Ahhh, Scottish food. The Cuisine of Scotland. Grub from Alba (that’s the Scottish name for Scotland!) However you want to say it, food from Scotland is just incredible.
And here, you’ll find all you need to know about the wee epic creation that is Scottish food.
What is Scottish Food?
Scottish food makes up a significant part of what is British cuisine, but it’s truly unique too. Naturally, its the food prepared and eaten by the people of Scotland; a cuisine that has a rich history and a delicious looking future.
Aside from stating the obvious, there’s loads to tell when it comes to Scottish fare, so buckle up. We’re about to fill you in, so you can fill yourself up on it..
An Intro to Scottish Food
As if the incredible landscapes and lochs in Scotland weren’t enough, there’s some seriously good food for you to enjoy too.
Sure, there’s loads of meals that all four UK countries enjoy, like Fish & Chips, the Full Breakfast and the Roast Dinner (to name just a few).
But each country has its own unique food history and dishes too, including Scotland.
Before now, you might’ve only heard of Haggis when it comes to Scottish grub. But there’s waaaaaaay more to it than that, as you’re about to find out.
As well as Haggis (which is one of Britain’s national dishes), you might also be familiar with the famous Scottish smoked salmon, porridge oats or whisky, but there’s still loads more to chat about with Scottish food.
Scotland is home to some of the best British delicacies. Deep fried Mars Bar and Irn Bru anyone? (more on those later!)
It’s fair to say that Scotland in general is seen as rugged and rustic (which is a great thing by the way). Scottish food is no different.
Although, while it naturally has its earthy and rustic side, it’s also capable of putting its glad-rags on and competing with the best fine-dining in the world!
If you’re planning to visit Scotland, your trip just won’t be the same without trying some of the traditional meals, as well as modern dishes.
First, let’s jump into our British food time machine for a minute, and take a look at the history of Scottish food…
Scottish Food History
When looking at Scotland’s food history, it’s easy to understand how the country became known for hearty, humble and wholesome food such as porridge, broths and stews.
It’s exactly those types of meals that were mostly available back in the day, which gave the original Scots the warmth and strength to live their lives.
Scottish food has developed over time through a number of different influences, including from the Vikings, Medieval times and the French.
Both immigration and invasions have also heavily shaped the famous Scottish food still eaten today…
Pretty as a Pict-ure (The Picts and the Celts)
After the Ice Age, the first set of Earthlings to find the stunning landscapes of Scotland (or ‘Alba’ as it was called back then), are understood to be the Picts, a group of hunter-gatherers.
Not much seems to be known for certain about the Picts, other than seafood being one of the main ways they avoided going hangry! Surrounded by the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, it was a top-notch fish-fest from day one in the land of the early Scot!
They also hunted inland, for cattle, deer, sheep and pigs (although no bacon sandwiches or Haggis just yet!)
Oats, barley and indigenious plants were also popular snacking items.
The upper class Pict enjoyed hunting during the day and had their pick of the best meat for dinner, like boar or venison. The poorer folk made do with cows.
The Picts seem to have disappeared around the 9th century, around the time that Gaelic and Celtic tribes turned up (known as the Celts). The Celts are believed to have been forced away from their original home, Ireland, due to food shortages.
The Celts were also hunter-gatherers and similar to the Picts, are understood to have hunted animals like deer and game, whilst fishing in the oceans and the Scottish lochs. They also enjoyed the basic vegetables that we today call ‘superfoods’ including kale, beans and carrots.
Scotland was first invaded by Vikings in the late 8th century and Scottish food took another step in its journey towards the deep Fried Mars Bar (we’re getting to that!)
These Scandinavians settling in Scotland brought with them their cattle, which are believed to be the origin of the famous Scottish delicacy that is the Aberdeen Angus beef.
Not only that, the Vikings also brought with them their cooking and food preservation techniques, including smoking and salting.
It just so happens that the smoked haddock dish ‘Arbroath Smokies’ is still a classic and popular Scottish food today.
Salting was a common method used by the Vikings to preserve their food on long journeys.
