Tempt your taste buds by eating your way through a virtual meal composed entirely of traditional Scottish foods. Begin with oatmeal porridge, continue with salmon from a Scottish loch followed by haggis wi’ tatties and neeps and conclude with a dessert of buttery Scottish shortbread. Wash it all down with a single malt whisky. It’s an unconventional combination perhaps, but nevertheless delicious. Or, as a Scot might say, taitneach.
First course: Porridge
Porridge, or oatmeal, has become breakfast fare throughout the English-speaking world, but it has been a part of the staple diet of Scots for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Perhaps a corruption of the word ‘pottage’, a vegetable soup, Scottish porridge is now generally accepted to be a dish of oats cooked in water or milk. Scots in days gone by would have been more likely to cook their oats in water, adding salt instead of sugar, and eating them, either hot or cold, at any time of day. Recipes varied according to regional preferences, and there were many superstitions and prejudices associated with porridge preparation, such as only stirring clockwise and using a special stirring implement called a spurtle.
Second course: Salmon
Whether smoked or fresh, real Scottish salmon should come from the crystal clear waters of a highland loch, preferably caught by a kilt-clad man with a name like Iain MacDonald, using a rod and fly handed down from his grandfather. Sadly, the reality these days is that it is more likely to come from a fish farm tended by operatives in white overalls. Even so, it still earns its place on the menu of top restaurants, and is now considered a super food thanks to the reputation of Omega-3 fish oil as a means of preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Scots just knew that it tasted good, and that was enough for them and, in time, the rest of the world.
Third course: Haggis wi’ tatties and neeps
“Haggis wi’ tatties and neeps”, say the Scots, are mandatory fare for a Burns Night supper. When they gather to celebrate the life and works of the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns on January 25th, Scots all over the world consume haggis with mashed potatoes (tatties) and turnips (neeps), washed down with copious amounts of Scotch whisky. Haggis is a kind of large round sausage made of a sheep’s liver, heart and lungs, mixed with oats, onion, salt and spices. A traditional haggis also uses the sheep’s intestine as the sausage skin. It tastes far more appetizing than it sounds.
Fourth course: Shortbread
Shortbread cookies in a tartan-decorated box are a familiar sight at Christmas and New Year in many parts of the world. They are thought to have become popular during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, who was said to be particularly fond of this sweet, buttery biscuit. Traditional shortbread comes in three shapes: petticoat tails (a large round biscuit cut into triangular segments), individual round cookies, or rectangular fingers. In Scotland, the person who enters a house to let in the new year after the stroke of midnight is called the ‘first footer’, and they either bring shortbread with them, or are rewarded with a gift of shortbread.
Eating traditional Scottish foods and learning a little about them may have whetted your appetite to discover more of the history and culture of Scotland. It is only a small taste of what is offered by a country rich in productive farmland, pristine rivers and lochs, wild seas and more than a few whisky distilleries. The dishes range from the simple fare of peasants to the delicacies enjoyed by kings and queens, and are all perfectly delicious.