In honor of the holidays, i.e. the time when one gorges oneself with good food, I’m taking this opportunity to talk about the good food, or rather, the lack thereof, in Scotland. Of course I’d heard about the horrors of haggis long before I arrived in St. Andrews (although I didn’t know that sheep stomach could be “freshly caught,” like I’ve seen a pub menu claim). I just didn’t realize the full extent of the disgusting dishes available for consumption every day in my lovely local dining hall.
First of all, you’ve got to check your “all-you-can-eat” mentality at the door. This is because you are only allowed a limited amount of grub, but let’s be honest here – you also wouldn’t want to eat any more of it, anyway.
Next, you have a big decision to make. It’s called “Soup or Juice.” There are no machines full of soft drinks and other beverages, just a few tiny glasses of pale and watery-looking fruit juice. It’s either that, or a bowl of soup. The soup changes names every day, but it’s basically always the same green, sickly concoction, and the most variety you can hope for is when they throw in leftover spaghetti noodles. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t take both juice and soup. One of the lunch ladies will be standing there, watching with an eagle eye, ready to pounce on you and snatch away your extra portions.
Once you’ve chosen your preferred liquid, you can move along to pick your main course. You suspect that they are using leftover food from the day before, but you can’t tell, because the substances piled on your plate are virtually unrecognizable. Everything is drenched in sauce, potatoes (in some form) are obligatory, and usually there are a few brown vegetables thrown into the mix. Yes, brown.
Before this semester, I never thought that I’d ever consider green vegetables to be a delicacy. Supposedly there is a vegetarian option, but the lunch ladies get huffy when you ask for it. So you’re better off choosing the mystery meat pie and avoiding their glares – just pick out any unsavoury parts (and there are many) later.
Finally, you arrive at the desserts. If you’re lucky, you can rescue a sad little piece of pie or brownie before it gets drowned in cream (or drowned in your tears as you bemoan your fate). But if spongy chocolate or fruity mush just isn’t your style, you can always get the prepackaged (read: safe) crackers and cheese. Or you could go for the traditional piece of fruit. Yeah, you guessed it, the fruit is brown, too.
After you’ve picked up your food, you’ll have to stop and get another glass. This is for drinking the water that is in pitchers on the tables. Once in a while there will be milk too, but be prepared for it to be lukewarm at best, since they never refrigerate any of their dairy products (or even eggs). Sometimes there is a poor excuse for a salad bar, which basically consists of dishes obviously made from ingredients of past meals. My only hope is that they at least don’t scrape the leftovers off plates. Can you say “sanitary?”
Don’t get me wrong, Scottish cuisine isn’t completely revolting and hopeless (although I’m inclined to agree with Mike Myers: Most certainly is based on a dare). Usually, though, you have to step outside the dining hall to find fodder worthy of mention. But one thing’s for sure: Don’t expect to find anything edible AND healthy. In Scotland, if it’s not fried … well, you get the picture.
First of all, there’s the British phenomenon known as fish ‘n’ chips. Before I arrived here, I probably could have counted on two hands the number of times I’d eaten this dish, much less enjoyed it. Maybe they do it better here, or maybe it’s just better in comparison to all the other food, but in any case, with fish ‘n’ chips, you usually can’t go wrong.
Unless, of course, you order it at one of the seedy shacks that wraps it up in newspaper. Call me crazy, but I’m not particularly keen on reading today’s headlines imprinted on my dinner, thank you very much.
Another token British food is the “toastie.” My first experience with these yummy wonders took place one night when my academic “dad” took me to a hole-in-the-wall joint nicknamed “Christian Toasties,” where they sell, well, toasties (I’m not sure if they are Christian or not, I didn’t ask) for dirt cheap.
Think grilled cheese sandwich, except the edges are compressed together. The tastiest ones, however, are stuffed with more creative fillings.
If you have a sweet tooth like I do, your best bet is a chocolate or even a Mars bar toastie, combining the substance of a sandwich with the satisfaction of a dessert. Hmm, that’s not a bad slogan …
If you’re ready to venture into even less conventional territory, then you definitely must try a deep-fried Mars bar. Yes, it sounds totally disgusting. Yes, it will clog your arteries faster than you can say, well, “Mars.”
But the big surprise is … it’s good. It’s more than good, it’s heavenly. Or should I say, out of this world? Har har har.
And, as I’d been told countless times, you can’t live here without trying it. Once I got a taste, I was almost ready to forgive all of the culinary sins committed by the British. Almost.
Despite a few noteworthy dishes, however, most Scottish food is peculiar at best, repulsive at worst.
So the next time you’re in the Squad dining hall complaining about the fact that there is only vanilla ice cream in the soft serve machine, think about all your American peers in Scotland, who get black pudding for desert.
In fact, why don’t you do a good deed and send some edible provisions to a hungry student here? Your donation will be greatly appreciated.
Until then, though, I guess I’m just going to have to drink my dinner …
– Bethany Root can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.