There are a ton of “food blogs” on the internet and I read quite a few of them (but by no means most of them – who has that time?!?). I find a lot of “foodies” (I don’t really like the term, much like I despise people on Chowhound acting like eating Sara Lee poundcake or Stouffer’s lasagna is a cardinal sin) plan vacations while also taking into consideration local foods. I mention this because I recently read someone’s “blog” (saying this feels like the equivalent of hearing your grandpa tell you something was ‘so phat’ or whatever the current slang equivalent is now) where she decided against going to Scotland because she wasn’t up for haggis. As we just vacationed in Scotland for a week in May, I take great exception to the generalization that the only thing Scotland is known for, food wise, is haggis.
T revels in his Scottish heritage. There are castle decorations, swords and weapons, and lots and lots of Scotch in our house. We held a Scottish dinner once and served haggis and vegetarian haggis with the requisite neeps and tatties (all from cans) and shortbread. T has steamed a defrosted haggis-in-a-bag, but it didn’t smell good, look good, or (I’m told) taste much like the canned ones. But, while I wouldn’t say we crave it, we do like the canned haggis. We also like scrapple, too.
When we went to Scotland, I was looking forward to the lamb. With all those sheep running around, I figured they must have some good lamb. I also thought we might get to taste some Highland beef. Those suckers are cute.
What did we find when we got there? Cock-a-leekie soup, bangers and mash, beans and toast, fried kippers, baked tomatoes and bacon, and white filter for takeaway (coffee with milk, to go). Did we find lamb? Yup. It was okay, but not mind-blowingly better than what I can buy at home. Did we find haggis? Absolutely! I don’t know if it’s true that they only put haggis on the menu for tourists, but I don’t think I saw anyone else eating it. We had it once at a little restaurant, where it was served in a cute porcelain dish with turnips and potatoes and it was good. We also learned that it was canned… I don’t think anyone makes haggis the “old fashioned” way anymore.
When we visited Stirling Castle, we ate at their restaurant/cafe (we did this often, and it was fun and a place to shelter from the cold rain) and I had a nice hot bowl of potato-something soup while T ordered haggis. We actually didn’t see haggis as often as you’d think. While the haggis wasn’t the best (it wasn’t bad, either, by haggis standards) the potato it sat upon was absolutely delicious! First, the thing was huge, even though it was a half order. Second, it was so creamy and tasty. Better than any potato I’ve ever had here. I looked for a baked potato like it for the rest of the trip and never found it. On the drive back to Edinburgh at the end of our vacation, we were close enough to Stirling that I almost wanted to stop there to eat so I could get another potato. That’s how good it was.
So, yes, we’ve covered that you can find haggis in Scotland. I wouldn’t say that it’s a food destination, but we enjoyed meals while all around us listening to other people complain about the bland and boring food. I guess if you go expecting boring food, that’s all you’ll find.
We ate a wonderful Indian meal while wandering around London. We had some okay fish and chips early one morning. My favorite not-healthy food were the Cornish pasties – meat filled yummy hand-held pockets of goodness. There was a stand in the train terminal (where everyone stands in a huddle staring at the great boards of train schedules) and another good one in the middle of Camden Market. I had beef and a lamb and mint one. If I could have tried all the flavors, I would have, believe me. We ate the traditional breakfasts at the B&Bs (no grumpy owners anywhere) and tried the fried kippers (very fishy), black pudding, fruit pudding, and decadent oatmeal with double cream. Even when we picked up sandwiches from the many Fresh or Eat or whatever type stores, they were good sandwiches and always a little different than what you’d find here.
The best meal we had? It was in Oban, a little fishing town on the west end of Scotland. It was cold and rainy and I was getting over a cold and also a little sad that the lamb wasn’t outstanding in Scotland. We were in search of seafood and wandered all over that little town, in the rain, either finding meh-sounding menus or really expensive prices. At the end of the pier, in what looked like a total tourist experience, was a bar with a restaurant upstairs. Up we went, off came the wet coats, and down we sat. Lucky us, we had made it in during the early bird specials. T had a salmon or halibut or other fish dish. I was going back and forth between a bowl of mussels or the seafood risotto with salmon, crab, clams, shrimp, and mussels. I ended up with the risotto but I wish I had gotten the mussels. The ones that were in my dish were so tender and tasty, not overcooked or huge and chewy. Soft and decadent. I was actually really happy with my decision until I saw someone order the bowl of mussels and had to watch as an enormous dish of the same lovely mussels went by with a good chunk of bread to mop of the juices. We had eaten at a French restaurant in Edinburgh (of all places) and the moules frites were wonderful. Then in Oban, I get this yummy dish where not a single piece of seafood was iffy? After than meal, I decided Scotland is known for their mussels. Maybe seafood in general, but definitely the mussels.
Back in Edinburgh, I ordered mussels again for dinner in a Scottish restaurant (as opposed to one that specialized in burgers or Italian) and I was still pleased with them. They weren’t as good as the ones in Oban, but still better than home. Since then, I haven’t been able to order mussels here. I’m afraid they will be the big, chewy ones I don’t like and I’ll just be that much more disappointed. Scotland has ruined mussels for me, who would have expected that?
We enjoyed our entire trip so much. We drove all along the northern and western coast, with a trip through Inverness (with Loch Ness) and saw lovely scenery, sheep, Highland cows (we even pet one), plenty of castles, and a Smoo cave. We went on our own schedule, changed our minds based on what we passed, and only got lost once getting out of Edinburgh.
If you ever have an opportunity to take a long trip and Scotland is a consideration, please don’t decide against it based on food. If I could find meals to make me happy, I think anyone can. If I was to go again, I’d save a meal for Stirling Castle and get an extra potato and eat as many pasties and mussels as I could possibly fit in each day. I’d pass on the lamb, eat more smoked Scottish salmon and trout, and keep Nairn’s oatcakes in the car for snacking. Also, if we ever see these BBQ Rib crisps again, I’m grabbing a bunch. They didn’t taste like the bbq chips here, they actually tasted like a bbq pork rib. How yummy is that? Oh, sticky toffee pudding with whipped cream? It was everything I hoped it would be and gave me strength to go back out into the rain for a walk home.