A new focus of culinary interest in Scotland is on local and seasonal foods. From meats and fish to fruits and vegetables, many restaurants are now hyper-focused on the bounty of their region. In the winter, look for Angus beef, venison, rabbit, and pigeon on menus; warmer months bring abundant langoustines, crab, halibut, and trout. The rotating array of (often organic) blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, apples, rhubarb, carrots, and potatoes offers choices so flavorful that they make any meal memorable. When in season, asparagus and green beans are tender but fresh enough that you can actually taste their snap. Scottish pies, puddings, and jams are also inspired by the land and time of year.
Superb Fish and Seafood
Some of the world's most prized fish and seafood live in and around Scotland. The rivers are home to trout, while the surrounding seas feature wild salmon, haddock, mackerel, herring (often served as cold-smoked kippers), langoustines (small lobsters with slender claws), scallops, mussels, oysters, and crabs.
Fish is prepared in a tantalizing variety of ways in Scotland, but smoked fish is the national specialty—so much so that the process of both hot and cold smoking has developed into a fine art. Scots eat smoked fish for breakfast and lunch, and as an appetizer with their evening meal. The fish is often brushed with cracked pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and accompanied by thin slices of hearty bread or oat crackers. Places like Arbroath as well as the isles of North Uist and Skye have won international praise for locally smoked fish.
Other specialties include fish-and-chips, the traditional Scottish fast food. The fish is either cod or haddock, battered and deep fried until it's crispy and golden. Another classic preparation is Cullen skink, a creamy fish stew thick with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions. It's perfect on cold winter nights as a tasty hot appetizer. Grilled, sautéed, or baked langoustines are also a tasty indulgence.
Tempting Baked Goods
The Scots love their cakes, biscuits, breads, and pies. There's always something sweet and most likely crumbly to indulge in, whether paired with tea for an afternoon treat, or enjoyed after a meal.
Local favorites range from conventional butter-based shortbreads to Border biscuits (chocolate, ginger, and hazelnut cookies dipped in chocolate or nuts), empire biscuits (two shortbread cookies with jam in between, glazed in white icing and topped with a bright red cherry), whisky cake, mince pies (small pies filled with brandy, stewed dried fruits, and nuts), and scones. Treacle tarts, gingerbread, butterscotch apple pie, and oatcakes (more a savory cracker than a sweet cake) are also popular as late morning or early afternoon snacks.
Not to be missed are the many treats named after their locations of origin: Balmoral tartlets (filled with cake crumbs, butter, cherries, and citrus peel), Dornoch creams (little buns bursting with raspberries and flavored with honey and Drambuie), Abernathy biscuits (cookies with extra sugar and caraway seeds), Islay loaves (sweet bread with raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar) and Dundee cakes (full of cherries, raisins, sherry, and spices).
Traditional Scottish Fare
Food in Scotland is steeped in history, and a rich story lies behind many traditional dishes. Once the food of peasants, haggis—a mixture of sheep's heart, lungs, and liver cooked with onions, oats, and spices, and then boiled in a sheep's stomach—has made a big comeback in more formal Scottish restaurants. If the dish's ingredients turn you off, there's often an equally flavorful vegetarian option. You'll find "neeps and tatties" alongside haggis; the three are inseparable. Neeps are yellow turnips, potatoes are the tatties, and both are boiled and then mashed.
Black pudding is another present-day delicacy (and former peasant food) that you can find just about everywhere, from the breakfast table to formal dining establishments. It's made from cooked sheep's or goat's blood that congeals and is mixed with ingredients such as oats, barley, potato, bread, and meat. Scots prefer it for breakfast with fried eggs, bacon, beans, square sausages, toast, and potato scones. These fried, triangular-shape scones have the consistency of a dense pancake and are an intimate part of the Scottish breakfast, aptly called a fry-up because—apart from the beans and toast—everything else on the plate is fried.
Whiskies and Real Ales
"Uisge beatha," translated from Scottish Gaelic, means "water of life," and in Scotland it most certainly is. Whisky helps weave together the country's essence, capturing the aromas of earth, water, and air in a single sip.
Whiskies differ greatly between single malts and blends. This has to do with the ingredients, specialized distillation processes, and type of oak cask. Whisky is made predominantly from malted barley that, in the case of blended whiskies, can be combined with grains and cereals like wheat or corn. Malts or single malts can come only from malted barley.
The five main whisky regions in Scotland produce distinctive tastes, though there are variations even within a region: the Lowlands (lighter in taste), Speyside (sweet with flower scents), the Highlands (fragrant, smooth, and smoky), Campbeltown (full-bodied and slightly salty), and Islay (strong peat flavor). Do sample these unique flavors; distillery tours are a good place to begin.
Real ales—naturally matured, cask-conditioned beer made from traditional ingredients—are making their mark in the United Kingdom. These ales are not, at present, as popular as whisky but are quickly making their mark on the Scottish beverage scene. Good brews to try include Arran Blonde (Arran Brewery), Dark Island (Orkney Brewery), Duechars (Caledonian Brewery) and Red Cuillin (Skye Brewery).
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