Even more significant than Scotland’s official national day (St. Andrew's Day, November 30) is Burns Night. On January 25, Scots honor their national poet, Robert Burns, with a traditional Burns Supper. The night begins with a recitation of the Selkirk Grace, a prayer attributed to Burns, and then comes the haggis—an intimidating mix sheep's heart, liver, and lungs, minced with oatmeal and spices and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach. The night ends with toasts of (what else?) whisky.
Fish and chips—called a "fish supper" regardless of the time of day it is eaten—is served with vinegar or, in Edinburgh, with “salt ‘n’ sauce,” a mixture of brown sauce and malt vinegar or water. The best place to try it is at a fish and chip shop (aka "a chippy") within view of a harbor full of fishing boats pulling in a fresh catch. In the picturesque East Neuk fishing village, Anstruther Fish Bar is often celebrated as the country’s finest.
Scotland’s climate is well suited to cheese production, and there are dozens of cheese makers across the country. Types on offer include tangy cheddar from the Isles of Bute, Arran, Mull, Gigha, and Orkney, as well as Lockerbie, Stranraer, and Campbeltown on the mainland; Crowdie, a soft cheese that was supposedly introduced by the Vikings in the eighth century; Caboc, a cream cheese rolled in toasted oatmeal; and Dunsyre Blue, rich and spicy with a creamy texture.
Arbroath Smokies—strong, smoky haddock that is salted, dried overnight, then smoked over a beech-wood fire—have, like Champagne, EU-protected status. That means they can only be called Arbroath Smokies if they are prepared in a very specific, traditional way and come from within a 5-mile radius of the small fishing village of Arbroath.
The long daylight hours and mild summer days of May to September produce a bounty of juicy strawberries and raspberries, especially in the Perthshire area. Tangy gooseberries, tart blackcurrants, sweet blaeberries, and blackberries (better known as brambles) are also grown across Scotland and often crop up in desserts and preserves. Even better, though, is that given Scotland’s generous outdoor access rights, you are welcome to go out into the countryside and pick your own.
During a storm in 1700, a Spanish ship carrying a large cargo of Seville oranges took refuge in Dundee’s harbor. A local grocer bought the oranges cheaply but found them too bitter to sell. His wife, Janet Keiller, then used the oranges to make preserves and so created Keiller’s marmalade, leading Dundee to be dubbed the "home of marmalade." Mackays, the last remaining producer in Dundee, still uses the traditional slow-boiling method and locally sourced fruit for all their preserves.
Led by the popular Hendrick’s, new craft gins appear every year, competing with whisky as the nation’s drink of choice. The past 12 months alone launched Glasgow’s Makar Gin, Rock Rose Gin (featuring the Rhodiola rosea botanical once harvested by Vikings), and Shetland Reel Gin from Shetland's first legal distillery. Recent years have seen the launch of Caorunn, made with Celtic botanicals; "The Botanist" from the traditionally whisky-producing island of Islay; and Edinburgh’s Pickering's Gin—among many others.
The Scots love their sweeties (candy), and these tea cakes inspire a particularly Proustian sense of nostalgia in almost everyone who grew up in Scotland. The treat is made up of a cookie base topped with fluffy marshmallow and covered in chocolate, and the retro foil packaging has barely changed during its 50 years of existence.
A hard, crystallized form of fudge, tablet is made by boiling sugar, condensed milk, and butter, and it's often flavored with whisky. Some of the tastiest tablet comes from the Isle of Islay, where An Gleann hand-make theirs with Scottish salted butter and Madagascan vanilla extract, topped with a nip of whisky from one of the island’s famous distilleries.
In Largs since the 1930s, the beautiful Art Deco-style Nardini's serves 32 flavors of especially creamy ice cream, thanks to high-fat milk and double cream from Scottish farms—try the 12-scoop Clyde Coast Extravaganza if you dare. There is a strong Scots-Italian culture in Scotland, and you can taste the influence at S. Luca in Musselburgh, and in the gelato of Jannettas in St. Andrews, both of which have passed through generations of the same families for over 100 years.