Scottish Food in Medieval Times
It was during the Medieval times that Scots started moving closer to towns and castles to work, from the countryside.
People naturally started to mingle and Scottish food began to take on more influences, with word getting out about new flavours from Europe and Asia. The Spanish, French and Italians had a big influence on Scottish cuisine at the time.
Seasonings seem to have been the main things that were introduced, bringing a bit more excitement to the Scots’ grub! Salt was considered a huge luxury although other herbs and spices like garlic, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, root ginger, mint and rosemary were more commonly used.
During Medieval times, ‘ordinary’ Scots weren’t allowed to hunt certain animals, so they didn’t exactly enjoy all-you-can-eat buffets! Different story for the upper class though, they enjoyed their pick of the meat, fish and everything else they could get their mitts on!
A Medieval Scottish banquet might’ve involved any number of top-notch meats and game, including beef, wild boar, venison, pigeon, rabbit, grouse and even peacock and swan. The seafood eaten included unusual items like pike, lamprey, eel and porpoise.
The lower classes instead mainly ate produce of the animals rather than the meat itself (like milk). It’s understood that they also mainly lived off of vegetable broths, oats, soft fruits, nuts, plus bread and cheese when they became available.
It might’ve actually been the Vikings that first brought Haggis to Scotland, but certainly by Medieval times, what was to become one of Britain’s most famous dishes had been born.
Either way, it seems clear that Haggis was created through the need to preserve food (why else would you put your meat inside a pig or sheep’s stomach lining?!)
It’s considered that some other Scottish food classics were also invented during this period, such as Scotch Broth and Cullen Skink.
Enter… The Potato!!
It’s hard to imagine a world without something that brings us so much joy, but before the late 1500s, Scottish food knew not of the legend that is the simple spud!
People in Scotland, especially the lower classes, actually relied on potatoes so much that it later led to tragedy. In the 1840s, Scotland was faced with the Highland Potato Famine, where death was the result for many, as starvation took place across Europe.
Almost two million Scots were forced to leave the country for America, Canada and Australia. But, the famine was thankfully over by 1857 and the spud was back! Since then, potatoes were reintroduced and are still a huge part of Scottish cuisine.
A little help from the French
During the 16th century, Mary Queen of Scots spent some time in France and returned to Scotland with a love of the cuisine (what’s not to love about crepes and croissants!)
It was actually the French’s use of rich, thick sauces that she mainly introduced to Scottish cuisine. French chefs were also brought back to cook in the Scottish Court.
Not only were French cooking techniques used in everyday Scottish food, but the French lingo was also adopted:
|French word||Scottish translation||Meaning|
|Escalope||Collop||A boneless, thin slice of meat|
|Hetoudeau||Howtowdie||A boiling fowl|
|Assiette||Ashet||A large platter|
|Gigot||Gigot||Leg of mutton|
|Ciboule||Syboe||A spring onion|
Scottish Food in the Georgian Era
The Georgians were our type of people it seems! Rather than settle for only two courses at dinner, they decided to increase this to three or more.
In Scotland, their classic soups would often be served first, before a typical meat and fish feast. This was followed by a cream and sugar fuelled dessert course (the early days of Great British puddings!)
This type of feast was still only common in wealthier households, with the mere peasants settling for much more basic meals during this 18th century period. It was also at this time that railways allowed Scotland to develop profits from further afield, in exchange for its top-notch nosh.
Have your cake and eat it
The 19th century saw the introduction of the tearoom to Scottish food (along with the rest of Britain). Queen Victoria, the cheeky minx, loved a bit of tea and cake, and she made sure the whole of Britain benefited from the delight we now know and love as the famous Afternoon Tea.
Traditional Scottish baking included items like shortbread, scones, Dundee Cake and loads more, many of which would be featured on TV centuries later, on shows like The Great British Bake Off!
Scottish Food in the 20th Century
During World War II, the entire UK suffered from food shortages. For one thing, this led to Britain’s food reputation taking a bit of a bashing.
