Monday, June 28, 2010

Scalloped scallops

When you travel, you're often surprised by the look of familiar food. In western Scotland, you often find diver scallops on the menu. They're tender and sometimes surprisingly large. But the most striking attribute for me is the "wee orange bit" (as described by my server), which as near as I can tell, is the muscle that connects the animal to its shell.

At home, that muscle is a tough membrane that we remove before cooking them. On these Scottish scallops, it's a delicate balloon that folds up in your mouth. Of course, it's one of those foods that makes you figure that the first guy to take a bite when he discovered it must have been pretty hungry.

In defense of pub grub

The pub is to the UK what the diner is in America, a place for home-cooked food without pretension. But the UK pub scene is undergoing a bit of a transformation with the emergence of what they call "gastropubs." Now no pub appears to be so presumptuous as yet to call itself a gastropub, but we've already visited lots of places that go well beyond shepherd's pie and bangers and mash. There are often salads, even.

Here's an example, from Tobermory on the island of Mull. Because so much of Scotland is on the sea, fish and shellfish are often prominent in the local cuisine. This salad cost in the range of a lunch salad in the US, and it's just covered with crabmeat. In the center is a puddle of prawn (shrimp) salad, and guarding the whole dish are a pair of stern-looking langoustines. Pub grub, indeed.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Delighted in Inverness

It's still too soon to draw conclusions about the whole of mainland Scotland, or for that matter, the whole of Inverness. But so far, lunch has been an absolute pleasure.

Many places in town offer a 2-course lunch most days, and the sweet spot for price is from £5.95 (about $9.00) to £10 ($15 for two courses.) When we travel, it's common for us to have a big lunch: we're already out, it's often half the price of dinner, and you never get starved for dinner, so you can be a little healthier about it. These two-course lunches let the restaurant show off great dishes using local ingredients, and they allow me to taste twice as much of the local cuisine than I might have otherwise. The photo is of my first course at Cafe1 (on the high side at £9.50), billed as "chicken, leek and mushroom terrine, wrapped in Parma ham with a saffron dressing." Our first lunch, at the Mustard Seed for £5.95, was equally satisfying.

I could get used to this.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Word about Haggis

It's Scotland, so haggis is on the list of experiences to have. For some time, I erroneously believed that haggis was just for tourists, but that is entirely untrue. Haggis is as common to cuisine in these parts as sausage is anywhere else.

I've tried it twice now, and I think that both times it was in its very usual appearance. The first was in a "mixed grill" in Orkney, with egg, sausage, bacon, black pudding, mushrooms, and tomato. The haggis there was offered in a slice next to the slice of black pudding.

This was also my first taste of black pudding, also called blood pudding, which is equally an equally accurate description of its appearance and content. The haggis had a similar taste to Philadelphia's scrapple, except it was somehow drier, probably due to its grainy consistency. It's made from similar ingredients and simmered for hours in a sheep's stomach (yum!), and it contains oatmeal (which explains its graininess.)

Today I tried haggis again, this time in one of its more native surroundings. It was served in a pile on a plate, and accompanied by a mixture of potato and turnip called "clapshot." Clapshot is an Orkney dish, so it originated not very far from this northern mainland town Wick.

Though I'm presumably in a place where English is the native language, mashed potatoes are never called "mashed potatoes"; they're almost always called "tatties." Turnips are never called "turnips", even though everybody knows that's what they're called to everyone but them. In polite company, such as the supermarket, they're called "Swedes". On menus, they're "neeps". So you'll often see a dish served with "tatties and neeps", which sounds like it's on the menu at Hooters.

Here's the luncheonette version of haggis with a mountain of clapshot and a sprinkling of peas. I couldn't finish it because of its huge size. But I'd order it again. Just not tomorrow.

And for more on the luncheonette that served this, one of the lunches available was macaroni and cheese. Alongside it you have your choice: baked potato or chips (fries). At least my peas are green.