Scottish Food and Drink

Scotland has a distinctive cuisine, often based on very traditional foods. Of the many culinary delights on offer, we list some of the more traditional Scottish foods and drinks below.

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The Food

Arbroath Smokie

A wood-smoked haddock still produced in small family smoke-houses in the East coast fishing town of Arbroath.

Bannocks (or Oatcakes)

A barley and oat-flour biscuit baked on a gridle. In modern times bannocks are often eaten with cheese. There are several traditional recipes and many manufacturers in Scotland today.

Scottish Beef

The Aberdeen-Angus breed of beef cattle are now widely reared across the world. Reknown for their rich and tasty meat, which makes excellent steaks. Good butchers will still hang and prepare meat in the traditional manner, although these butchers are rare these days and people often complain that even Scotch Beef has lost its taste.

Scotch Broth or Hotch-Potch

A rich stock is traditionally made by boiling mutton (the neck is best), beef, marrow-bone or chicken (for a chicken broth). There is also freedom over the choice of vegetables, which should be diced. Carrots, garden peas, leeks, cabbage, turnips and a stick of celery can all be used. The hard vegetables should be added first to the boiling stock, with a handful of barley, with the softer vegetables being added later.

The final consistency should be thick and served piping hot.

Black Bun

Black Bun is a very rich fruit cake, made with raisins, currants, finely-chopped peel, chopped almonds and brown sugar with the addition of cinnamon and ginger. It takes its name from the very dark colour.


A dish found in the Western Islands of Scotland and also in Ireland. It is made from boiled cabbage, carrots, turnip and potatoes. This mixture is then drained and stewed for about 20 minutes in a pan with some butter, seasoned with salt and pepper and served hot.


A simple white cheese, made from the whey of slightly soured milk seasoned with salt and a touch of pepper. The seasoned whey is squeezed in a muslin bag to remove excess water, left aside for two days and then rolled in oats and served.

Scottish Salmon

The Rivers Tay and Tweed are major salmon fisheries. Since victorian times these and other rivers have hosted wealthy fishing parties on the estates of the aristocracy. There is much more information on fishing on the River Tweed. Poaching (illegally catching) salmon is an equally traditional activity.

In recent times, many major fish farms have been established in the Sea Lochs on the West coast of Scotland. These are major commercial sources of fish, although the quality is not considered to be the same as wild river-caught salmon.

Today the salmon tends to be smoked, and thinly sliced, served as an entrée.

Forfar Bridies

An oval delicacy, similar to the Scotch Pie, described below. Unlike the pie, filling is crimped into the pastry case. The pastry may be either plain or flakey.

The plain pastry is made by preparing a stiff paste of flour and water, seasoned with a pinch of salt. This should be rolled out into an oval shape about 5" by 7". In the centre is placed minced beef, a little suet and a sprinkling of very finely chopped onion. The pastry is then folded over along its longest dimension, brushed with milk and cooked until the pastry is golden brown.


Haggis is perhaps the best known Scottish delicacy, and it is wonderful stuff, with a rich flavour, although those partaking for the first time are often put off when they hear what it is made of...

Robert Burns said in his Address to the Haggis:

Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudden race!
Haggis is made from sheep's offal (or pluck). The windpipe, lungs, heart and liver of the sheep are boiled and then minced. This is mixed with beef suet and lightly toasted oatmeal. This mixture is placed inside the sheep's stomach, which is sewn closed. The resulting haggis is traditionally cooked by further boiling (for up to three hours) although the part-cooked haggis can be cooked in the oven which prevents the risk of bursting and spoiling.

Perhaps the best known maker of haggis is the Edinburgh company of Charles MacSween & Son (now relocated to out of the city). Their haggis is widely available in the U.K. and they will happily ship it overseas, although note that the strict agriculture regulations preclude importing haggis into the U.S.

MacSweens also make a vegetarian "haggis", which is actually quite tasty, even though the only ingredient it has in common with the real thing is the oatmeal! For more information on haggis:

o The Folklore of the Haggis
o The More on Haggis (from Kultur)
o For more on Robert Burns, see our Literature section

Scotch Pies

A round crusty pastry pie, approximately 10cm (4") in size. Made without using a pie tin, these self-contained pies are filled with minced meat, although the much of the meat is often replaced with offal. The tradition is that this meat is mutton, although in modern times beef is almost always used. A variation of the theme may contain onion in addition to the beef. Differentiating between the ordinary pie and the onion variety was tradiationally made easier by the number of holes in the top; one for plain, two for onion. This distinction is sometimes also used for Forfar bridies.

