Foods You Must Eat When You're in Scotland

When in Scotland, prepare for a delicious feast
When in Scotland, prepare for a delicious feast | © Ian Rutherford / Alamy Stock Photo
Culture Trip

You can’t say you’ve truly travelled to a country until you’ve broken bread with the locals, and you can’t claim to really know Scotland until you’ve sampled traditional Scottish food. Some dishes are steeped in centuries of tradition and turbulent history – others are steeped in deep-fried batter. Scottish cuisine draws on the natural bounty of its coastal waters, moors and craggy peaks to produce dishes as memorable as they are flavourful, with the national firewater – whisky – providing a potent accompaniment to belly-filling classics.

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Haggis, Neeps and Tatties

A traditional plate of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties with a glass of Scotch whisky

Immortalised in the poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ by Sir Robert Burns, haggis is Scotland’s national dish – a fine ambassador for traditional Scottish food, and a stellar example of nose-to-tail dining and waste not, want not mentality. Traditionally made from a boiled mix of sheep’s ‘pluck’ (finely-chopped liver, heart and lungs), oatmeal, suet, herbs, spices and seasoning, haggis is typically accompanied by two sidekicks: creamy mashed turnips (neeps) and mashed potatoes (tatties), plus a good swig of whisky to help it all down.


This isn’t, as some may guess, a reference to a male incontinence issue, but rather the Scottish take on French chicken soup. Scotland’s ‘Auld Alliance’ with France goes back centuries – many of Scotland’s landed gentry have French roots – and the culinary culmination of this cross-cultural pollination is a hearty, peppery chicken broth, thick with rice or barley, redolent with the crunch of leeks and the kick of onions, and occasionally (and bafflingly) garnished with prunes.

Cullen Skink

A fresh bowl of Cullen skink, a traditional Scottish soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions

It may sound like something that dwells in a swamp and doesn’t have many friends, but Cullen skink is Scotland’s answer to American chowder and French bisque, though it’s smokier than the former and more filling than the latter. Originating in the northeast town of Cullen, this creamy winter warmer is thick enough to stand your spoon upright in and is traditionally made with Aberdeenshire ‘finnan haddie’ smoked haddock cured using particular regional greenwood, onions (or leeks) and potatoes, with cream added to the broth for extra calories.

Oat Porridge

If it was good enough for Highlander, it’s good enough for you. Though oat porridge is not unique to Scotland, this simple breakfast dish of overnight-soaked oats, boiled either with milk or water and traditionally served with salt, has been associated with the place for centuries. Oat cultivation in Scotland goes back at least 2,500 years, according to archaeological finds on the Outer Hebrides.


Cranachan, a Scottish dessert made with corn flakes, raspberries, whisky and whipped cream in a glass

Oats make an appearance yet again in one of Scotland’s favourite desserts that makes the most of the ingredients hardy enough to flourish in tough Scottish soil. Cranachan is a layered dessert made of toasted oats, fresh raspberries, double cream – or, traditionally, crowdie cheese – honey and a generous splash of whisky. It’s as comforting as a hug from your grandma.

Clootie Dumpling

It’s round, made of flour, suet, dried fruit, sugar, spices and milk, boiled in a ‘clootie’ (a piece of cloth), and after you’ve eaten it, it rests in your stomach in a particularly satisfying, stodgy way. So if you’re fond of fruitcakes and cannonballs, don’t miss this bold, hard-working person’s dessert.


Yes, that is a real word and no, it’s not the name of that imp out of the Brothers Grimm story who spins straw into gold and trades it for the miller’s daughter’s baby. A good example of the magic that you can work with leftovers if you’re sufficiently determined, rumbledethumps is a Scottish dish from the Scottish Borders that combines butter-sauteed cabbage and onion with mashed potato. As the crowning touch, you top the mixture with grated cheddar and bake in the oven until it’s bubbling and golden brown.

Arbroath Smokies

Rows of Smokies getting prepared on the fire

Various smoked fish – ideal for long sea journeys – have long been a staple of Scottish fishermen. The most famous of fish-related Scottish dishes are Arbroath smokies – haddock caught off the coast of Arbroath, salted and dried overnight in barrels, then finally smoked in a barrel over a hardwood fire. According to urban legend, this northeast coast classic came about when barrels of salted fish accidentally caught fire one night, and the end result was… most edible.


So simple and yet so perfect, Scotland’s favourite biscuit is made of just three ingredients: sugar, butter and flour. Not only is it great for dipping in your tea, but it’s part of a venerable Scottish tradition, whereby a newlywed woman has a cake made of shortbread broken over her head upon crossing the threshold of her new home. Hmmm. Why not a man, we hear you ponder.

Scotch Pie

Two Scotch Pies fresh out of the oven

If you happen to attend a rugby or football match in Scotland, join local fans in the halftime queue for scotch pies served alongside a cup of hot Bovril. While most butchers have a favourite, zealously guarded recipe for scotch pie, what you’re most likely to encounter is a delectable double-crust pastry filled with peppered mutton.

Full Scottish Breakfast

If you’ve ever had a full English breakfast, you’ll find that a full Scottish also incorporates bacon, eggs, toast, grilled tomatoes and baked beans, but with the wonderful addition of black pudding or white pudding, potato (tattie) scones, and Lorne sausage (a square sausage made of meat, rusk and spices). It cures all that ails you, including hangovers – as long as you’re not thinking of doing anything remotely active for hours afterwards.

Deep-fried Mars Bars

The creator of this deep-fried endorphin rush – a 15-year-old at the time, looking for something gross to dare his mate to eat – has never actually tried a battered Mars bar himself. But you can, since many chippies across Scotland now offer this diabetes-in-one-go dish. After the initial oily crunch of the batter, the chocolate is a brash, sugary punch to the palate. If a Mars bar doesn’t float your boat, most chippies will deep-fry your sweet of choice.


Traditional Scottish Stovies are served

Born of hard times, this lesser-known Scottish dish is potato-based, inexpensive to make and is solid, working-class food designed to revive lumberjacks, miners and farmers after a day of backbreaking labour. There are as many variations as there are households that cook it, but it essentially consists of potatoes stewed in dripping (or lard, or butter), mixed together with mincemeat and onions. Simple, yet satisfying.


One of Scotland’s favourite wild foods, grouse are hunted in the Scottish moors between August and December; one bird makes an ideal serving for one hungry person. The flavour is delicate yet distinctive: think gamey chicken. Have it roasted or stewed in a casserole.


What’s luminous orange in colour and caresses your throat like a lover as it slithers down your gullet? If you’ve guessed Irn-Bru, have a sugar cookie. This soft drink, more ubiquitous in Scotland than Coca-Cola, comprises 32 secret ingredients and there is much disagreement among connoisseurs as to what it tastes like. Bubblegum, rust, cough syrup, salty banana, liquefied casual violence and heaven are just some of the comparisons. You try, you decide.


Peaty and big, woody or creamy, single-malt or blended triple-malt – you cannot leave Scotland without having a wee dram of whisky. With over 130 distilleries dotted all over Scotland’s highlands and islands, and many of them open to visitors, you’re bound to find a tipple that tickles your particular taste buds. Just don’t have it ‘on the rocks’ like some rube from the sticks; whisky aficionados always drink it neat, with perhaps just a few drops of water to help bring out the distinctive flavours.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Tori Chalmers.

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