This is a quick guide to traditional foods available in my home country of Scotland. With this article I will try and inform, while dispelling any nasty rumours about our traditional Haggis and sadly confirming some stories about deep fried confectionary that you thought must be a myth.
Let me start by saying that Scotland has many distinct flavours and styles to it's own cooking and traditions but it does share a lot of culture from wider areas of the world.
As people emigrated and travelled throughout Scotland over the centuries they brought with them the traditions and cultures of their own. As these people mixed and interacted with the locals so did the food and style of cooking. What we now think of now as 'traditional' Scottish food takes influences from wider Southern European countries as well as heavy aspects of Scandinavian cooking.
It pains me to write this, but there is now evidence that the traditional 'Scots haggis' is actually a Norwegian dish brought over during the Viking invasions in the 13th century (I only hope my family doesn't read that and exile to me England.)
More modern-day influences include Chinese, Italian and Indian cooking. In most towns, Chinese and Indian take-away restaurants exist along with traditional fish and chip shops. In the bigger cities there are also influences and eating establishments offering Thai, Japanese, Mongolian, Mexican, Pakistani, and Polish.
We may as well start with the most famous of Scottish dishes: Haggis.
There is certainly a great deal of history surrounding this classic Scottish meal. Some of it is true and some of it, well, some of it is a pack of lies.
In fact, I think the majority of folklore about the haggis was created in a drunken haze by a few men that had sampled one too many whiskies. Anyway I digress, the finest story about the origins of haggis has to be that it is really a tiny animal that runs around the highlands of Scotland.
Apparently, it is meant to have one set of legs that's shorter than the other set of legs. This is to prevent the Haggis from falling off of the ledges and hills in the Highlands. O.K then.....
Haggis is not actually a live animal (shocker!) and is typically made with the internal organs, or 'pluck' of a sheep. These include the lungs, liver and heart, which are then diced up and crammed into the sheep's own stomach. 'Yum' I hear you cry! But wait, added to this is a mixture of oats, onions, herbs and spices. The balancing of the herbs and spices is the tricky part and is what separates the really good Haggis from the not so good.
The contents are then boiled until ready.
Although this doesn't sound the most appetising meal the meat content and quality of the ingredients are superior to those found in many hamburgers and hot dog sausages.
Oats have always enjoyed a main role in the traditional Scots diet. Not surprisingly, oatcakes - a gentle, biscuit cooked with rolled or milled oats - remains a well-liked favourite. These days oatcakes still offer a variety of food uses including that of a side dish, served with cheese or even the foundation for up-market canapés.
Of course, fresh seafood is just as traditional a food of Scotland as the beloved Haggis.
With the plentiful supply of seas, lochs and rivers fish have always been a major source of food throughout history. Archaeologists have discovered that fishing was vital to the first settlers in Scotland which dates back to around 7,000 BC.
However at this point in time fish were only used by those who caught them and their immediate families, it was not the thriving export industry it is today.
With the strong flavours and natural balance of tastes that freshly caught Scottish fish possess, many cooks rely on a simple cooking method to not over complicate the dish.
Cooking processes such as smoking, steaming and pan frying are still the most popular ways to prepare the catch.
Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert made from a mixture of whipped cream, whisky, honey and fresh raspberries. Together with this is added some toasted oatmeal which has usually been soaked overnight in whisky.
It was traditional for the cranachan incredients to be brought to the serving table in separate dishes. It was then up to each person to make the cranachan to their specific taste. This is not really done anymore but one aspect of the original dish that does continue is the serving in a tall glass to properly display the dessert.
Traditionally this was a summer dish, as this was when the raspberries were harvested, but with the fruit now available all year round, the dish has grown in popularity and is now a more stable dessert choice for many.
Deep-fried Mars Bar
I know that there will be a lot of people who heard that Scotland was actually deep-frying chocolate bars and dismissed it as another Celtic joke. Tourists immediately think this is another shaggy-dog story like that of Haggis or the Loch Ness Monster. Alas, if only that were true.
I am truly ashamed to say that you can indeed eat a deep-fried Mars bar, or any candy bar you choose, here in Scotland.
The process is a lot like frying fish, with the confectionary dipped in the fish batter and placed in the deep fat fryer. As the batter cooks, it protects the Mars Bar from melting completely but obviously it does cook it slightly. This results in a slight melt to the chocolate, nougat and caramel.
It is possibly the worst thing you can eat: high in fat, high in sugar, high in cholesterol, and high in calories.
Fortunately for us Scots, this is not a stable part of our diet. The fact is, the media outlets discovered that a couple of fast food outlets that were making these, reported it and the story went viral. Soon every chip shop jumped in on the act and the myth spread. Suddenly you weren't a proper Scottish Fish and Chip shop unless you served this 'heart-attack-on-a-plate'. Thankfully for all hospital cardiac units in Scotland it really isn't that common.