Perhaps the best known maker was Wallace's Pie Shop in Dundee.


A simple dish, made of boiled oatmeal. It needs to be boiled slowly and stirred continuously with the traditional spirtle - a wooden stick which is about 30cm (or 12") long - to avoid the formation of lumps!

Porridge should be thick and wholesome, not thin like gruel. It has remarkable properties for preventing hunger. Today it is often eaten for breakfast, with the addition of milk, and a small plate keeps you feeling full until lunchtime.

Traditionally crofters in the Highlands of Scotland would make a large pot of porridge at the beginning of the week. Once allowed to cool, it would be cut into slices, and the crofter would places a slice in his pocket eack day for lunch.

Porridge must be cooked with salt to obtain the correct flavour. Those eating porridge outside Scotland have been know to cook it without salt and indeed eat it with sugar or even syrup, which is a habit which would turn the stomach of any Scotsman (or Scots-woman).

Stovied Tatties (or Stovies)

Stovies are a potato-based dish, designed to use up left over meat and vegetables.

Several onions should be cut into small pieces and fried in a good amount of beef dripping (fat from the cooked meat) in a large pot. Scraps of meat and left-over vegetables (usually carrots and peas) are then added to the frying onions.

Six to eight good sized potatoes are peeled and cut into 3cm (1.5") pieces. Approximately 2.5cm (1") of water is added to the pan containing the fried onion mixture and the potato pieces are added to this, seasoned with salt and then left to simmer until the potatoes are soft. More water is added only if the pan is likely to become dry.

The resulting stovies should have the consistency of mashed potatoes, but the potato pieces should still be detectable. Modern cooks would add a beef stock cube to the mixture prior to simmering.

Other notable Scottish foods include:

  • A wide variety of sea food including mussels, scalops, shrimp, some of the World's finest lobster and crabs, and varieties of fish too numerous to mention
  • Soft fruit from the Carse of Gowrie, including raspberries, strawberries, Tayberries and brambles (blackberries).
  • Vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, turnips, cabbages, cauliflower
  • Succulent Lamb from the Hill Pastures
  • A host of locally produced cheeses, including Cheddars from Galloway. For many more details, see A History of Cheese-making in Scotland
  • Venison from the great Highland Estates, and increasingly from specialist farms
  • Game Birds such as grouse, pheasant, partridge and wood pidgeon
  • Ostrich - hardly traditional, but there are Ostrich farms in Scotland!

Scottish Recipes:

The Drink

Scotch Whisky

Scotch Whisky (or simply "Scotch") is certainly the best known Scottish drink. Scotch Whisky (only the Irish and American varieties are spelled with an "e") is distilled from a barley liquor and flavoured with peat tainted water. Known as the Water of Life or Uisge-Beatha in Gaelic.

The are two basic classes of whisky:

  • Malt Whisky - more expensive, this is the product of a single distillery.
  • Blended Whisky - cheaper and more popular, this comes from several distilleries and is mixed, often with some proportion of industrial spirit, to give a standard flavour.
The whisky-producing areas of Scotland include some of the most beautiful areas of the country. The most notable areas are along the River Spey, in the Highlands, west of Aberdeen and on the island of Islay, off the west coast.

Many of the distilleries lie along "Whisky Trails" and welcome visitors. These tend to offer free guided tours and exhibitions and, inevitably, a tasting of their product.

The definitive source of information about Malt Whisky is:

o John Butler's Malt Whisky Tour which includes a vast amount of carefully-researched information and links to many other Whisky resources.
Other Information on whisky includes:
o The Scotch Whisky Association - trade association with well-presented links to many distilleries
o Whisky Web - discussions and reference
o The lots of info about the (numerous) United Distiller's Brands
o The The Malt Whisky File a searchable database of whiskies
o The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
o The Alternative Whisky Academy - non- commercial reference
o The Malt Whisky Trail

Scottish Beers & Ales

Brewing in Scotland is now dominated by international conglomerates:

Having said this, in recent times, there has been a revival of smaller breweries using traditional methods, some of the better known are:

The traditional Scottish beers include Indian Pale Ale (IPA) (a recipe originally brewed to retain its quality after shipping around the Empire), 90/- (ninety shillings), 80/-, and 70/-. The latter are all named after the original cost per barrel in shillings.

Hot Toddy

Place a teaspoon-full of sugar and a teaspoon-full of scottish heather honey in a warm glass. Add a measure of scotch whisky (usually not a malt) and top up with boiling water.

Traditionally should be stirred gently with a silver spoon.

An excellent cure for the common cold, or just when feeling down!

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