Trying Scottish Food in Edinburgh

“Deep Fried Marsbars, they say you have to try it to clog your arteries but at least you will die happy.”

It seems like Scottish food gets a bad rep. Well, to be fair, cuisine from all over the British isles (England included) gets a bad rep. But as I discussed in a previous posts with English food; Scottish food, likewise, does not deserve the boring, bland reputation it is surrounded with.

How can it, when it is blessed with some of the most amazing produce available?

All cuisines that emerge from a culture thrive on the natural produce of the area, Scottish cuisine is no different. Amazing seafood from the coasts all around the country, wonderful game from all over prepared with the most important culinary mantra – use everything, waste nothing, creative use of roots and staples.

It’s a country that thrives on Irn Bru more than Coca Cola, gets drunk on Buckfast & gin, prepares some the best whiskey in the world and is homeland for everyone’s favourite kitchen Demon, Gordon Ramsay. I had to try as much traditional Scottish food I find and stuff into my stomach.

Haggis at White Hart Inn

If I had a cent for every time someone not Scottish told me to try Haggis, when they found out I was visiting Scotland, I’d be able to buy myself a bloody good lunch. I didn’t get any money, but I sure got my haggis. Haggis is a savoury pudding made of minced sheeps pluck (which is a nicer sounding term for heart, liver and lungs) mixed with onions, oats, raw fat (called suet), some stock and flavoured with Scottish spices (i.e. salt and pepper). The whole mixture is mixed and traditionally stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach and cooked, although artificial casing is used these days.

There are academic discussions on the origins of Haggis, but none are as exciting as the folklore that surrounds Haggis. Legend has it that when the men went hunting, the womenfolk would prepare food from whatever was available and store them in sheep’s stomach to serve as rations. Since these were tribes, the chief and the more high ranking individuals would have acccess to the meat, while the average person would be allowed to take the innards and offal. As such the meat that was available were the off cuts from the hunt. If you are American though, the Scots will have you know that Haggis is really a unique Scottish animal, the wild haggis. Apparently more than a third of American tourists buy it.

A classic Haggis is usually served up with Neeps (yellow turnip or rutabaga) and Tatties (mashed potatoes). And drunk with either a glass of Scoth Whiskey or some amazing local beer.

It might not sound like much, but haggis is quite a glorious, rich, slightly gamey savouriness. The combination of oats, meats and onion mixed together gives every bite a mixture of textures, the bite from the oats, a little crunch from the onions and the softness of the chopped innards. In fact the only thing that would make Haggis ‘disturbing’ is that items used  Then again I enjoy, and come from a culture that enjoys, innards (and here), offal and all those amazing parts of an animal.

You can get Haggis in a lot of parts of the Edinburgh Old Town – it is still a popular tourist site – but I needed to get a haggis somewhere special and they don’t come more special than White Hart Inn. Located at the Grassmarket, White Hart Inn goes back to 1516 and was once the favourite drinking spot of William Wordsworth, Robert Burns (Scotlands Literary Giant) and Oliver Cromwell.

White Hart Inn does not just do a very good Haggis, Haggis is also the classic dish eaten on Burns Night all thanks to the love poem Burns wrote about Haggis.


Porridge and Black Pudding at The Edinburgh Larder

Haggis is the national dish of the Scottish but it is not a staple dish, at the end of the day, even though offal and sheep’s pluck are considered cheap off cuts today, they weren’t widely available even in the medieval era and now that people can afford other cuts of meat they tend to go for those other cuts.

So I turned to a more common staple for breakfast, porridge, and it seemed like one of the best places in the Old Town to have a bowl of porridge was The Edinburgh Larder.

Porridge in East Asia and porridge in Europe have very different connotations, while the former is a savoury dish made from rice, the latter is usually a sweet dish made from oats. While porridge in East Asia can be eaten anytime of the day, porridge in Scotland is usually eaten for breakfast. Scottish porridge is simple to make, requiring oats, milk/water and a pinch of salt. The oats are boiled  and stirred in the milk until a mushy cereal forms and then served, usually with some syrup and nuts.

As a breakfast, its actually a really brilliant superfood because it is made of oats. Superfoods are high in nutrients and with potential health benefits. The concept of superfoods is a recent food trend, but Scottish porridge is here to stay.

To deceivingly small bowl of porridge was very filling, but coming from a culture where porridge is less filling (since it is a rice based dish instead) I made a second order of a very Scottish dish, blood pudding sandwich or as its called in Scotland, black pudding.

Black pudding is a sausage like dish emerging from the British and Irish Isles, it is made by mashing up pork fat/beef suet, oatmeal, and oat cernels (groats) these are mixed together with pig blood, stuffed in casing and cooked. British black pudding is unique because of the high concentration of oat and herbs in the dish. Blood pudding was created in earlier times when nothing from an animal (not even the blood) should go to waste.

The waiter looked on as I completed my Black Pudding sandwich, “did you like the black pudding mate?”

“Yes I did.”

“Ah, uhkay, I esk because more people usually cun’t finish it. Do ya know what its made of’?”

“Blood and a sausage right? I do enjoy it I had something similar in Estonia.”

“Yea? Wow that’s amazin, most tourist’s either cun’t finish it, or get sick when they heart wut’s innit.”

Maybe I have a weird palate, but its taste belied its dark look. When it comes to food – looks are overrated.


Scotch/Steak Pie at Castle Rock Chip Shop

It’s late in the evening, you’ve thrown a few beers back and your stomach starts to protest, what do you do? If you were in England I’d go to a chippy to get a fish and chips, but I was in Scotland, so I went to a chippy to get a Scotch Pie.

Scotch Pie is a double crusted meat pie filled with mutton or other kinds of meat. It is usually eaten with some brown sauce that gives the dish a tart slightly acidic taste (to cut the heaviness of the dish). What makes the dish Scottish is that it originated in Scotland, although you can find it all over the UK these days.

Pie is dish of the common folk, and is regularly sold outside football grounds giving it the occasional reference to football pie. I like football, I like pie, I like this dish.



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