Sunday, December 7, 2014

Everything (or at least a lot of stuff) tastes better in Scotland

When you tell people you've been to France, or Italy, or probably even Argentina, there's a good chance that one of the first things they'll ask about is the food--what you ate, what restaurants you went to, whether you have any pictures of the gorgeous pastries or platters of pasta or hunks of meat or whatever. When you go to Scotland, and I would assume anywhere in the UK, the food is not a hot topic. In fact, if food comes up at all in any conversation about my trips to Scotland, it's usually something like, "So I guess the food wasn't too exciting, huh?" And I'll admit, if you're going on a trip specifically for the gourmet cuisine, perhaps Scotland shouldn't be on the top of your list of destinations. During my five trips, there were definitely meals that were memorable due to their mediocrity or worse--the "I would have been happier eating the left-over peanut butter crackers that I bought in the airport gift shop" meals. However, I also have plenty of very pleasant food memories. I'm sure that to a certain extent, this has to do with the circumstances surrounding the meal, rather than the food itself, but nevertheless, I do think back fondly on certain things I ate in Scotland.

By the way, let me say right now that I do not like haggis. I've tried to like haggis. I've had it four or five times, and each time I've told myself that THIS will be the one that converts me to a haggis-lover. Guess what? I still don't like haggis. Also I don't like Irn Bru. I'm sorry. I've tried to like it. I just don't. Remember baby aspirin, from when you could still give aspirin to kids and not worry about giving them Reye's syndrome? Well, that's what Irn Bru tastes like.

The food I associate most with my first trip to Scotland is paninis. Yes, paninis. The pressed sandwiches. I know they're not Scottish, but I don't think I had ever had one prior to the summer of 2006, when I went to Scoland the first time. They were all over the place there. Anywhere you could get a sandwich, you could get a panini. I particularly liked the brie and cranberry panini I had for lunch one day. And by the way, speaking of sandwich-like foods, pretty much any time you order a sandwich/filled roll/toastie/panini in Scotland, it comes with a little salad on the side--generally an overly-mayonnaisey cole slaw, a couple of cucumber slices, a piece or two of tomato, and some greens. No dressing except what's on the cole slaw. It's ubiquitous, that little salad. Oh, and speaking of sandwiches, here's a thing. Bread is not white or wheat. It's white or brown, which I suppose is more accurate. After all, white bread is made from wheat.

There were a couple of times during the tours that I've been on when we had a picnic lunch somewhere. We would have a chance to go to a grocery store and grab something quick to bring with us, then at lunchtime we'd all, in theory, sit outside and eat. One time, we were at Fyvie Castle and it was cold and windy and drizzly, and we had been rushed through the tour of the castle because it had been rented out for a wedding and even though the wedding wasn't due to start for another hour or more, the docents were quite anxious to get us out the door because the wedding guests were arriving. Because of the weather most of our group decided to eat in the tour bus. I, however, decided that if we were supposed to have a picnic on the castle grounds, then I was going to have an honest-to-god picnic, on a picnic table, outside, not sitting on the bus. So, I ate my packaged egg-and-cress (egg salad and watercress) sandwich, a Braeburn apple, and a Kit Kat, and listened to a bagpiper playing The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie, and I swear it was one of the most delicious lunches I've had. The apple, in particular, was excellent, and I'm pretty picky about my apples. For another picnic, I hadn't had time to go to the grocery store, so I grabbed some stuff off the breakfast buffet--sliced ham, cheese, bread, a yogurt, a banana--and figured I'd have that for lunch. I hadn't wrapped it up too well, and by the time lunchtime came around the bread was kind of stale and the yogurt was a bit warmer than was ideal--but again, sitting outside (I forget exactly where--somewhere on the Isle of Lewis) and chatting with new friends I met on the tour, it was surprisingly tasty.

There are other things that just taste better in Scotland, even though you can get the exact same thing in the States. Nutella, for one. I don't know why, but the Nutella that I had at breakfast at various hotels in Scotland, in little individual packages, tasted better and had a different texture than what you get in jars over here. Also, tea tastes better in Scotland. I don't mean loose-leaf, brewed tea--although that's good too. I'm talking about plain old teabags. It must be the water.

Certainly not everything tastes better in Scotland. I discovered that, at least in the places I was, the concept of medium-rare or even medium beef was completely foreign. Medium-well or well-done was pretty much all there was, even if you asked. Eggs were hit or miss--I really like poached eggs, and some places did them absolutely perfectly, but others--not so much. If the white of the egg is loose, that's not good. But again, for not really having any expectations of particularly great food, I was often pleasantly surprised.

The ridiculously delicious scallops at The Plockton Inn need their own post. I don't have time to do them justice in this one. Also, now I'm really hungry. Until next time...

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