Where would our blog be without a sneaky little post about our foody inspired adventures? We have briefly mentioned the delights of food in a few posts already but seriously I think that food deserves a post all to its own (be prepared it may be a long one).
Scotland- it probably isn’t the type of country that inspires food envy or uncontrollable drooling as you plan how to eat your way around the country. In fact when you think about Scotland probably the first things that come to mind are deep fried mars bars, stodgy heavy foods, haggis, black pudding and big greasy fried Scottish breakfast. To be honest all these foods do have a big place in Scottish hearts and stomachs. Even as someone who loves fresh foods, when it is bloody cold for months on end, a nice stodgy meal or big breakfast really hits the spot. Who wants to eat a salad when it is 3 degrees and blowing a gale outside??
This reputation sadly overpowers all the other foods that Scotland should be known for. With miles of coastline and plentiful Lochs, Scotland has lots of fresh seafood on offer. Think of wild brown trout, fresh langoustines, huge scallops, need I say more? With all that rain the pastures are perfect for healthy cattle and sheep, and there are plenty of wild open spaces perfect for wild deer.
Hopefully I have successfully whetted your appetite for more! During our travels we made sure to experience many of these foods. Marty did a fantastic job looking up small local businesses and local supplies before our trip.
First up we stopped at the local supermarket for basic supplies, we have been living in England for the past year so thought really most items would be the same but oh no… in the bakery section the supermarkets here stock cold pancakes, potato scones and oatcakes (all delicious and perfect little snacks whilst hiking). Having recently found Tunnocks in England we couldn’t go past the opportunity to try dark chocolate tea cakes and caramel bars.
A trip to Skye could not be complete without a trip to The Oyster Shed, perched up on the hill above the Tallisker distillery. It opens from 10-4 and is much more substantial then the name suggests. The menu changes according to the catch of the day and you may want to get in quick before certain items sell out. Indecisive as we are, we opted for the seafood platter, which offered one of everything, oysters, crab claw, langoustine, mussels, a bit of salmon served up with a tasty dipping sauce and brown bread. The serving size is decent and even though we already had lunch, and had dinner waiting at home we decided to go back for a portion of scallops. I am so pleased we did, these were possibly the largest scallops I have ever seen, and the sweet meat hit just the right spot. Marty was unable to resist looking in the well-stocked store and buying ‘something you cannot buy anywhere else’. More about that later.
After completing the steep and slightly difficult loop hike of the Quirang (views well worth stumbling up the hill for) we drove on to our next tourist stop, Kilt rock. Both of us were rather hungry and cold- that mist and rain just never seems to give up!! Like a mirage (well maybe not quite that dramatic) we happened across a little food truck serving up filter coffee, tea and a small selection of hearty meals (creamy mac and cheese, bacon butty’s, thai curry…) We decided to treat ourselves and opted for a quick bite to supplement our sandwiches. After chatting with the chef serving in the truck Marty decided on a haggis butty (well you gotta try it!!).
OH MY GOD! As we bit into the lightly toasted soft white bun filled with warm hearty spicy haggis and served with a home made peppercorn sauce, our hearts leapt and smiles grew on our faces. Hearty, filling, warm and with just the right amount of crunch. It was just the type of food we needed to fill our stomachs and gear us up for yet another hike- this time up The Storr.
Although we are on a budget and often stay in either bunkhouses or hostels which allow us to self-cater, our first stop on the NC500 was a B&B, The Croft House just outside of Lybster. The skies had cleared so we drove down the sheltered harbour to eat our picnic dinner on the Wharf- oatcakes, Butteries (as the name suggests these little buns were made with a buttery pastry and tasted almost like a mix between croissant and bread rolls). Out came the previously purchased specialty from Skye which turned out to be peat smoked sliced scallops, rather rich and definitely smokey these little morsels are not something you would eat everyday. However, they matched perfectly with the oatcakes, butteries, rocket and sea air. That feeling of being on holidays well and truly sinking in as the gulls swirled above.
The breakfast served up at our B&B the following morning also did not disappoint! There was an option for an entrée if you will of cereals or porridge, however Marty and I skipped this. Martins had the full Scottish breakfast- 2 eggs, sausages, bacon, tomatoes, locally made black pudding. I opted for the smoked haddock- locally caught and smoked in Thurso. The meals were delicious, fresh local produce which filled us up until about 3pm! It was a good thing we had a hearty and filling breakfast inside as we passed by the Old Pulteney distillery- the most Northern Scottish distillery located on such a wild coastline- it was definitely worth a try! Is that really the taste of salt or just my mind conditioned by advertising to taste the tangy sea air?
Dunnett bay is home to Rock Rose Gin an up and coming micro distillery, recently visiting by Prince Charles who has given his tick of approval. The little store is beautiful and the gins are well presented. Poor Marty was driving, but I got to taste their range of Gins; spring, summer, autumn and winter. Marty got to try gin infused shortbread, a pretty good consolation prize I’d say. The Holy Grass Vodka was also very smooth and fragrant. Well worth a try!
