Traditional Scottish Food You HAVE to Try

Cooking Forfar Bridies

The Out About Scotland Guide to traditional Scottish food you HAVE to try

I have to admit that when I first moved to Edinburgh I was worried about trying the traditional Scottish food I’d heard so much about. In fact, as a pasty-faced Englishman looking to start a new adventure I was apprehensive about moving to Scotland full stop, especially considering all the (mostly wrong) stories I’d heard from my peers.

‘They don’t like the English up there!’ – wrong (at least in my experience….so far!). ‘The weather’s rubbish in Scotland’ – Mostly wrong. ‘There’s nothing to do up there, it’s just hills and mud’ – wrong, wrong and wrong again. ‘The food’s crap’ – um, ok, what were you saying about the weather again?

My initial experiences with traditional Scottish food were something of a culture shock, and to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what I’d let myself in for. ‘What on earth is this haggis thing?’ and ‘I didn’t even know you could deep-fry a pizza’ are some of the thoughts that raced through my head on my first visit to the local chippy, and that’s before I was introduced to the wonders of the deep-fried Mars Bar.

Deep fried Mars bar


Maybe I was just going to all the wrong places and not giving Scotland a chance to show it’s true culinary colours? But to be honest it’s difficult to find traditional Scottish food when every restaurant is part of an enormous conglomerate selling dishes from every country except the one in which it’s based.

You want Sushi? No problem, Yo! Sushi is around the next corner. Mexican? Yeah, Chiquito opened another branch the next street over. Traditional Scottish food? Well, there’s a chippy just up the road…

Luckily, my belly and my taste buds were about to get the best surprise of their lives because shortly after moving north of the border I met my amazing girlfriend, Gillian. And Gillian knows how to cook. I mean really cook.

Whereas I’m kind of a pot-noodle-in-a-sandwich type of guy, Gillian is never happier than when she’s cooking up the most amazing dishes known to humanity, especially if it’s the kind of traditional Scottish food that you remember your mum used to make.

You know, the kind of food she used to feed you on a cold winter’s evening when you’d spent all afternoon being pelted with snowballs by the school bully and you needed something to cheer you up. Admit it, we’ve all been there. Or maybe that was just me.

And that’s what hit me first about why traditional Scottish food is just so damned good. It doesn’t just taste good but it makes you feel good in a wrapped-up-in-the-duvet kind of way. It’s food for filling your belly. Food for enjoying with the family. Food that isn’t particularly healthy, but who cares anyway? It’s simple food for the people and it’s food you don’t have to spend a day’s wages on like that snobby Italian place down the road.

So if you want some good, hearty, wholesome meals there’s a list of recipes below for traditional Scottish food that you can make yourself, easily, with just a few basic ingredients that I bet you’ve already got in your cupboard.

So join me now on a journey into a culinary masterclass that will take you on a journey to discover some of the most popular traditional Scottish food where you’ll possibly end up a little bit heavier at the end, but you’ll have a big contented grin on your face that says it was worth it. And there’s not a mince-filled sheep’s stomach in sight.


The history of traditional Scottish food

A Highland Cow

Scotland is a land of extremes, with the wild and billowing seas of the west coast, the dramatic mountainous peaks of the Highlands, and the gently rolling fields of the Lowlands all offering something different for visitors to the country. But it’s not just modern tourists who have to adapt when they travel through Scotland because the ancestors of today’s residents also had to contend with the varied landscape when they first arrived here.

It’s believed that the birth of Scotland’s unique take on hearty, stodgy meals comes from the Picts who settled in the Highlands around 1000 BC, and it was this rapidly-growing tribe that first farmed the land. What they found as they moved across the country was a landscape full of fertile soil, an abundance of freshwater lochs, and woodland heaving with animal and plant life, all surrounded by a plentiful sea rich with fish and shellfish. Basically, it had all the ingredients required for a people trying to survive in a cold and wet climate.

While hunting and fishing provided the basis for a very healthy diet it was soon integrated with food containing farmed oats and barley – crops that are perfectly suited to Scotland’s weather- along with root vegetables and farm-raised cattle, and this diet of high-protein, high-energy foods became ingrained in Scottish culture.

