch broth is how filling it is, so it’s perfect if you’re hungry.
Where to try it: Scran and Scallie in Edinburgh is run by the same team behind famous Michelin star restaurant The Kitchin – and it serves some of the best Scotch broth around!
Pancakes have many variations around the globe, but the Scotch pancake actually originated from the scone. This style of pancake is much thicker than the ones found in neighboring England, and are essentially cakes cooked on a heated flat surface (or flatted down scones). Compared to American pancakes, the Scotch pancake is dense rather than fluffy due to a higher ratio of flour. Enjoy with fruit and syrup, or jam and clotted cream.
Where to try it: If you’re in St. Andrews, go to Bibi’s Café. If you’re in Edinburgh, go to The Haven. If you’re a vegan, go to The Herbivore Kitchen.
Not only are Loch Fyne oysters some of the finest oysters in the world, but many of them are farmed in a sustainable way too. Like in many countries, eating them the natural way is best according to chefs in Scotland. Or add a little lemon juice, vinegar seasoning or Tabasco sauce if you need a more complex flavor profile. In some fish restaurants, there may be other menu options, such as breaded oysters for those who prefer their seafood to be a little more cooked.
Where to try it: Dine out at Loch Fyne Seafood & Grill Restaurant to taste the freshest oysters in Edinburgh. Or for a classy, upscale evening, try the oyster bar and deli at Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd.
The Scottish Butter Tablet is a treat for sugar addicts, made with caster sugar, full fat milk, and butter. Very similar to fudge, but with a texture that’s more crumbly. It’s said to be sweeter than sugar itself, and offers a unique flavor, one that you would instantly recognize having tasted it before. You can often find it at specialist fudge makers and sweet shops, and it’s often bought as a vacation souvenir for friends and family back home.
Where to try it: You can pick some up at the Fudge House of Edinburgh, at Kimble’s Café and Chocolate Shop in Glasgow, The Whisky Shop in Inverness, and Burns Sweet Shop in St. Andrews.
Not exclusive to Scotland, but widely eaten across the UK, is the classic fish supper. This is a meal of battered fish (commonly haddock in Scotland) with chips. Of course, if you’re going to have a fish supper, it’s best from a traditional ‘chip shop’. But there are also many fish restaurants and cafes across the country offering this on their menus.
Where to try it: Oban Bay Fish Bar & Restaurant offers seated supper with a view, or for food on the go try The Waterfront Fish & Chip Shop on the Isle of Skye.
Black pudding is often compared to haggis, and is a breakfast favorite not only in Scotland but across England and Wales too. In Scotland, black pudding is usually served with a ‘Full Scottish’, a big breakfast consisting of bacon, sausages, eggs, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans (just like a Full English). Made from fresh pig’s blood, oatmeal, pork fat or beef suet, onions and spices, black pudding is rich and intense in flavor and texture.
Where to try it: Some of the best places to eat a Full Scottish include Edinburgh Larder Café, Braes in Dundee, and Coia’s Café in Glasgow.
Scotland’s reputation as a cheese-making nation is growing, with more than two dozen cheesemakers creating quality cheeses. Some of the best local cheeses to try include Caboc (Scotland’s oldest cheese), Arran Cheddar, Crowdie (made with sour milk), Morangie Brie, and Dunsyre Blue.
Where to try it: For a luxury cheeseboard, dine at The Marcliffe Hotel & Spa in Aberdeen or Inver Lodge Hotel & Chez Roux in Sutherland. For unbeatable cheese selection, try Pickles of Broughton Street in Edinburgh.
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