In Scotland specifically, a dude named John Raeburn began a campaign known as Dig For Victory, which encouraged landowners to use their land for producing food wherever possible.
It’s said that private gardens were used to raise over 5,000 pigs alone to help the cause (now that’s a lot of bacon sandwiches!!)
Even in the years after the war, it was slim-pickings when it came to food variety in Scotland. With farming taking place on a huge industrial scale, it meant little excitement where Scottish food was concerned.
Some adventurousness did eventually come though, when goods were again imported from overseas. Mass immigration from countries like Italy, India and Pakistan also took place, adding some extra variety and flavour (hello pizza and curry!!)
Modern Scottish Food
As folk have come and gone from Scotland over time, the food has naturally developed from international influences. As time goes on, the food culture and eating habits in Scotland continue to evolve.
As of the 21st century, Eastern Europeans especially seem to have taken a liking to Scotland, in particular the Polish. This meant international artisan shops popping up throughout Scotland.
The Italians, Indians and also the Chinese also grew increasingly fond of Scotland in the early 2000s, meaning we’ve been treated with their culinary delights and restaurants ever since.
That said, loads of the traditional Scottish produce mentioned above and below is still widely eaten today, including the meat, game, oats, seafood and more.
Believe it or not, the traditional Scottish diet was actually pretty healthy. We say this because in more recent times, the typical perception of Scottish food is anything but healthy, partly due to fast-food and takeaway outlets becoming so common.
The invention of the deep-fried Mars Bar and fried Haggis probably didn’t help, but you won’t find us knocking those epic creations (all good if eaten in moderation kids!)
Modern Scottish food in general, like modern British food, is all about mixing new ideas and techniques with the classic Scottish food traditions. A classic example is Haggis Pakora, a creation combining awesome delicacies of Scotland and India.
On the fine dining scene, there’s loads of impressive ideas brought to life by Scotland’s best chefs, who can be found in many of the UK’s Michelin star restaurants.
So, the food eaten in Scotland today is similar to the rest of Britain really, in that there’s massive pride in the traditional dishes (such as Haggis, Neeps and Tatties), but also a love for modern and foreign flavours.
The more we think about Scottish food, the more we realise just how awesome it is. This small, humble country of Britain’s actually has some of the best food in the world!
Scotland is often described as having a ‘natural larder’ because of the legendary ingredients that can be found in its countryside and off its coasts.
The mild climate and fertile land of Scotland means conditions for producing great food have been ideal for thousands of years.
With Scottish food being of such great quality, there’s never been a need to overcomplicate things in the kitchen…
You might be familiar with the world famous Scottish salmon, but there’s loads more great seafood from Scotland that you need to know about too.
The clear crystal waters of Scotland’s seas, lochs and rivers can provide you with some of the tastiest seafood you’ll ever try, including fish and shellfish.
We’re talking THE BEST wild trout, mackerel, herring, haddock (used to make the classic dish Arbroath Smokies), lobster, oysters, crab, hand-dived scallops, cockles, clams, prawns, mussels, limpets and langoustines.
Meat and Poultry
If you read about Scottish food history above, you’ll understand how Scotland has such a great choice of meat and fowl to eat.
Most famous is probably its Aberdeen Angus steak, along with Haggis of course (although this is actually a sheep based dish rather than the produce itself).
Traditionally, pork wasn’t eaten as much as beef, lamb or mutton, but these days you can find a great sausage in Scotland for your Bangers and Mash!
As well as fresh meat, Scotland also offers a great selection of cured meats.
Food in Scotland has always involved top quality game, including grouse, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, hare and venison.
Grouse is a particularly tasty small game bird with a mildish flavour and are still hunted in the Scottish moors today, between August and December.
There’s not much better than some locally sourced, slowly cooked Scottish game during winter! It’s just great when roasted or cooked in a casserole.
Crops and Grain
In the early days of Scottish grub, bere and barley were the most commonly produced grains.
When farming improved a while later, oats became a go-to crop for the Scots, which they’d carry around in bags to make oatcakes when peckish.
Oats are still the number one crop in Scotland today, with porridge being as popular as ever.
