Scotland: Flower of Scotland

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade ducks the deep-fried abominations for true Gaelic treats.
East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pamela Wade
East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pamela Wade

Four little words set Brenda's teeth on edge. They're the bane of her life, and it's her mission to delete them from the world's memory; or at least to break their instant association with Scotland. "What do you think of first, when I say 'Scottish food'?" she asks me as we head out of Edinburgh.

Well, there's haggis of course, or porridge, or kippers - but I know what she's thinking, and as I am too, I say it: "Deep-fried Mars bar".

"Yes! And you know what? It doesn't even exist! It was just a one-off thing, a drunken moment in some takeaway shop, and now it's a cliche." Brenda is frustrated. A teacher of gastronomy, she founded Tasting Scotland, introducing tourists to the riches of Scottish cuisine by driving them through what she calls "the healthiest larder in the world". Having to start each time by discrediting this gooey, oily abomination of public imagination is the low point of the tour. From here the only way is up.

Craigie's Fruit Farm, on the way to Queensferry, is certainly full of tempting delicacies, most of it locally-sourced, even the cuts of water buffalo in the butchery.

From punnets of huge, velvety raspberries to bottles of elderflower vinegar and rhubarb wine, from broon coo cheese (a melting brie-type made from Jersey cow milk) to house-made, bean-to-bar chocolate, it's all about what's fresh, seasonal and as-low-as-possible mileage.

East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pam Wade
East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pam Wade


We, however, clock up a fair few of our own miles as we continue the tour, pausing under the rugged red geometry of the Forth Railway Bridge to puzzle over Montague McNabb, named as one of the 57 workers who died during its construction in 1886. His job is labelled on the memorial as "holder-on". Presumably, he didn't.

Across the river, we're in Fife, heading into East Neuk, which runs along the northern shore of the Firth of Forth. We drive through rolling fields of oats and barley, scattered with red poppies and edged by lines of oak and chestnut trees. Each little stone-built town is centred on a sturdy kirk, and it's all so pretty; but nowhere nearly as picturesque as the fishing villages along the coast. At St Monans, whitewashed cottages tumble down the hill to a stone-walled harbour where weather-beaten fishing boats are moored alongside pampered yachts, and lobster pots are piled on the hard. By now it's lunchtime, this is a food tour and the East Pier Smokehouse is calling. In short order, on our terrace table upstairs is a selection of their wide variety of foods smoked over whisky-barrel shavings: nuts, salmon, lobster, scallops, crab and langoustine, all washed down with rose lemonade or cider.

The sun is shining on the quiet harbour, rows of pretty, painted cottages line the rocky shore, the North Sea is atypically blue and sparkling, and nothing could be better.

Brenda tells us about the culinary influences of Norway, France and Italy, the latter leading, among more standard dishes, to the creation of the haggis pizza. There's a bit of accent-related confusion over her mention of steak and eel pie that turns out to be steak and ale; but she's a mine of information. "To understand a country, you must understand its food," she says. "History, the landscape, culture, customs, the people: they're all tied up in food."

Pretty though St Monan's is, Crail is even more gorgeous. Once the largest market town in the medieval world, it's a cluster of higgledy-piggledy whitewashed houses facing each other across cobbled lanes leading down to the sea. Stone walls enclose the small harbour, where fishing boats lean drunkenly on the wet mud. Crab and lobster pots line the pier below the sea wall in a postcard scene much appreciated by the fashion shoot that's in progress, looking more than somewhat out-of-place.

If we had more time, Brenda tells us, we could catch and cook our own lobster, make cheese, blend whisky, and then eat or drink it all. Sadly, we have to head back, through St Andrews, which is quiet on this summer afternoon - "It's very different when the students are here" - although there's good business being done at the Northpoint Cafe, whose window proudly claims "Where Kate Met Wills (for coffee)".

Out on the famous golf links, those who were lucky in the daily public ballot are relishing their chance to play on the soft, fine grass of the Old Course.

East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pam Wade
East Nuek, Scotland. Photo / Pam Wade


Our last stop is Luvian's Icecream to dither over flavours including that distinctive Scottish soft drink Irn Bru, and less confronting gin and tonic, and whisky and heather honey. It's the perfect dessert. Who needs a deep-fried Mars bar?

FACT BOX

Getting there
Emirates flies from Auckland to Glasgow, via Dubai, with Economy Class return fares starting from $2445.

• Choose from a variety of Tasting Scotland tours
• Stay in Edinburgh B&Bs - historic and elegant No. 2 Cambridge St edinburghaccommodation.org.uk or friendly and quirky 94DR
• More information: visitscotland.com

The writer was a guest of Tasting Scotland.

- Spy.co.nz

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