Scottish is a polarizing cuisine. Some love it, some hate it, and some are simply intrigued by its weirdness. But any tourist who heads to Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, is obliged to give the local delights a taste – it’s part of the cultural experience after all.
Hearty, meaty, rich and sweet; Edinburgh food is guaranteed to assault the senses and fill the stomach. But many visitors will be unfamiliar with the food in Edinburgh, Scotland. With local menus filled with strange looking and oddly named dishes, it can be tricky to know where to start your journey into Scottish cuisine.
There’ll be a lot of questions to answer. What is the best Scottish food in Edinburgh? What are the best places to eat in Edinburgh? What are the best pubs in Edinburgh for food? What are the best places to eat in Edinburgh on a budget?
Thankfully, help is at hand. To answer all these questions and more, let’s take a look at the 10 finest examples of authentic Scottish cuisine, and the top places to eat in Edinburgh for each.
When most foreigners think of Scottish cuisine, one food will come to mind – haggis. Often it won’t be thought of in a particularly positive light, and that’s perhaps not surprising when you learn how the dish is made. A sheep’s liver, lungs and heart are minced together with salt, spices, onion and oatmeal, before the mixture is placed inside the animal’s stomach and deep fried. The advice from locals is simple – don’t knock it ‘til you try it. While you won’t find it on a vegetarian’s list of must try food in Edinburgh, Carnivores will love the meaty texture and wealth of flavors that this hearty, stodgy meal serves up. Because the spices can vary from restaurant to restaurant, the best place to eat haggis in Edinburgh is usually the one that boasts the oldest family recipe!
Where to try it: Whiski Bar & Restaurant
2. Scotch Eggs
The origins of the Scotch egg are contentious. Some say it’s an ancient Scottish recipe passed down through the generations. Others (read: the English) say that London department store Fortnum & Mason came up with the snack in 1738, which is a fair argument, as this is the first recorded mention of the food. Whatever the case, Scotch eggs are now a local institution, and one of the most accessible foods to try in Edinburgh. A hard or soft-boiled egg is wrapped in sausage meat and covered in breadcrumbs before being baked or deep fried. The perfect snack on the go, they’re sold at almost every convenience store, supermarket and pub in town.
Where to try it: The World’s End
3. Neeps and Tatties
Had Forrest Gump been filmed in Scotland, Forrest and Jenny wouldn’t have been like peas and carrots, they would’ve been like neeps and tatties. This traditional side dish is simply turnips (neeps) and potatoes (tatties), boiled, mashed, and placed separately on a dish next to some sort of meaty morsel, usually haggis. Neeps and tatties can be done any which way, and form the foundation of many a local dish. Any combination of butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, spring onions and chives might be added into the mix, and each region of the country boasts its own unique take. You’ll see neeps and tatties served with much of the best pub food in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Where to try it: Arcade Bar
4. Scottish Salmon
From the pure waters of Scotland come equally pure Scottish salmon – fish so perfectly balanced in flavor and texture that they have garnered worldwide praise. Available in high end markets around the globe, there’s no better place to sample this stunning fish than in its home, and it’s wise to aim for a lightly grilled and garnished option that allows the natural flavors to come through. If you’re looking at eating in the Edinburgh city centre, why not treat yourself? Find a fancy restaurant and spend the night experiencing Scotland’s finest produce.
Where to try it: Ondine
5. Cullen Skink
What’s in a name? Well, this dish unsurprisingly originates from the small town of Cullen in the northeast of Scotland, while skink is Scottish for knuckle and shin. This is somewhat confusing, as Cullen skink is a thick soup made of smoked haddock, potatoes and onions. A fishy, creamy, wintry delight, it shares a lot in common with American clam chowder. Perfect as an entrée, a main or a hearty supper, its popularity explodes as the weather cools, as the locals try to warm themselves from the inside. It should sit on the Edinburgh must eat list of every winter visitor.
Where to try it: The Doric
6. Battered Mars Bar
While it’s probably the second most famous example of Scottish cuisine after haggis, the battered or deep-fried Mars Bar isn’t as common a treat as you might believe. It was invented by a regional fish and chip shop in 1992, and it was only after the story was picked up by the media that other takeaway outlets began to offer it. A chilled Mars Bar is covered in a batter usually used for fish before being deep fried until crispy, meaning the dish is exactly as unhealthy as you’d expect. But it’s a badge of honor to say that you’ve done such an iconic piece of cultural eating in Edinburgh, so head to a chippy, order a battered Mars Bar to go, then run home to burn the calories off.
Where to try it: Royal Mile Tavern
7. Scottish Tablet
One thing that a visitor to Edinburgh will quickly realize is that the Scots like their sugar. There are a wealth of chocolate shops and sweet food places Edinburgh, many of which sell that most ubiquitous of local desserts, Scottish tablet. Sugar, condensed milk and butter are blended together to form the base, into which other ingredients are added to give a distinctive taste (for a true Scottish experience, hunt down a whisky flavored recipe). The mixture is then set in ‘tablets’ – flat rectangular pieces of deliciousness that are built to be eaten on the go. If you’re hunting for an easy, tasty, cheap and good food in Edinburgh, look no further.
Where to try it: Bains Retro Sweets
8. Black Pudding
The word ‘pudding’ usually suggests a sweet and sugary treat. But as you probably realize by now, the Scots do things a little bit differently. One of the most widespread dishes in the country, served in takeaways, pubs and even highbrow restaurants, black pudding is actually nearer to haggis than it is to cakes and pies. Don’t worry – there aren’t any sheep innards here… you’ll instead be faced with a sausage of pork fat, beef suet (the hard fat found on the animal’s kidneys), oats and barley, all bound together with the blood of a pig. You’ve got to believe us when we say that despite the rather unconventional ingredients, black pudding is delicious. Served in many of the must eat places in Edinburgh, this is what to eat in Edinburgh, Scotland for a truly authentic dining experience.
Where to try it: The Edinburgh Larder
9. Scotch Pie
Another dish bound to disappoint sweet-tooths, this is pie of the meat rather than sugar variety. A small, hand held pastry that offers incredible crunch thanks to its double crust, a Scotch pie is filled with heavily spiced minced meat (usually mutton) moistened with gravy. Competition between pie makers is fierce, with the Scottish Bakers association naming a world champion Scotch pie every year. As such, recipes are heavily guarded, and many have passed through multiple generations of families and businesses. A traditional snack at the football, head to a local game and pair a Scotch Pie with another Scottish favourite, a glass of Bovril.
Where to try it: Piemaker
Looking at this list it’s hard to argue that Scottish cuisine is anything more than meat and sugar, and our last must-eat Edinburgh item does nothing to change that perception. Another of Scotland’s most famous exports, the humble shortbread originated in the highlands, with the first recorded recipe popping up in 1736. The idea was simple – one part white sugar plus two parts butter plus three parts oat flour equals deliciousness. The result was so appetizing that the recipe has remained largely unchanged for almost 300 years. These days ground rice and corn flour might be added for texture, and all manner of spices and flavorings for taste, but it’s generally thought that the purer the recipe, the better the result. Many cafes and other cool places to eat in Edinburgh will heavily feature this cheeky little treat!
Where to try it: Pinnies & Poppy Seeds