When the Vikings arrived in the 8th century they brought with them methods of preserving and salting their food so that it would last throughout the meagre winter months, along with animal species that were even better suited to the climate – hence our famously long-haired cattle that are able to thrive in Scotland’s freezing conditions.

As the years rolled on all these ingredients continued to be refined and used in ever-more extravagant dishes, with soups, broths, puddings and oat-based foods all being used as the staples of the Scottish diet. Ingredients that happily grow from the Lowlands to the Highlands and which are easy to store, prepare, and are also very healthy. They also share a common theme in that they’re quite stodgy, which may go some way to explaining why Scots today still prefer heavy, fatty foods.

One other food type that’s popular in Scotland is cake and sweet pies which are full of easily harvested fruits and berries as well as copious amounts of sugar and honey, and I think it’s fair to say if you live in Scotland it definitely helps if you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth. Tablet in particular (listed below), is one of the sweetest foods I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world, and while home-made tablet is absolutely delicious I really wouldn’t advise eating too much of it unless you want your waistline to expand overnight.

Anyway, check out a few modern-day recipes of the types of dishes that have been enjoyed in Scotland for hundreds of years with the following list. I hope you enjoy eating them as much as I do!


1. Clapshot

Clapshot and oatcakes

What is it?

This is a simple vegetable dish that originated in Orkney but moved south over the years and is now enjoyed in Scottish households throughout the land. It’s basically posh mashed potato, with swede, turnips, chives, onions and lashings of butter and cream mixed in.

The Scots often serve this with haggis as an alternative to neeps and tatties (mashed swede and potatoes), but you can eat it with anything. While Scotland isn’t particularly well-known for its vegetable dishes, this one really seems to work well with practically any type of meat you want to add to it. And it’s absolutely fantastic with a big dollop of thick beef gravy poured over it.

Fun fact: In Orkney where it was originally made, Clapshot is often eaten with oatcakes.



  • 1 pound baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 pound turnips, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 pound carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cubed
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

How do I make it?

  1. Place the potatoes, turnips, carrots, onion and salt in a big pan, fill with water to cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil over a high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium-high and boil the vegetables until tender for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and mash the vegetables with a potato masher. Spoon the mashed vegetables into a serving dish and stir in the butter and cream.


2. Tablet

Scottish Tablet

What is it?

A friend to the wallets of Scottish dentists for many decades, eating tablet is more or less like eating an entire bag of sugar, albeit one that tastes absolutely amazing! Think something along the lines of a really hard fudge and you’ve pretty much got tablet sussed, with the main ingredients of sugar, butter and condensed milk just like you get with standard fudge.

Tablet, however, has this incredible, semi-hard, grainy texture that’s quite unlike its soft English cousin, and somehow it tastes all the better for it. As a top tip, splash in a few drops of vanilla essence to really bring out the sweetness.

Fun fact: The first recipe for Scottish tablet dates all the way back to the early 1700’s.



  • 3 1/2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter

How do I make it?

  1. Prepare an 8-inch square pan by coating with butter.
  2. Place the milk, water, sugar, and butter into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat, stirring continuously. Turn the heat to low, and continue to simmer until it reaches between 112 to 116°C.
  3. Once the temperature is reached and the tablet has turned a dark tan colour, remove it from the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes.
  4. Beat the tablet mixture with an electric hand mixer for five minutes, until it cools and begins to harden. Pour it into the prepared pan, and score into serving-size pieces while it is still soft. Allow it to cool until it’s completely set.


3. Stovies

Scottish Stovies

What is it?

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first saw a spoon of stovies splat down onto my plate my heart sank a little bit, at least until I actually tried some because it’s really just a Scottish variant of an English dish that I pretty much grew up on. One of my favourite meals that my mum used to make when I was a little kid was corned beef hash, which was basically all the leftover veggies from yesterdays meal mixed up with corned beef. It sounds gross I know, but I loved it.

