Friday, August 18, 2006

Scottish food - an impression

If I tell people I spent my summer holiday in Scotland their faces immediately express sympathy (a precious three-week break ruined by perpetual rain and extreme cold) and concern (lived surely on nothing but eggs, porridge and fish and chips). 'How are you, now?'
As you can see from the picture, taken in the very north, the weather was alright. Moderate temperatures though not too cold, the occasional shower though never more than that and no means of communication (but ever so glad my car broke down almost next to a working telephone booth).
Food-wise I wasn't disappointed either. Scottish cuisine has much to offer, if you know were to find it. Here are some impressions from the remote corners of the Highlands.

Scotland of course is (almost) surrounded by water and dotted with lochs, not to mention the many isles, so there is an abundance of fresh fish. Or is there? Alas. Most fish are exported to southern Europe, where they fetch a better price, some are sold to local hotels and restaurants. On my travels through Scotland I came across one fishmonger, in Portree (Skye). Scotland is probably more the catch-your-own sort of country. If you're in the mood for fish, but don't usually carry fishing tackle and waders, you might try Viv's Kishorn Seafood Bar in Kishorn, Strathcarron, on the A896. I always try to drive by when heading north. With superb views towards Skye and the Cuillin mountains you can eat a bowl of cooked but otherwise unmucked-about-with squat lobsters, fresh oysters or scallops in garlic, all caught near the premises. Do cross the street for fresh organically grown vegetables, local cheeses and fine Burgundies for reasonable prices in the village shop (Patterns of Light, the arty esoteric one I mentioned in my last posting - yes, they sell dream catchers too). I've never seen a better small supermarket in Scotland. That is not only the owner's doing. It does help if you're on a through-road with some traffic. If not, suppliers may not take the trouble to visit you.

Less easy to 'catch' for the average tourist, but much easier to get is venison. If you happen to be in Rob Roy country, you could try and buy a good cut at the farm in Inverlochlarich (at the end of Balquhidder glen), but then you might find, as I did, nobody home. If so, do not despair: the scenery alone is worth the trip and every shop in the vicinity stocks Inverlochlarich venison.

Some say the only decent meal one can get in Scotland is a cooked breakfast. I don't agree, though I do like a hearty treat before bagging half a munro. The best Scottish breakfast, with the best black pudding ever, I ate at Bealach, a truly get-away-from-it-all guesthouse in Salachan Glen (between Oban and Glencoe). It's the only house in the glen, to be reached by a dirt track with encouraging road signs ('You're on the right track', Nearly there', etc.). It would be highly unfair if I would praise them for their black pudding (Macleod's of Stornoway), as it is the only item that is not made on the premises. Bread, marmelade, cakes, flap jacks, ginger cookies, excellent three course dinners and sweet after dinner things, all is made by a very relaxed hostess herself.

Is there nothing to complain about? Nothing at all? But of course there is. Lorne sausage (on top of everything: square), the restaurant situation in Durness after 2 pm, macaroni cheese and chips on one plate, mango flavoured Kettle crisps, non-organically grown salmon. These are all avoidable, like the ubiquitous chips in a buttered roll. Scottish coffee, which I'm sorry to say is no better than English coffee, on the other hand, is not.