We all are familiar with world kitchens like Italian, Mexican, Indian and Chinese food. When I am telling you Italian food is my favorite, you will probably get images in your head of pastas and pizzas. Some countries did not reach this status, like Great Britain (maybe fish and chips) and to be specific I mean the part called Scotland. What do they eat? I have never seen a typically Scottish restaurant. I have never answered “Scottish” if someone asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. They are famous for their whiskey but I guess they have to eat at some point. So when I went to Scotland to walk the West Highland Way I was very curious about the Scottish local kitchen. Especially in a remote area such as the Highlands.
Now when you walk the West Highland Way you have two options when it comes to food. Or you cook for yourself or you eat in the pubs. Cooking for yourself can feel adventurous. Being out in the open with your own stove, preparing a hot meal, it all adds to a feeling of freedom. Eating in pubs has its advantages as well. You get in touch with the locals, you have a place to warm up, you get a better understanding about the local food and you can wash it away with a Scottish pint. Our preferences went to the pub although we cooked for ourselves a couple of times too.
Obviously, when you walk all day, you need your calories to burn in order to keep going. I will tell you what you can expect to eat along the West Highland Way.
Cooking for yourself
When you decide to turn your back to society for a couple of days and just want to be together with nature, you can choose to cook for yourself. Bring your own camping gas and a pan and you are free to eat where ever you want. Just do not expect to prepare anything fancy. Unless you are super strong and the extra kilos you have to carry does not matter, your choices are limited. In a couple of villages along the trail you can do groceries but not in all so prepare to bring your own supplies.
The stores along the trail are used to hikers so they have adapted their assortment. Typical hikers food are dried and instant food with a lot of carbs. Think of pastas, noodles and rice. They are relatively light and easy to prepare. In most cases you just have to add some water and boil it for a while. You can also buy complete meals in a can or in a bag. They seem heavier but on the other hand, you do not have to bring the extra water to boil it. Think of soup, hotdogs pastas and chili con carne. For breakfast you can have muesli bars or pancakes for example. Although this is a much cheaper option and gives you more freedom, we only cooked a couple of times for lunch. In Scotland you can expect a lot of rain and cooking out in the open with heavy rain might not live up to the romantic image you had in mind.
Eating in the pub
Pubs are the place to eat along the West Highland Way if you do not want to cook for yourself. It is great to enter a cozy warm pub after a day of walking or to start your day with. You will find dark wood, deer heads on the wall and sometimes a crackling fire in the fireplace. Pub food is honest food for an honest price. The variety is not that big and do not expect fancy dishes but there is enough to try a few local dishes to get an impression of what they serve in Scotland. The villages you will cross on the trail are small and most of the times there is only one pub or a so called ‘walkers bar’ in a hotel. Therefore it is very likely you will meet some fellow hikers and once you have seen each other more often you will start to bond and share a few pints. Most of the pubs serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
If you have a whole day of hiking ahead you better start the day with a good meal. Well, the Scottish know what breakfast is. You can order scrambled eggs for example but if you want to have the real Scottish experience you have to try the full Scottish breakfast. They will serve a wide range of things and it will keep you going for many hours. It depends on the place but if you order a full Scottish breakfast you will usually get:
- Thick slices of bacon
- Fried Mushrooms
- Baked white beans in tomato sauce
- Hash browns (potato cakes)
- Grilled tomato
- Black pudding (mixture of blood, oatmeal and a couple of other ingredients)
- Tea or coffee
If you are not that kind of a breakfast person you can also order things like bread rolls, cereals, porridge or just toast with jam and marmalade. I have had the full Scottish breakfast quite some times and I enjoyed it a lot. I even had the killer full breakfast once where everything is doubled.
If you happen to be close to a pub or hotel bar around lunchtime you can choose to eat there as well. They serve things like soup, sandwiches, burgers but also big baked potatoes filled with a choice of different things. One of these things is a typical Scottish dish which does not sound appealing if you hear what it contains. I am talking about Haggis. Ingredients are sheep heart, sheep lung, sheep liver, oatmeal and a couple of other things. To be honest, I had some doubts as well but I felt like I had to try it, so I did. Surprisingly it was very tasty and you do not recognize the ingredients. Another thing you can choose as a filling is cream cheese with smoked salmon from the Scottish lochs. Very delicious.
It is such a nice thing when you have reached your destination for the day and when it is time to go to the pub. Just sit down, order a pint or cider, look around and think about the day. It is a time to share stories with other hikers and it is time for a well deserved warm meal. Pub food are simple but good value meals (around 10pounds) and I can honestly say that I have not been disappointed once. The pubs basically have the same kind of menu and the good thing is that they always serve something extra with the dish and they make sure you will have a plate full. I have eaten most of the popular dishes and this is what you get:
Steak Pie, crispy dough filled with beef stew
Beef Burger, a real burger
Lasagna with Garlic Bread
Smoked Salmon Potato
Chili Con Carne
Fish and Chips
One thing surprised me. With all the sheep around I expected a lot more sheep on the menu but I almost did not find any apart from the haggis. To be fair, now I have tried the Scottish kitchen I understand why there is no such thing as a typical Scottish restaurant in other countries and why it is not world famous. Nothing negative but it just lacks the strong character other countries have. It is a little bit of everything with only few local dishes. That does not mean I did not enjoy the food. It was just what I needed after a day of hiking. No nonsense food, quickly served with a lot of fast calories.
How about you? Are you the adventurous outdoors cooking type or do you prefer the warmth of the pub?