Stovies is basically the same thing as corned beef hash, but served with oatcakes, and using sausages, beef or some other meat instead of corned beef. Add in a few vegetables as a side and you’ve got traditional Scottish food that will warm you up for hours in the cold winter evenings, and it’s even relatively healthy too.

Fun fact: ‘to stove’ means ‘to stew’ in Scots.



  • 6 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 12-ounces of sausages or beef, cut into chunks
  • salt and pepper to taste

How do I make it?

  1. In a saucepan, combine the potatoes and milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
  2. While the potatoes are simmering, melt some butter in a pan over a medium-high heat. Cook the onions until they’re soft.
  3. When the potatoes are soft, mix in the onions and meat chunks. Cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.


4. Cranachan


What is it?

Cranachan is the reason why I know God is Scottish, because no mere mortal could come up with such an amazingly sweet culinary treat as this yummy creation.

Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert that was originally created to celebrate harvest time in Scotland, which meant that in days gone by it was only ever served in June. Luckily for the rest of humanity the Scots decided that it’s just too damned good to eat for only one month of the year, and now it’s served whenever they feel like it.

Raspberries, cream, sugar, oats and whisky are mixed into an artery-clogging goo that’s possibly the most Scottish dessert you could ever imagine, but one that rivals any other in the world. Try it after your meal with a coffee and a splash of whisky for the ultimate post main course treat

Fun fact: Cranachan is traditionally served by bringing the separate ingredients out to the table so that each person can create their own dessert.



  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup thick cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Scotch whisky
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 4 fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

How do I make it?

  1. Preheat the oven to 175°C. Spread the oats out in a thin layer on a baking sheet and then toast them in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until nut-brown. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, whip the cream to firm peaks, but not so it’s grainy. Gently fold in the sugar, vanilla and toasted oats. Spoon into 4 serving bowls, and top with fresh raspberries. Drizzle a good amount of whisky over each serving. Garnish with a mint leaf.


5. Cullen Skink

Cullen Skink

What is it?

Continuing with the theme of arterial-wall thickening is this next Scottish treat, Cullen Skink, a fish broth which is so thick and creamy that after eating a bowl you probably won’t want to eat another thing for the rest of the day. The fact that it has double cream mixed into it practically screams that it originates from Scotland.

Cullen Skink is usually served as a starter, but it also works well when served with great big chunks of crusty bread as a main meal. While it’s quite smokey thanks to the haddock, the flavours of the cream perfectly compliment the potato and onions which make up the bulk of the soup. It’s definitely a winter-warmer that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Fun fact: The village of Cullen in the county of Moray is home to the Cullen Skink World Championships, a competition where cooks from across the globe compete to prepare the world’s tastiest bowl of Cullen Skink. You can learn all about the village of Cullen in my complete guide to Cullen.


  • 2 pounds smoked haddock fillets
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup double cream
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley for garnish

How do I make it?

  1. In a saucepan over a medium heat, combine the haddock, milk and cream. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove the fish and set it aside in a bowl. Add the potatoes and onion to the milk/cream mixture and simmer for about 10 minutes until tender.
  2. Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender and blend until it’s smooth and creamy. Scoop the mixture back into the pan and flake the fish into it. Heat through gently, but do not boil it. Serve immediately. Season with pepper and garnish with parsley.


6. Scotch Egg

Scotch egg

What is it?

The Scots like sausage and egg for breakfast. This is an egg wrapped up in a sausage. It’s basically the perfect Scottish breakfast but made in a way that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Genius. But don’t let the simplicity of the Scotch egg fool you because these little blighters taste surprisingly good, and they’re possibly the most perfect picnic food ever.

Scotch eggs have been popular in Scotland for well over a hundred years, although the English department store Fortnum and Mason claim to have first created the recipe for one of their eateries in 1738.

But wherever the recipe originates from, the humble Scotch egg is just as popular today as it was a hundred years ago. There are even regional variations such as the Manchester Egg which uses a pickled egg and the Worcester Egg which uses white pudding. But these are just wrong.

