I was in London right before visiting Edinburgh, and found the food to be uninteresting. Americans have a better handle on fish & chips and “cheeky Nando’s” is not cheeky. British conceptions of cake (one-dimensional taste, aesthetically bland, uncreative ingredients) pale in comparison to the baked goods of every other country I’ve been to, even the Asian ones that only got cake in the last hundred years. The best thing to eat in London are the Cornwall pasties, which are basically hand-held pies. Get one from a chain; they’re consistent all around. The Pasty Shop’s green curry and chorizo options are my favorites.
The UK isn’t known for its food culture in general so I wasn’t expecting much of Scotland, but I left really impressed! Edinburgh is too quiet for the typical college spring breakers to spend a week in, but it is a truly wonderful city and I highly recommend it for older travellers, outdoorsy types, and history buffs. And getting to St. Andrews, one of the most beautiful coastal towns in the world, is a blissfully easy train ride away. Scottish life is peaceful and wholesome.
Of course anyone visiting Scotland needs to try haggis. Haggis is assorted offal mashed together with flavorings. The description might be offputting to westerners who are used to eating meat that is identifiable as to which body part of the animal it came from, but eating all of the animal is important to many cultures, from the Native Americans to the Japanese, and there isn’t any good reason why this shouldn’t be the case everywhere. Haggis tastes like a nuttier and well-spiced ground beef.
I was fine sticking to the touristy Royal Mile for food because the variety in Scotland is way lower compared to a place like Beijing. The Royal McGregor is a well-known pub that serves the traditional haggis, neeps, and tatties (haggis, swedes/turnips, and potatoes) in a stack with an incredibly whiskey sauce that tastes nothing like whiskey and everything like a smooth, cheesy clam chowder base.
The Royal McGregor’s smoky cullen skink (another traditional dish, this time a haddock-based creamy stew) is very good but the “crusty bread” it came with is a terrible supermarket loaf that lacks both taste and textural integrity. A restaurant that does not take bread seriously shouldn’t bother serving it at all.
The visit to the Royal McGregor came after an immersive morning spent in Edinburgh Castle, where I had some “luxury ice cream” from a truck that beat out all the Italian gelato I’ve had. The brown thing is a Cadbury Flake chocolate bar, added on for the UK novelty aspect but unnecessary.
After the Royal McGregor I climbed Arthur’s Seat. Arthur’s Seat is a giant hill, Edinburgh’s most prominent, that’s literally located across the street from the edge of the downtown tourist streets. While there are bus tours for exploring the Scottish lochs and highlands, getting crazy awesome natural surroundings and views doesn’t require driving. It’s not an easy hike – the top is all raw rocks – so inexperienced hikers should wear long pants and go with a friend.
These photos were taken on the bottom third of Arthur’s Seat, where there are real trails and comfortable grassy knolls. These would make an excellent picnic spot for anyone, even those not going to the top. Maybe with some orange fudge from The Fudge House, also on the Royal Mile.
After coming down Arthur’s Seat, I got my calories back at No. 1 High Street. The atmosphere is just right and so were the haggis burger (a haggis patty on top of a normal beef patty) and the meat pie.
Surprisingly, the pie was deconstructed.
This was really fun to eat! The pastry was paper-light and made beautiful rustling noises, but taste-wise there was nothing compared to the flaky pastry of France. I would have preferred a traditional pie crust that wasn’t a messy lump of empty calories threatening to blow away. I’d still order this again because the meat stew and vegetables were just that good. I’d skip the non-crispy onion rings.
Scotland is so underrated as a travel destination. While life may not be exploding with energy and happenings the way New York or Seoul are, there are plenty of moments that will have you slow down and smile as you think about why life is worth living.