Scotland is world famous for its natural food larder of soft fruit, meat, fish and peaty water to distil the water of life, and its iconic contributions to global eating and drinking. Occasionally though the Scots are also known for their unhealthy eating habits and doing ghastly things to sheep intestines and fish heads.
To be fair a Mediterranean diet is often the last thing you want living in a bracing North European climate. As the Scottish journalist Hardeep Singh Kohli puts it: “when it comes to building ships or mining coal at sub-zero temperatures, you need more than a bowl of Bircher muesli to keep you going.”
1) Chicken tikka masala
One of Glasgow’s great culinary successes are its award-winning curry houses and it’s really no surprise that curry and Glaswegians are so natural a match.
Chicken tikka masala has become one of Britain’s national dishes since it was first invented in the Shish Mahal restaurant in Glasgow. The story goes that a customer complained about the dryness of his chicken tikka, which is chicken marinated in spices and yogurt and baked in a tandoor oven. In response the chef threw together a sauce with spices, coconut cream, cream and Campbell’s tomato soup. When the customer congratulated the chef on such a delicious dish a new British national dish was born.
Like being host to the first international football fixture Glasgow seems strangely coy about the triumph of inventing Britain’s number one dish, possibly because the origins of chicken tikka masala are disputed. An attempt by Glaswegian politicians to attain EU origin protection for chicken tikka massala came to nothing, possibly because outraged Indian and London chefs and historians claimed it for their cities and restaurants. No-one really knows where it comes from and nor does help that there is no definitive version of the curry, which some would argue is its great strength and when cooked well is rich and delicious.
When Glasgwegian exiles go misty-eyed about the ‘dear, green place’ chances are that they are thinking about this spicy, deep-fried snack. Never mind that this snack is found across most of south Asia: Glaswegians are convinced it is their midnight post-pub snack to see them home, and less sophisticated cities like London just don’t offer it. What further outrages Glaswegians is that often they are promised pakora and served onion bhajjis. To Glaswegians onion bhajjis are not pakora, to the rest of the pakora eating world they are.
Glaswegians have gone to town with pakora and they locally cook it with haggis, venison, and salmon. It’s delicious and if I am out for the night I am only let back in to the flat if I have a bag of pakora or salt ‘n’ chilli chips (see below) as an offering to the ladies of the flat, including the greyhound.
3) Roll and fritter
The fritter roll is basically one huge deep-fried chip shoved in a roll and laced with with salt and vinegar. There are times when the crispness of the potato fritter and the mingling of the salt and vinegar with the soft potato inside is divine. There are other times when it feels like mushy, soggy potato served with inedible grit in a rubbish floury roll. Either conclusion is not necessarily dependent on the sobriety of the eater. Approach with caution – over-eagerness to bite into a roll and fritter can cause the roof of your mouth to be burnt off just in time for the salt and vinegar to flood in.
4) Salt ‘n’ chilli chips
There is a local Chinese takeaway called the Lemon Tree on Great Western Road which serves the best chips, no question. Crisp and with overtones of chilli, soya sauce and unknown aromatic Chinese flavourings they are superb.
5) Macaroni Cheese Pie
Only in Scotland would you take a bland, white comfort food dish of 1970s nature, go that extra culinary mile and wrap pastry round it. But that’s exactly what they did with the Macaroni Cheese Pie. It tastes exactly like you think it would.
6) Scotch pie
The scotch pie is mutton spiced with pepper and can be served with Bovril or brown sauce, especially at football matches and other outdoor events. Pubs often hand them out for free at half time for key football matches. For some this is still not enough and they eat it in a buttered white roll.
7) Potato scone (tattie scone)
Potato scones are delicious served with a fried breakfast and are a healthier alternative, no wait seriously, to the equally delicious English delicacy of fried bread. Chips or hash browns are modern fads and should not grace the breakfast table of a British gentleman.
8) The Lorne (Square) Sausage
Described as ‘weird’ in a Japanese tourist guide book this sausage is named after a Scottish comedian called Tommy Lorne . It’s a sort of square, pink square gristled sausage. It’s pure crap. For god sake go for the links (normal, English sausage) if it is on offer.
9) The Glasgow Salad
Glaswegians are very open to ethnic food and the Glasgow salad is a representative gathering of the most unhealthiest delicacies of every ethnic cuisine embraced by Glaswegians. The Glasgow Salad (really more commonly known as a munchie box) is the contents of a box that typically includes kebab meat, fried chicken, pizza, chicken tikka, onion rings, pakora, naan bread, garlic bread, coleslaw, chips other fast foods and sauces. It is exceptionally unhealthy and a badge of rebellious honour for those wishing to stick two fingers to the PC health food brigade.
10) Chips and cheese
My brother-in-law, a young Twiddles Le Tache introduced me to chips and cheese when tuturing me in the ways of eating and drinking Glasgow-style. I rang him once as an eager pupil keen to impress my teacher.
“Twiddles I am a little drunk and I am eating chips and cheese.”
“Good man. You’re learning well sir.”
“I’ve added mayonnaise to it.”
Ominous silence. A squeak.
“That’s right mayonannise.” I faltered. “Well ever since Belgium…”
“You don’t add mayonnaise to chips and cheese. It’s not natural man.”
“Oh. So should I be eating it with salad?”
“Salad!! SALAD!! Bloody heathen!” he thundered down the phone. He sounded like he was in genuine pain. “Dear god you. You people come up here and you think…”
“Don’t worry. I made a salad dressing to go with the salad and a nice chutney for the cheese. I’ve pimped my chips and cheese and it’s delicious. Twiddles? Hello?”
There was a noise of something being repeatedly hit, a strange whimpering and the line went dead.
“We’re going to deep-fry your croissants…”
The Tartan Army chant threats to their opposing number about how they are going to deep-fry their national dish. This is partly because of the popularity of deep-fried fish, sausages and pizzas and partly because of the deep-fried mars bar which was invented in a chippie near Aberdeen.
The deep-fried mars bar was never a national Scottish dish but, nonetheless both the Scottish and English tabloid media featured it and in a classic mediascape shaping of reality Scottish chippies started selling it to curious tourists and Scots who were previously ignorant that this was their national dish.
Since then countries around the world have started frying their favourite local chocolate bars, chippies serve deep-fried crème eggs to celebrate Easter and chefs have served it in top restaurants as ironic cooking.
It also seems to have unleashed a sort of race to the flatline to see who can serve up the most unhealthiest, heart-stopping pudding. According to the Telegraph chefs at The Fiddler’s Elbow in Edinburgh created a dessert made from frozen balls of butter deep-fried with Irn Bru batter and served with Irn Bru ice cream and coulis. For a more potent version, called Braveheart Butter Bombs, a variation with whisky batter is also available.
One wonders if savvy marketing is the real triumph here, or whether a joke is on the journalist.
For a more sober and serious take on Scotland unhealthy eating habits read Hardeep Singh Kohli’s article.
Coming next: German beer, ginger beer, the best gin in the world and the infamous Irn Bru. Glasgow serves up some of the best drinks in the world.
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