Fun fact: In the 19th-century, Scotch eggs were covered in fish paste instead of sausage meat.



  • 6 eggs
  • 1 pound pork sausage, formed into 6 patties
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • vegetable oil for frying

How do I make it?

  1. Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil. Cover, remove from heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the eggs from the hot water and allow them to cool. Peel the shells from the eggs once cooled.
  2. In a large deep pan heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil until it’s hot.
  3. Place the whole boiled eggs on top of the sausage patties. Roll the meat to form a ball around the egg and dip it into the beaten egg wash, then the seasoned breadcrumbs. Deep fry in hot vegetable oil until the meat is fully cooked. Serve hot or cold.


7. Forfar Bridies

Forfar Bridie

What is it?

At one time in a previous life I lived in Cornwall and one of my favourite foods was the humble Cornish pasty. After moving to the opposite end of Britain I thought I’d never be able to sample those meat-filled pastry delights ever again, but I soon found out that they make something similar in Scotland, only up here they call it a Bridie.

A Bridie is basically a Cornish pasty without the potato, and a flaky pastry instead of the shortcrust pastry they use down south. But despite their differences, Scottish bridie’s are really delicious, especially when they’re fresh out of the oven.

The filling consists of minced steak and beef suet with some traditional fine Scottish herbs and spices (i.e. salt and pepper), and the pastry is folded into a triangular shape. And just like a Cornish pasty, they can be eaten hot or cold, which makes them perfect for packing into your picnic basket. Top tip – try one at home with chips and beans as a main meal. Doesn’t get any better than that I tell you.

Fun fact: Supposedly invented in Forfar, the bakers there stick a finger into the middle of their Bridies to signify that it’s been made without onions. Two finger holes mean that it’s got onions in it.



  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons beef broth
  • 1 pound lean beef, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 sheet flaky pastry
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

How do I make it?

  1. Preheat the oven to 175°C.
  2. In a large heavy pan over a medium heat, cook the beef chunks until they’re evenly brown and then drain the excess fat. Reduce the heat and stir in the onion, beef broth and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into 6-inch circles. Place approximately 1/2 cup of the beef filling on one half of each pastry circle. Fold the pastry over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush lightly with beaten egg white and cut three slits in the top to allow the steam to escape. Place the Bridies on a baking sheet.
  4. Bake in a preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown.


8. Scottish Shortbread

Shortbread fingers

What is it?

Scottish shortbread is well-known as the tea-drinkers secret ally, thanks to the fact that these crumbly biscuits are able to absorb a curiously huge amount of liquid. Even more so than a digestive. Or even a hob-nob.

Traditionally made with butter, sugar and oat flour, shortbread has been made in Scotland for nearly three hundred years, with the first known recipe dating all the way back to 1736. Even though these tasty treats are usually associated with Christmas they can always be found on Scottish high streets thanks to the Walkers Shortbread company that exports them around the world, usually in some tartan-encrusted tin.

There are three typical shapes that shortbread is cut into. The long and thin tea-dunking Shortbread fingers that we all know and love, the less well-loved but equally tasty circle, and the triangular biscuit that’s traditionally eaten alongside red wine by the French. But we won’t talk any more about that one.

Fun fact: The refinement of the Shortbread recipe that we know today is credited to Mary, Queen of Scots.



  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar

How do I make it?

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
  2. Mix the flour, butter, and sugar together in a bowl until the dough is well combined. Press the dough into an ungreased 11 1/2x 7 1/2-inch pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until the edges are light brown, for around 20 to 30 minutes. Cut the shortbread into fingers while still warm. Cool completely before removing the fingers from the pan.


9. Cock A Leekie Soup

Cock-a-Leekie soup

What is it?

Known as ‘Scotland’s National Soup’, Cock-a-leekie is actually believed to have originated in France, where it had been a staple diet of farm workers long before the recipe was ever imported into Scotland. This hearty broth is traditionally used with bits of leftover chicken along with leeks, rice (or barley) and onions, although rather revoltingly the traditional recipe also adds prunes to the soup during cooking.

