With strange names like Cullen Skink, Clootie Pudding, Cranachan and Skirlie you could be forgiven for thinking the menu at the local bar is written in a foreign language. But no, these are Scottish delicacies that you may be offered if you are lucky enough to walk into a cafe or restaurant that caters for the locals as well as visitors.
Quite rightly, Scotland has a world wide reputation for wonderful food, as most of it is gathered, reared or grown in Scotland. Local produce is of superb quality and has an appeal that can energise the most jaded palate.
A diverse cuisine goes right back to the days of the Picts and the Celts, who were hunter gatherers. The rich pickings from the land , forests and Lochs meant they were able to have a varied diet from local sources. In Medieval times, the people migrated towards castles, towns and Lochs and in doing so, discovered that the rich fertile soil gave a bounteous crop of cereals such as oats and barley. These naturally made their way into the meals of the time and became part of Scottish traditional fare.
Lairds and highlanders were influenced by European visitors and their tastes in food and they often provided exotic delight like roast swan and peacock, game such as wild boar and porpoises cooked and served to perfection for special events.
Special guests these days are far more likely to be served the traditional Scottish fare of Haggis, a cooked spicy savoury made from all parts of the lamb, oatmeal and spices. It is usually served with mashed potatoes and turnip, often referred to as tatties and neaps. This is the traditional menu served on Burn’s night, when the meal is brought in to the room accompanied by a piper in full regalia.
These strange delights are not the only choice in Scotland that is traditional though. Scotland is famous for the quality of it’s fish, shellfish and dishes featuring them. Cullen Skink is a traditional creamy soup with smoked fish, rather like a good chowder. Slight variations occur with the flavour and the ingredients due to regional differences, the time of year and traditional family recipes.
One restaurant famous for it’s sea food and fish is the Loch Leven seafood cafe, at Onich, Fort William. Rave reviews exist for this fabulous little place, so call if it’s on your way. It is just 7 miles from the West Highland way and worth a slight detour, especially if you have worked up a huge appetite walking.
Arbroath smokies can be found at any good fish mongers and sometimes on local markets, they are a kind of smoked fish like a kipper and full of flavour from the oak chippings used to smoke them.
You may be lucky and find some Scottish scallops for sale. Cooked with just a little butter and maybe bacon they are perfection itself, even better if you can cook them over a camp fire.
If you favour meat dishes , why not head over to the Laroch Restaurant and bar at Ballachulish? You should book in advance if you can as it only seats twenty people, but this Michelin Star restaurant is worth the wait for a table. Their speciality is Haggis bon bons with whisky sauce, who could say no to that?
If you have a sweet tooth, try the Clootie pudding. The clootie part actually describes a length of cloth or rag that the fruit dumpling is cooked in. A favourite pudding amongst locals is Clanachan, a rare dessert made of oatmeal, whisky, whipped cream , honey and local raspberries. Wonderful!
Even the local chippy is likely to have a selection of unusual delights, how about white pudding, which is not a pudding but a type of savoury sausage. To confuse you even more, Lorne sausages are square and usually served in a round bread bun. Or why not blow your mind with one of the infamous deep fried Mars bars? There is no limit to the mind of a Scottish chef when it comes to cooking the unusual or unbelievable.
Leave the calorie counter at home and indulge your senses in the culinary delights Scotland has to offer, and remember to leave some room in your bags for some to take home. Your friends may not believe you!