Our next foody stop was one that I was looking forward to, the much spoken about and highly recommended Cocoa Mountain. Open only 11-3 and located off the main road it would be easy to miss this little gem. Very unexpectedly Cocoa Mountain is an artisan chocolatier well known for its hot chocolates. After an early walk through the sand dunes I was well prepared for my hot chocolate chaser (a standard hot chocolate with a choice of 2 small chocolates). The drink was suitably chocolately, made from a mix of melted chocolate and foaming milk and served of course with an extra drizzle of melted chocolate inside the cup. Cocoa Mountain lived up to its reputation.
An unexpected surprise along our trip came from a few nights spent couch surfing with a local family near Lochinver. We were greeted warmly by our hosts who welcomed us into their home. Their son showed us the croft and quickly had us outside foraging for edible plants- we picked enough wild field sorrel and wood sorrel to make a small salad, decorated with edible primroses and Dog Violets (these flowers are protected, so you can only eat them if you own the land) and dressed with a family secret herbed dressing. The Sorell is slightly tangy and sour, almost lemony, the flowers are slightly peppery in taste. The salad made a great accompaniment to wild venison stew (slow cooked, rich and hearty). Followed by warm bilberries and ice cream, the vibrant purple berries staining our lips and mouths. An experience that will stay with us, matching perfectly with the wild surroundings of the croft.
Although we had a long drive from Lochinver to our next stop at Kishorn, past the Torridon range it wasn’t long until we stopped again. We were hoping the smokeshed and bakery would be open in Ullapool to collect some fresh fish, and oatcakes however it was Easter weekend. We collected some smoked chedder from a stall at the market and then joined the line already forming outside the Seafood Shack. We ordered Cullen Skink (a Scottish fish soup), spinney popcorn (little morsels of spinney crab coated in tempura batter) and langoustines cooked with a thyme and butter sauce. The food was delicious- The warm and sightly greasy Cullen Skink filled with large pieces of fish just perfect on a cold day. The langoustines were large and sweet- worth the effort of de-shelling, butter dripping down our fingers and arms. Again malted brown bread was the perfect accompaniment. We shared our table with the local GP normally based in Inverness who was on call in Ullapool over Easter and his gorgeous Border Collie, who gratefully gobbled down the heads of our discarded Langoustines. The food here is all cooked fresh- and they actually had to shut early over Easter because they sold out of food.
Another couple of stops along the way to Aviemore at distilleries passed along the way gave us a good introduction to Speyside Whisky. I actually prefer a slightly peaty but still light style, but great to compare.
Back to Glasgow, and an opportunity arose for us to catch up with a friend Marty had met at the European Mental health conference in 2015. He suggested Babu which specialises in Bombay street food. There was some confusion about the booking when we arrived, but the staff found us a seat and we settled in to read the menu. I ordered a mango Lassi to quench my thirst and was pleasantly surprised by the addition of maybe cloves which added an extra spicey dimension. After waiting patiently for about 15 minutes, our tummies rumbling from all the good food options on offer I asked Marty to check what day we were meant to meet with Frank. His face fell as he realised we were a day early. Super hungry by that stage we decided that we would just have to eat there twice in a row instead of trying to find another place to eat that night. The entrée of Sev Puri was surprising, small morsels each packed with flavour, crunchy wheat base, red onion, a mix of chutneys and a bit of coriander. The tastes reminding us instantly of fresh Thai foods and home. With big smiles we moved onto our next course. Marty had the curry of the day wrapped in an egg soaked tortilla, and I enjoyed a dahl style vegetarian meal. The food was quick, hearty, spicy and well prepared/ presented, restoring smiles to our faces. It really was no hardship to come back for a second date the very next night.
I won’t go into detail over the food options available in Edinburgh, because Edinburgh wasn’t on our Itinerary this time. However it too has a very good food scene. A friend let us into the secret of pre-theatre or set lunch menus, an opportunity to try a restricted version of the full menu at a fantastic price! Martins remembers our trip to Edinburgh fondly, good food, a gin tour at Pickering’s and cool late night bars.
Sadly Marty did not let me try a deep fried Mars bar, and neither of us were overly keen on trying the beloved late night food- deep fried pizza. As one of our Scottish friends told us at Ben Nevis, if you are weight conscious you could always just ask for a half pizza battered then deep fried.
Now please don’t get me wrong, from this post it may look like we eat like kings. We definitely try to eat as well as possible, try everything and make the most of our experiences. However, behind the scenes, we have our fair share of packed lunches and pasta based meals, the true sustenance fuelling backpackers everywhere.
I hope from this little snapshot you can understand the wealth of flavours coming out of Scotland. A place where I am sure you could organise a gourmet food tour. It definitely made an impression on us!