Wheat is also grown in Scotland but it’s not quite as friendly with the soil and climate like oats are.
Fruit and Vegetables
If you believe everything you hear about the Scots and their health, you’ll probably think fruit and vegetables don’t exist in Scotland!
The truth is that Scotland has grown some of the best fruit and veg in the world for centuries. Ingredients like Kale, seen as trendy these days, have actually been around for ages (literally, ages) in Scotland, almost from the very beginning.
Other great vegetables coming from Scotland include potatoes (Ayrshire potatoes are particularly well known), turnips, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower and peas.
Soft fruits such as strawberries, blackberries and raspberries from Scotland are especially good. Some epic British desserts can be created from Scottish fruits, like crumbles, puddings and fools.
You’ve already heard about the famous Aberdeen Angus breed of cow giving Scotland top-notch beef, so naturally that means there’s some epic dairy products to be had too!
Whether it’s milk, butter, cheese or whatever, there’s some seriously good dairy coming out of Scotland.
In particular, cheeses such as St Andrew’s Cheddar and Lanark Blue are really popular. Then there’s Crowdie, Arran Cheddar and Scotland’s oldest cheese, Caboc. You can practically hear the French quaking in their boots!
Traditional Scottish Food
It’s true, Scottish people enjoy loads of the same classic UK dishes that the English, Welsh and Irish folks also love (like Fish & Chips and the Roast Dinner).
For that reason we usually mention these meals when talking about British food generally.
But there’s tons of dishes that are unique to just Scotland (although they’re also eaten elsewhere in the UK)…
Porridge is for sure, one of the dishes that Scotland is most famous for. It’s a simple but tasty and filling meal, typically eaten for breakfast across Britain.
Proper traditional Scottish porridge is created with oats, hot water and salt.
These days, milk is often used instead of water and sugar rather than salt (also known as oatmeal in parts of the world).
Then there’s just the small dilemma of what you top your porridge with. Fruits, honey and syrup are classic choices, but the options really are endless.
The Full Scottish Breakfast
You’ve probably heard of the Full English Breakfast, right? Well, to state the obvious, a Full Scottish Breakfast is very similar, but from Scotland.
What makes it Scottish is the extra delicacies that it comes with.
On top of the standard items that make up the English breakfast (such as bacon, eggs and baked beans), a Full Scottish can also include lorne sausage (a square sausage), black or white pudding and Tattie scones (like a potato cake). Haggis is also often added.
Kedgeree is another classic Scottish Breakfast dish, consisting of haddock, rice, eggs, parsley, cream, sultanas and flavoured with curry powder. It’s understood Kedgeree was brought back to Scotland from India by the British colonials.
As we said when we compared famous British food to famous British faces, we reckon when most people think of meaty and tasty Scottish dishes, the actor Gerard Butler comes to mind! For us, we always think of Haggis!
This classic Scottish food is truly unique, being a mixture of sheep’s offal (liver, lungs and heart), onions, suet, oatmeal mainly, which is cooked within the lining of the sheep’s stomach (although these days artificial casings are also used).
Haggis, which is Scotland’s and one of Britain’s national dishes, seems to have the same reputation as Marmite; you either love or hate it.
One thing’s for sure, it’s loved on Burns’ Night by the Scots each year, when a ‘Burns Supper’ is served to celebrate the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns (who actually wrote a poem about Haggis!)
Neeps and Tatties
This is Scotland’s way of telling you mashed turnips and mashed potatoes are on the menu!
Neeps (turnips) and Tatties (potatoes) are most commonly served with Haggis, although they can be served as a side with loads of other Scottish dishes too.
There’s loads of great soups from Scotland, although they’re also major contributors to the long list of weird British food names!!
First, there’s the Cock-a-Leekie soup (chicken and leek).
Then we’ve got Cullen Skink (haddock, potatoes and leek) and Brose, which is soup made from kale and oats.
A smoked haddock dish from the town of Arbroath, still made by family smoke-houses today.
More dishes and delicacies
We could go on all day with Scottish food, but we won’t!
