We have just returned from two weeks in the UK on a family vacation.
One of the joys of traveling is experiencing unfamiliar cuisines and observing cultural dining traditions that differ from our own. Even though in Scotland they speak the same language as we do, we were sometimes stumped as to what exactly we were ordering off the menu. We saw “Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties” on most pub menus. It sounded silly and gave us the giggles, but here is Haggis defined: Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish containing sheep’s offal (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for approximately three hours. YUCK. DOUBLE YUCK. NOT IN A MILLION YEARS! Hubby is an adventurous eater, but even he turned up his nose at the idea. And Neeps and Tatties? Simply turnips and potatoes. None of us tried those, either. Other oddities showed up on the menu at our Edinburgh hotel restaurant. Are you tempted by a Pork Terrine with Stewed Prunes or Goat Cheese Lollipops served with Pea Custard? Nope. Me neither.
We discovered that throughout the UK, bacon is NOT bacon and is what we call “rough red ham” here in the U.S. It’s not like American bacon in any way, but is still tasty and super salty. Because there’s so much farmland, for breakfast each day we had organic fresh eggs, and let me tell you, fresh scrambled eggs are a treat I could get used to And the breakfast sausages? Amazing . . . excepting at the Columba Hotel in Oban where I greedily bit into a breakfast sausage the size of a bratwurst and found the texture, the temperature, and the flavor SO disgusting that I may have caused a bit of a scene when I shouted across the table to my daughter Eve (who had a slice of sausage poised to enter her mouth), “DON’T PUT THAT IN YOUR MOUTH!” But in every other city, we found the sausages to be unique to their locale and definitely tasty!
It’s hard to find a good cup of coffee in Scotland, and in fact one morning (again in Oban), we were served INSTANT coffee in a pretty pot disguised as if it were actual a drinkable liquid. WTF? I very very very rarely complain in restaurants, but a line must be drawn when something THAT wrong happens. Early in the morning. While traveling in a foreign country with your grown children. I put on my most stern face and asked for filtered coffee or French Press, please, not even caring if our grumpy waiter spat in the new pot. Our family needed coffee, and we needed it stat!
And then each evening . . . there was fish and chips. Ahhhhh. Light, flaky, large fillets of breaded haddock. (My mouth is watering now at the thought.) I’ve eaten fish and chips in many places: the northern and southern Mexican coasts, in southern and northern California, in the BVI, Florida, in Ireland, in England, but NOTHING compared to the quality of fish we had in Scotland. And the hamburgers! I could write a sonnet to the beef I ate in Scotland! Rich, fragrant patties which dripped over my fingers and melted in my mouth.
We are budget travelers, so yes, it would have been nice to have the steak with mushrooms or the lamb rump with fondant potatoes or the herbed pork chops with basil crumb, but for 10 GBP I could have a huge heavenly burger with a pile of french fries (chips) or a fish and chips platter. It’s been explained to me that Europe has strict rules about beef hormones and such and that is why the meat tastes so much better than it does at home. We were highly amused by at two-minute tv ad that showed a mom meeting with a farmer on his cattle ranch. The pace was much slower than any advertisements we have in the States. Anyway: The sun is shining and the trees blow gently in the wind as the the mom gently pets the cows and listens as the farmer describes what happens on his ranch each day to produce such great tasting beef. Then the mother smiles and says (her hand still on the cow), “I only want the best beef for my family!” While I appreciate the candor and the efforts taken by the rancher to be humane to the cattle, the whole thing was SO un-American that it gave us a good giggle.
About salads: When they tell you your burger or fish and chips comes with a side salad, do not get excited at the thought of a full cup of lettuces with tomatoes, cucumber, and loads of Ranch dressing like we’d get here in the States. Expect approximately eight leaves of arugula (which they call “rocket”) with a dab of balsamic balanced at the edge of your plate. You will be eyeing your neighbor’s plate, hoping you can snag one more tangy nutritious leaf when they aren’t looking. Halfway through our adventure, Eve claimed she was getting scurvy, and I also felt a definite lack of veg, though fruit was offered generously at breakfasts.
I’ll wrap up this brief discussion of eating in the UK by saying tipping is not expected, at least not in the more casual dining establishments. We left a pound in change on our table for the person who brought us coffee at the hotel breakfasts, but at most pubs, we did not tip. In 95% of the pubs where we dined, we walked in, found a table, looked at the menu, then placed our order for food and drink at the bar. You pay immediately, are given your beers, then a few minutes later the food comes to your table. No tipping. So imagine my surprise when we arrived at a pub in Oban and kindly (with a smile), I asked a waiter if we could seat ourselves and he barked at me, “I’ll get a table for you when I can! Can’t you see I’m BUSY?” Holy shit! THAT would never fly in the U.S.! That was the one exception to the order-at-the-counter rule during our travels, and the only reason we did not leave that place is because we were exhausted. And yes, the burger was divine even though the servers were all so rude.
I do not plan to discuss the whiskey, which is wildly popular among locals and tourists in Scotland. We toured the distillery at Glenmorangie and even though it was fun and educational, we all decided whiskey tastes absoulutely yucky.