There have been several variations of the original recipe over the years depending on the number of raw ingredients that were available at the time, so when chicken was difficult to get hold of it was often exchanged for pheasant, while more modern recipes sometimes use beef.

You can even swap out meat entirely for a vegetable alternative, and you’ll find several recipes online that add potatoes with plenty of oatmeal for thickening. Cock-a-leekie soup is most definitely one traditional Scottish food that will warm the cockles of your heart.

Fun fact: The first Scottish recipe for Cock-a-leekie soup dates back to 1598.



  • 4 pounds chicken thighs
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup barley
  • 1 can condensed chicken broth
  • 4 sticks celery
  • 7 leeks, sliced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

How do I make it?

  1. In a large pan over a high heat, combine the chicken, water, onion and barley. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the chicken, discard the bones and skin, and chop the meat into bite-size pieces and return to the pan.
  2. Add the chicken broth, leeks, celery, thyme, parsley, salt and ground black pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes. Serve while hot.


10. Clootie Dumpling

Clootie dumpling

What is it?

I love the name of this delicious fruity pudding. Clootie dumpling. It sounds like a cheeky phrase you’d say to your other half if they’ve done something daft. ‘Ooh, ya wee Clootie dumpling’. Anyway, this is a traditional Scottish dessert that’s usually associated with Christmas and Hogmanay thanks to the copious amount of dried fruits and spices that it contains, and also the way that it’s steamed in a cloth, a bit like a Christmas pudding.

While it’s not quite as rich as something you’d find in a bowl on Christmas day, it’s no less delicious, and the fact that it’s a bit more plain means that it’s easier to eat with your normal evening meal. The ingredients for Clootie dumpling have barely changed in the 271 years since the first recipe was written, and neither has the method of cooking it.

Where many other puddings are merely heated in an oven or microwaved, the Scots still seem to favour wrapping these kinds of desserts in a cloth and boiling them in a big pan. You can even fry it and serve it with bacon and eggs for a real gut-busting breakfast. It’s truly a pudding for every occasion.

Fun fact: A ‘cloot’ is an old Scots word for a pillowcase, which was often used to steam this pudding in.



  • 4 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 3/4 cups dried currants
  • 1 2/3 cups raisins
  • 1/4 pound shredded suet
  • 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup white sugar

How do I make it?

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, currants, raisins, suet, breadcrumbs and sugar. Mix the egg and milk with mixed spice, baking powder, salt and molasses. Stir the mixture into the flour to form a wet dough.
  3. Dip a heavy cotton cloth in boiling water and then sprinkle it with flour. Place the dough in the centre of the cloth and draw the opposite corners together to form a ball, leaving a bit of room for the dumpling to expand. Tie tightly with string to seal.
  4. Place the dumpling in the boiling water, reduce the heat to a low boil, and cook for 3 1/2 hours. Remove the dumpling from the water, remove the cloth, and dry the dumpling in a 150°C oven until the surface is no longer wet. Serve piping hot.


One final thing before you go. Check out this YouTube video of a couple of Americans trying some of the traditional Scottish food (and not so traditional Scottish food) that I’ve mentioned in this article. I think they sum up most visitors thoughts on cuisine in Scotland quite well (here’s a clue – they like it) and it just goes to show that even people brought up on avocado on toast and pulled pork can really enjoy the dishes that are popular in this country, even if they’re not all that healthy.



Well, that’s it for this introduction to some of the nation’s favourite traditional Scottish food, and while I hope you’ve learned a little bit by reading this article you should know that this list of ten recipes really is only just scratching the surface of the foods that the country has to offer. In fact, you’ll find a huge amount of information about traditional Scottish food on the internet but I think the Wikipedia page on Scottish cuisine is a great place to start.

I’ll be adding new posts to the website with even more delicious meals in the near future, so please check back often for the latest updates.

Thanks for reading, and happy eating!


Craig Smith

Craig Smith is your guide to the best attractions in Scotland. He loves exploring the Scottish wilds and is happiest when he's knee-deep in a muddy bog in the middle of nowhere.

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