Instead, here’s just a few more traditional dishes and delicacies from Scotland that you might want to explore yourself…
- Scotch Egg
- Scotch Pie
- Bawd Bree
- Tattie Scones
- Crappit Heid
- Bannocks (or Oatcakes)
- Aberdeenshire Butteries
- Forfar Bridies
Desserts / Sweets
On top of all those savoury delights, Scotland is home to an unbelievable amount of awesome desserts and sweet treats…
Shortbread is the traditional Scotland biscuit. It’s made with a high amount of butter and sugar, giving a chunky biscuit which is rather sweet!
Black Bun is actually a cake, made with raisins, currants, mixed peel, almonds, brown sugar, ginger, all spice and black pepper. It’s called Black Bun as it’s very dark in colour.
Cranachan is a cracking Scottish dessert made from whipped cream, honey, fresh raspberries, toasted oatmeal and whisky.
Ginger Cake is a cake made from stemmed ginger, mixed peel, sultanas, oatmeal, eggs, golden or treacle syrup.
Dundee Cake is a fruitcake made with currants, sultanas and almonds.
- Tunnock’s Tea Cakes
- Fruit Bread
- Butter Tablet
- Tipsy Laird
- Empire Biscuit
- Abernethy Biscuit
- Clootie Dumpling
- Petticoat Tails
- Soor Plooms
- Edinburgh Rock
…and of course the Deep Fried Battered Mars Bar!
We might be called the British Grub Hub, but we still enjoy the odd tipple from time to time!
Which brings us to the typical drinks associated with Scotland.
First, we’ve got the national drink, whisky.
Scotch Whisky is the most famous Scottish drink and is sometimes just referred to as ‘Scotch.’ There’s two main types of whisky, these being malt whisky and blended whisky.
The most famous Scottish distilleries and brands include Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, although there’s well over 100 distilleries across the country, with five different whisky regions.
Drambuie is a brand of liqueur made from Scotch whisky, along with honey, herbs and spices.
Gin is another spirit popular in Scotland, with over half of the UK’s production understood to be from Scotland!
The most well known is probably The Botanist.
Scottish Beers & Ales
Scotland’s history of brewing beer goes way back and it’s home to loads of great brands such as Islay Ales, Orkney Skullsplitter, Arran Blonde, Bitter and Twisted, plus Red McGregor.
If you’re not into the strong stuff, the soft drink to be tried in Scotland is undoubtedly the famous Irn Bru.
Dating to 1901, Irn Bru is a bright orange fizzy drink, sometimes referred to as Scotland’s second national drink!
Like the rest of Britain, a good old cup of tea is among the post popular drinks in Scotland.
If you’re not lucky enough to be visiting Scotland any time soon, check out these Scottish recipes to make your tastebuds tingle at home instead.
Scottish Food Facts
Check out these interesting (and some outright weird) Scottish food facts…
- The Scottish Government plans to grow the Scottish food industry to £30bn by 2030 and double exports to £3bn. (Source)
- Scotland provides almost 70% of the UK’s fish catch! (Source)
- Scottish Salmon was the first foreign product to gain France’s prestigious ‘Label Rouge’ quality mark, in 1992. (Source)
- Scottish lobsters are on menus in more than 20 Michelin Star restaurants in Tokyo alone. (Source)
- Some Scottish produce is deemed to be so unique that it’s given Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) by the European Union, including Scotch Beef, Scotch Whisky and Orkney Cheddar.
- Haggis is banned in the USA, because sheep’s lung is considered inedible by the American Government (although it’s actually delicious).
- There’s a Guinness world record for Haggis hurling! Yep, you read that right! You’ll need to throw a Haggis more than 217 feet to break this weird (and some might say pointless) record!
- The oldest registered breed of cow in the world is from Scotland. It’s the famous shaggy-haired cattle with their origins in the Scottish highlands and records show them dating back to 1884.
- The famous deep-fried Mars Bar was once included on the menu of a top-notch French restaurant, Le Chipper.
And there you have it. That’s surely everything you need to know about Scottish food!
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