BLOG: What is Scottish food like?

Guests who’ve travelled to Scotland often comment how good the food is here. Scottish livestock are typically reared outdoors, our seafood is legendary, and our fruit and vegetables are delicious too. Scots away from home really miss our traditional brands like Tunnocks and Irn Bru, and we have some wonderful new bakers and makers too.  If you are from the US, you may find fewer additives like corn syrup than you are used to. It’s easy to eat out because staff in cafes and restaurants are well informed about allergies.

What is Scottish food like?

Food from the hillsides, the lochs and the sea

Scotland is a proud agricultural producer of meat, fish, cereals, fruit, and vegetables galore. Agriculture is an important part of Scotland’s rural economy, despite our very mixed weather!

A plate with a piece of salmon surrounded by sauce and peppercorns and decorated with fresh herbs.
Fresh Scottish Salmon from the No 1 Bistro at Mackays in Wick

Full of flavour, but not flavourings

The great flavours of the fresh ingredients are brought out with salt, pepper, herbs and butter, so don’t be shy about trying Scottish food. Smoke is a traditional preservative and imparts a unique flavour to salmon and other fish. Try some of our smoked cheeses, too.

Most traditional Scottish food like haggis, cullen skink, and cock-a-leekie soup use fresh but low-cost ingredients. These would have been made and eaten locally – and often still are. It’s ironic that the freshness that gives them their fresh flavour is what makes them dearer now.

Fresh salmon topped with diced vegetables, balls of cheese, and fresh herbs.
Fresh salmon from the Captain’s Galley at Scrabster, Caithness

Dietary requirements

Scotland is an easy place to buy food and eat out if you are gluten intolerant, have allergies, or are vegetarian or vegan. A every eatery in Scotland will offer at least one gluten-free option, at least one that’s vegan, and can often adapt items on their menu if you ask.  Staff are knowledgeable, and trained to advise and help. Allergens are listed in bold on food that you buy in shops.

Where do I start?

The great Scottish Breakfast

Be sure to stay in a hotel or B&B that offers a Scottish Breakfast at least once in your stay. This bargain of a meal will keep you going all day. As well as bacon and eggs, you’ll have different kinds of sausage (one of them will probably be square), potato cakes, meat puddings (made with oats), fried bread, and baked beans. Any or all of these might be different from what you expect, but it’s a multi-flavoured savoury feast. Chefs can often offer vegan alternatives, but if you are staying somewhere more remote, it is kind to mention you are vegan or vegetarian when you book.

A breakfast plate with sausages, black pudding, potato cakes, a fried egg, tomato and bacon
Breakfast at Mackays hotel in Wick


The “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race”, haggis is Scotland’s national dish. Traditionally, haggis is made of minced beef and lamb, mixed with oats and other grains and vegetables, and roast in the oven. The haggis should be slightly peppery, with a crumbly texture and a mix of savoury flavours. If you feel a bit nervous, try a vegetarian or vegan option – these are very good and may not be so scary!


It may be a surprise that raspberries are a traditional Scottish fruit, but Fife and Perthshire in particular are full of soft fruit farms. You can even pick your own fruit on the farms there in the summer. Cranachan is a traditional desert comprising whipped cream, toasted oats, and raspberries – the perfect combination of tastes and textures for Scotland’s long-lit summer days.

Where can I find these glorious feasts?

Independent hotels, pubs and restaurants

Use TripAdvisor to seek out non-chain pubs and restaurants who specialise in Scottish food. They may be a bit more expensive, but you’ll be offered game like venison or pheasant depending on the season, fresh fish depending on what’s available, and locally grown fruit and vegetables.

A beef open sandwich at Puldagon Farm Restaurant, Wick, Caithness

Fish and chips shops

Most fish and chip shops are independent, and the ones in fishing ports are often astonishingly good. The Trawler in Golspie (on the East Coast above Inverness and on the way to us) won an award as the Best Fish and Chip Shop in Scotland – and that is saying something. A board next to their counter tells you which boat the fish came off, and who grew the spuds for their chips. Some chippies sell the famous deep fried Mars Bar. This is a chocolate and caramel candy bar swathed in butter and fried in oil. Undeniably delicious. Undeniably un-healthy too!

Food festivals, highland games, farmers’ markets and farm shops

Glasgow and Edinburgh both have fabulous farmers’ markets where you can buy all sorts of food direct from the producers. Be sure to chat to them about how they rear and prepare their food.  Also look out for food festivals and food stands at events like highland games and county shows; you’ll find local cheesemakers, local charcuterie and local smokeries in all these places. There are independent farm shops selling local foodstuffs across Scotland, and across the Highlands you will find cupboards beside the road selling cakes and fresh eggs – be sure to have change available to pay.

A bag of "tray bake mis-fits" containing small pieces of rocky road slice, lemon curd slice, chocolate brownie, and mars crispie
Tray bake “mis-fits” from Stacks Bakery at John o’Groats, Caithness

Local cafés

Local cafés are more likely to serve much simpler carb-heavy food. This might be sandwiches made with pre-sliced bread, baked potatoes served with baked beans or coleslaw, or buns covered in astonishingly bright and very sweet icing. They will almost certainly buy everything in, just assembling items on the place in the kitchen. These are the more everyday places that Scottish people – especially working people – go for a quick meal during the day.  The food will be simple and filling, and good value for money.

Street food, take aways and carry outs

Few places in Scotland have street food as such – it’s too wet and windy for that! Though you will find independent burger vans beside the road and at festivals.  Take aways and carry outs can vary a lot depending on where you are and who they serve. In rural areas places that sell ethnic food (Chinese, Indian) may make their recipes milder to suit local tastes.

Local stores and supermarkets

Scotland is an exciting place to find alternatives to global brands. Look for items made by local and medium-sized manufacturers such as Barrs’ bright orange and fizzy Irn Bru (they used to say it was “made in Scotland from girrrderrs”), and Tunnocks famous tea cakes, which are marshmallows enveloped in chocolate and sitting on a biscuit base.

Locally here in Caithness we have Reids Bakery, whose biscuits now fly across the Atlantic on Virgin planes, and Shore who make salty snacks flavoured with seaweed. We pop both of these in our welcome basket for guests to enjoy.

Afore ye go

Don’t be shy of trying Scotland’s traditional foods. Scotland has a rich culinary tradition based on making the very best of local ingredients. It’s not fancy, but it is fresh and full of flavour.

Thanks for the photographs go to Mackays Hotel in Wick, the Captains Galley at Scrabster, Puldagon Farm outside Wick, and Stacks Bakery at John o’Groats.

About me: I was born in England, and learned to cook Scottish food 40 years ago from my Scottish mother-in-law.

I now live at Noss Head lighthouse in Caithness. We are so far north we can see Orkney, and are just off the NC500.

I love sharing this special place, so if you would like to relax at the edge of nowhere, book a stay here at the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage. It is a self-contained light and cosy cottage, surrounded by sea on three sides. Our kitchen has everything you need to cook for yourself, but of course we recommend you eat out at the lovely places who’ve let us use their photos.

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