One of the things we most enjoy about traveling is getting to try new foods. Every region on earth has its own distinct cuisine, and if you keep an open mind and an open mouth, there's no limit to the delicious experiences you can have. Even foods that might seem gross turn out to be delicious -- that was certainly the case on our trip to Scotland. Who would have thought that I'd actually eat -- and enjoy -- dishes made out of sheep's innards and blood?
One of the first orders of business after we crossed the English-Scottish border was to find a pub serving traditional Scottish food. We found it in Edinburgh, at a pub near Edinburgh Castle called The Halfway House. The Pea and I played it safe and opted for Stovies and Oatcakes. Stovies is a Scottish dish made with potatoes and corned beef; it's just like mashed potatoes with corned beef, or corned beef hash. The dish came with oatcakes (a plain oat-based biscuit) and butter.
(pardon the photo quality; these pubs don't exactly have much natural light!)
Alfie and 3Po ordered the Scottish classic trio of haggis (sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, encased in a sheep's stomach), neeps (turnips), and tatties (potatoes). Neither of them (nor any of us) were expecting much from it; they both ordered it just so they could say they've tried it. None of us were prepared for how delicious it was! The haggis tasted like minced lamb (which makes sense, given that haggis is made from lamb... just not the muscle meat!) flavored with delicate spices, and it was so good that The Pea and I kept sneaking forkfuls of haggis from Alfie's and 3Po's plates.
Since we're talking about sheeps' insides, I thought I'd add that we tried another "exotic" dish, black pudding, for the first time just a few days before. Black pudding is not really Scottish, it's a traditional English blood sausage that was served to us as part of a Full English Breakfast in our Blackpool B&B. It's also really delicious! Just take a bite before you ask someone what's inside :) I did have to take a few deep breaths once I learned what black pudding is made of, but I would definitely have it again.
Another great Scottish dish is red lentil soup. I had no idea red lentils were even part of Scottish cuisine (I've always assumed, ignorantly, that red lentils were a Mediterranean or Indian ingredient). For our first night back at home in the US, I decided to make Scottish Lentil Soup so we could reminisce about our trip. Waitrose has a great recipe for Scottish Lentil Soup, but after 3 weeks of eating meat and starch almost every day, we've all agreed to go vegetarian exclusively for a couple of weeks before going back to our regular menu rotation of having meat just once or twice a week. My soup is a vegetarian version:
---------------------------Vegetarian Scottish Lentil Soup
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red split lentils
3 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add chopped onions and garlic, and fry until soft. Add lentils and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, add bay leaf, parsley, salt, and pepper. Simmer for at least 30 minutes on low. Serve with buttered bread.
On to dessert! We weren't in Scotland long enough to taste all the traditional desserts -- Clootie Dumpling, Cranachan, Scottish Tablets, Highland Flummery, and more -- but Alfie was not about to leave Scotland without sampling a slice (okay, more than a slice) of whiskey cake! Whiskey cake is a moist fruitcake, soaked in single malt whiskey. I don't care for fruitcake, but Alfie lapped it up.
Not everyone likes whiskey cake, but I don't know a single person that doesn't melt for Scottish Shortbread. All the souvenir shops around Edinburgh and Glasgow were filled with decorative tins of Walkers' Shortbread and Campbell's Shortbread. Walkers is my favorite -- and I managed to find a huge box of Walker's Shortbread on sale, from £9 down to £1.50! The pack was on clearance because it was nearing its expiration date, but we finished all the shortbread way before that date :) Fortunately, Walker's Shortbread is readily available in the US, but it takes less effort to make your own than to drive to the supermarket. If you want to try your hand at making shortbread, I posted an easy recipe over at Bedtime Math, check it out!