Edinburgh wins many hearts and stomachs of travelers to this capital city of Scotland. In between tours of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and the Museum of Scotland are scant bites of haggis and drams of Scotch whisky. Before you cross the seas to experience the bagpipes and Burns supper, prepare your stomach for these dishes that are quintessential traditional Scottish food.
Ah, the water of life! Whether you call it Scotch whisky or simply Scotch, Edinburgh is the place to sample a dram or two of this aged alcohol. A true Scotch has only one shared characteristic, that it has been aged for at least three years in an oak barrel. Beyond that, your Scotch could be a single malt, blended grain or any combination of the two. Keep in mind this alcohol is a potent brew with at least 40 percent alcohol by volume, as dictated by the Scotch Whisky Regulations.
Which brands of Scotch whisky should you seek out when in Edinburgh? Here in the Lowland, there are five distilleries that get the SWR stamp of Scotch whisky approval. These include Ailsa Bay, Annandale, Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. This is one souvenir that everyone in your group of friends will actually appreciate receiving and certainly won’t allow to collect dust.
Pronounced as “iron brew,” you’ll want to add this fizzy soft drink to your snack time while in Edinburgh. In fact, as Scotland’s other national drink, Irn Bru may be a long gone delight. According to the Scottish government, the orange carbonated soda exceeds the new sugar content limits. As of January 2018, finding the original Irn Bru with all of its sugary sweetness might be difficult.
Possibly the most popular, and certainly the most adventurous, dish served on Scottish tables is haggis. It’s best to understand what exactly this haggis is all about. Haggis is a meaty dish containing a combination of heart, lungs, and liver of a butchered sheep or lamb. This is mixed with fat or suet along with some oats and onions to give it balance. All of this is stuffed like a sausage into a casing of some sort and steamed or baked. A traditional haggis supper comes with a dram of Scotch for good measure.
Neeps and Tatties
These two side dishes are traditional Scottish food often accompanying haggis. Neeps are what we know here in the States as a rutabaga. Similar to a turnip, a rutabaga in Edinburgh gets boiled and mashed. If your neeps are a bit orange, they are likely mixed with carrots to create a clapshot. As for the tatties, these are simply boiled and mashed potatoes. If you find you aren’t too keen on the haggis, at least you’ll have this familiar comfort food to fill your stomach.
When you get a plate of haggis with neeps and tatties, it is referred to as a Burns supper. This is steeped in Scottish history. A Burns supper is dedicated to the Scottish poet Robert Burns who passed away in 1796. During such a dinner, you will get to experience Burns’ poetry, bagpipe music, and a dessert of cranachan or tipsy laid. If you are an honored guest at a Burns supper, make sure you are familiar with the Address to a Haggis by Burns. You’ll be glad you did your research when words like “hurdies” and “weel-swall’d kytes” are recited in unison.
While cullen skink might not wet your whistle in flavorful excitement, creamy smoked fish soup just might. This is a traditional Scottish dish that actually hails in the northeastern part of the country. Yet the folks down in the Lowland of Edinburgh are well acquainted with this rich dish. If you are a fan of clam chowder, you’ll feel right at home with the cream and potatoes that are added to the smoked haddock. Find a restaurant that serves cullen skink using finnan haddie, and you are set for a traditional feast. As an aside, the word skink in Scotland actually means a knuckle or shin.
Oh, how the Scots do love their soup, primarily thanks to the coastal weather that beckons warm, comforting dishes. As for the cock-a-leekie soup, this translates pretty well into what you would expect in this type of food. Cock refers to the chicken stock, while leeks are those multi-layered onions that are gaining popularity here in the US.
If you are feeling ill from your travels, this Scottish version of the classic chicken soup is ready to cure all that ails you. The soup originated way back in the 16th century and is famous as Scotland’s National Soup. Sorry, cullen skink, but the cock-a-leekie gets a bit more Scottish love.
Now it’s time to sample some sweet treats as your journey through traditional Scottish food winds down. Start with some cranachan that combines Scotch whisky with fresh Scottish raspberries, which are world renowned. The dish is made by soaking toasted oats overnight in a dram of whisky. Layer the raspberries in a dish topped with honey and freshly whipped cream. Top it all off with the soaked oats for a splendid Scottish delight.
If you are lucky, you can find cranachan served tableside. How this works is that a restaurant will serve you all of the ingredients that go into a cranachan. You get to layer everything together so you can control the amount of each ingredient. It adds a bit of excitement to the experience, as you are officially preparing your own Scottish dish. Now, that is a memory you’ll want to savor!
Rounding out this list of fabulous yet historical Scottish dishes is a dessert with a name you won’t soon forget. The tipsy laird is another layered dessert that we most commonly refer to as a trifle. However, this trifle has a flavorful surprise that is typical Scottish.
Traditionally served to round out a Burns supper or for Burns Night, a tipsy laird is a combination of those famous Scottish raspberries and Scotch whisky. Of course, there is some custard and whipped cream tossed in for good measure along with pound cake to soak up all of the goodness. If the last thing that touches your tongue while in Edinburgh is some tipsy laird, you can say you had an extremely satisfying journey to Scotland.
Visiting Edinburgh, Scotland
Traditional Scottish food is more than just something to eat when in Edinburgh. Each dish served on a Scottish table carries with it the weight of the country and the culture’s history. So while things like haggis might sound off-putting, give it a try and discover more about Scotland than you ever expected.