Scotland’s natural abundance of game, dairy, vegetables, and fish have long been staples of Scottish food. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland saw large-scale immigration from Europe and the extended British Empire, and they had a major impact on its food.
While they brought their own dishes with them, the largest impact on traditional Scottish food was the introduction of spices and a variety of fresh produce. For many, Scotland may be more famous for its whisky, but here are some Scottish dishes you have to try in Scotland:
Perhaps the most famous Scottish food is haggis. This savoury pudding is made with sheep’s pluck (liver, lungs, and heart) minced with spices, salt, oatmeal, suet, stock, and onion. It is traditionally wrapped inside the sheep’s stomach (though nowadays it may be artificial). Haggis dates back to at least the 15th century and is often considered the country’s national dish. It was famously celebrated by the Scottish poet Robert Burns, who wrote: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face / Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!” It is served with ‘neeps and tatties,’ or mashed turnips and potatoes, and is the main dish at a Burns Supper (a celebration of Robert Burns).
This famous traditional Scottish fruit cake originated in the 19th century. Dundee cake is made with currants, sultanas and almonds instead of the more traditional glace cherries used in fruitcakes. It is said to have been originally made by Keiller’s marmalade company who mass-produced it.
Cullen skink is a thick soup made with smoked haddock, potatoes, and onions. A speciality of the town of Cullen in the northeast of Scotland, but is now widely eaten across the country. ‘Skink’ is a Scots word for a chunk of beef, and as it was usually used in soups, it is also used to refer to that. This hearty soup can be made with milk, water or cream depending on the variation. It is usually served with bread.
A Scottish tablet is a slightly hard sugary treat. It is made with sugar, condensed milk and butter that has been cooked together until crystalised. Flavoured with vanilla or whisky, it is not as soft as fudge, but not as hard as hard candy.
A tattie scone, or potato scone, is usually cooked on a griddle. It is made with mashed potatoes, liberal amounts of butter, flour, and salt. No milk is added to the tattie scones. They are often served with a full Scottish breakfast, with eggs, bacon, and sausages, but can also be eaten with jam as any other scone.
Cranachan is a Scottish dessert created to celebrate the summer harvest. Made with fresh raspberries, cream, honey, Scottish oats, and whisky, it is often called “the uncontested king of Scottish dessert.” The dish originated as a version of crowdie, a popular breakfast made with crowdie cheese, toasted oatmeal, cream, and honey. During raspberry season, the fruits were often added. Now, whipped cream is usually used instead of crowdie cheese.
This blood sausage is made with pork blood, pork fat, beef suet, and oatmeal. Blood sausages are eaten around the world and are said to be one of the oldest forms of sausage. While most visitors dismiss both black pudding and haggis when visiting Scotland, try to keep an open mind. Black pudding is also served as part of a full Scottish breakfast, along with white pudding (similar to black pudding but the blood is substituted with fat).
Shortbread has been a traditional Scottish food for centuries, though the first printed recipe appeared in 1736. It comes in all shapes, sizes, and varieties, though it is usually made with white sugar, butter, and flour. Often eaten at Christmas and Hogmanay (the Scottish New Year), it is considered a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
This traditional Scottish dish comes from the Scottish Borders. Rumbledethumps is made with mashed potato, and shredded cabbage and onion sautéed in butter. They are then covered with cheese and baked until golden brown. It is similar to hash browns, the English ‘Bubble and Squeak,’ the Irish Colcannon, and the Dutch Stampot.
This double crusted meat pie is usually filled with spiced minced mutton or other meat. It is said to originate in Scotland, but can now be found all over the UK. It can be served hot or cold and is often served with potatoes, baked beans, or gravy. These mutton pies are often found at football grounds, resulting in them also being called football pies. Every year, butchers and bakers from across the country compete for the Scotch Pie Club’s title of World Scotch Pie Champion.
11Deep-fried Mars bar
Scotland is famous for its love of deep-fried food, and this just proves it. Originating in chip shops (or chippies) in Scotland in the 1990s, the deep-fried Mars bar was once a novelty item. The chocolate is chilled before being battered and fried, creating a crispy yet melty chocolatey dessert.
Taking a love of fried foods to the next level is the munchy box. Found at most take away restaurants in Scotland, it is a large pizza box filled with various fast foods. These may include kebabs, fried chicken, onion rings, fried haggis, pakoras, pizza, chicken tikka, garlic bread, naan, and of course, chips. They are accompanied by various sauces.
A black bun is a type of fruitcake that is wrapped in pastry. The cake itself resembles traditional Christmas cakes, containing raisins, currants, almonds and citrus peel, as well as spices like allspice, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper. It is said to have been introduced after Mary, Queen of Scots returned from France, when it was eaten on Twelfth Night (which concludes the Twelve Days of Christmas). Now, it is usually enjoyed at Hogmanay.
This traditional Scottish soup is made with leeks and peppery chicken stock thickened with rice or barley and is sometimes garnished with prunes. Though it is called “Scotland’s National Soup”, it is likely a variation of the French chicken and onion soup. It came to Scotland by the 16th century, and the onions were replaced with leeks, leading to the name “cock-a-leekie”. Today, you can also find vegetarian versions of this soup.
Irn-Bru (or iron brew) is a popular Scottish soft drink. First produced in the 1880s in New York under the name IRONBREW, it slowly made its way across the Atlantic, where it was popularised in Scotland by A.G. Barr of Glasgow. Today, it is described as “Scotland’s other national drink” (after whisky), and can be found across the UK and even around the world.
This type of smoked haddock is a speciality of the town of Arbroath in Angus, Scotland. It is said to have originated in a small fishing village of Auchmithie nearby when a store caught fire, causing barrels of preserved haddock to become cooked. When these fisherfolk moved to Arbroath in the 19th century, they brought the recipe along with them. Today, Arbroath smokies are still prepared using traditional methods dating back to the late 1800s. The fish are salted and left out to dry. They are then hung over a fire in a barrel and covered with wet jute sacks that leave the fish with a strong, smoky taste. Arbroath smokies are geographically protected by the EU.
Of course, there is lots of other great Scottish food to try, such as Scottish smoked salmon, Dunlop cheese, Scotch broth, lucky tatties, stovies, and bannocks. However, Scottish food is just some of the many fascinating regional cuisines of the United Kingdom. You can explore more delicious food here.