A guide to Scottish food to try on Burns Night in London

Everything you need to know about the food served at the annual celebration

Updated on 19 December 2019 • Written By Maha Khan

A guide to Scottish food to try on Burns Night in London

Burns Night is a celebration of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns’ life. It’s a tradition that brings to mind mounds of haggis and drams of Scotch whisky, and while these are superb and essential components of a great Burns Night supper, there are loads of other Scottish foods to get you in the mood for celebrating the works and life of the wonderful poet.

Burns Night was originally organised as a memorial dinner for friends and family of the late Scottish national treasure, who penned more than 500 verses and songs, but the night has gone on to become a big part of Scottish culture. Held throughout the world to celebrate the great poet’s birthday, the celebration is a source of great Scottish pride.

To celebrate Burns Night and pay tribute to Scotland's wealth of dishes, we have put together a list of classic Scottish dishes to satisfy your curiosity about the cuisine of the country, including the origin stories of each dish and how this has shaped their flavour and uses today. Although haggis may be the most well known export from Scotland's larder, there is a lot more to the country's repertoire of intriguing dishes. Read on to figure out what to include on the menu for your Burns Night feast, for an authentic experience with some smashing food.

Scotland is a hotbed of culinary delights from hearty bowls of Cullen skink soup to moreish, sweet tablet. The country plays host to beautiful produce, game, seafood, and traditions that go back hundreds of years. Scottish food may sometimes get a bad rap for being unhealthy, but it's also undeniably warming and wholesome fayre.

Throw on some Tartan and dig out your bagpipes as you delve into the history of Scottish foods.

Scottish food served on Burns Night

Scottish cuisine is definitely underrated in the culinary world, and there are loads of flavours and intriguing origin stories to be found in these warming national classics, which have been curated from hundreds of years worth of traditions.

Haggis

No list of Scottish food is complete without the staple dish of haggis, which is made of the liver, heart, and lungs of a sheep. To create its signature taste, the offal is then minced and mixed with suet, oats, and seasoned with spices. It is the national dish of Scotland, as established as tartan and bagpipes are. There are supposedly haggis recipes that predate the printing press; however, its true origin as a Scottish dish has been disputed over claims that it is in fact a Nordic invention. Whatever the case, this savoury offal pudding has become emblematic of Scottish food today. Scotland also has the world’s first dedicated haggis factory, so it is fair to say they have laid claim on the specialty.

It is definitely not for the faint-hearted, but this delicacy is a hearty winter classic. Vegetarians can partake in the revelry too, as there are some great meat-free versions knocking about. Robert Burns dedicated a famous poem to the food, showcasing his love of the stuff, and this is the reason why it is served in huge quantities on Burns Night every year. Haggis is usually steamed and served with neeps ‘n' tatties (a swede and potato mash that is sometimes lashed with Scotch whisky.) As Burns himself wrote, haggis is the "great chieftain o' the puddin'-race".

Smoked salmon

Smoking fish is a form of preservation that has been around for centuries, and Scottish smoked salmon is a tender, buttery cured delicacy that goes down well as a canapé with a spritz of fresh lemon, or as a breakfast dish with scrambled eggs. The process involves dry curing and cold smoking with oak or whisky barrels, and is the classic method of creating traditional Scottish smoked salmon. The flavour is subtle and not too sweet or salty, making it a highly-sought after food. It is a resilient and versatile ingredient that has remained true to its origins and processes, as producers uphold these traditions for a product packed full of rich flavour.

Deep-fried Mars Bar

As a nation that prides itself on dishing up a plethora of comforting fried dishes, it’s no wonder this one makes our list of Scottish foods. Deep-fried Mars Bars may be scoffed at by true Scots but they're a novel snack that keep tourists coming back for more. They are not the most attractive looking foods, but the strangely delicious combination of fried batter and melted chocolate makes this treat work surprisingly well. What started out as a fun request at a local chippy quickly seized the attention of the nation, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it slowing down. You can find deep-fried Mars Bars almost everywhere now, plus the original chip shop, The Carron, in Stonehaven still proudly serves them, over 20 years on.

Cullen skink

The name of this hearty, warming, dish (sensing a theme yet?) is inspired by a fishing town, Moray Firth, on the northen coast of Aberdeenshire, populated with haddock. The comforting soup is made of potatoes, smoked white fish, and milk, in a similar vein to American chowder and French bisque, but with a smokier flavour profile. The rich dish has many variations within Scotland, as locals adapt it to the ingredients available, but the method has remained relatively the same. 

Cock-a-leekie soup is another Scottish soup made of leeks and chicken stock. It is traditionally cooked with prunes or topped with a julienne of the soft fruit, and thickened with rice or barley. The peppery soup has been around since the 16th century, and continues to be a staple for the cooler months. 

Black pudding

To the delight of fried breakfast lovers, this blood sausage has been declared a super food. It joins the ranks of the 'love it or hate it' food category, as it is a divisive ingredient. Some are put off by the blood content, fat, and strong flavour, while others find that a few slices of black pudding for brekkie is simply not enough. The origins of the sausage were entirely borne out of resourcefulness, to use up animal by-product.

The dark colour of the pudding of course comes from the blood, which is mixed with fat and oatmeal and presented as a sausage. It is not a wholly Scottish or British phenomenon, as many other countries such as France and Spain have their own versions. However, Scotland is particularly well known for being a champion of this intriguing food. Black pudding is best served alongside a full fry up, but can also be served with a hearty helping of mash (like all good Scottish food), as a seasoning, or in stews.

Tablet

Looking for something sweet to round off the Burns supper? Look no further than Tablet, the Scottish cousin of fudge. While the texture appears at first to be fudge gone wrong, the slightly grainy, crumbly confectionary is not to be dismissed. It is the perfect pick-me-up for the drab weather and unending winter rain. This concoction of condensed milk, butter, and a heavy dose of sugar goes down a treat with a dram of whisky.

Whisky

Spelt without the extra ‘e’, whisky is Scotland’s drink of choice and its biggest export. There are hundreds of distilleries in Scotland, and the spirit is not officially classed as Scotch, unless it has been aged within the country for at least three years. There are five whisky regions, spread from the lowlands to the highlands that guard the secret traditions, each one boasting a different flavour profile. Whisky-making has been around since the 11th century and what better way to celebrate Burns Night than with a dram or two – cheers to that!

Scottish restaurants in London

If you're in the mood for some Burns Night festivities and some good ole Scottish grub, but don't have time to make it up north, why not check some of these amazing Scottish restaurants in London. You're in for a grand time, as you tuck into a hearty Scottish meal in the city. 

Mac & Wild, City and Fitzrovia

Why: Located in the City and Fitzrovia, this Scottish haven is a go-to restaurant for delicious Scotch eggs, indulgent haggis mac 'n' cheese, and hundreds of whiskies and cocktails. They serve seasonal dishes made from Scottish produce, including wild game from the Scottish Highlands.

Boisdale Belgravia, Bishopsgate, Canary Wharf, and Mayfair

Why: All of Boisdale’s restaurants (Belgravia, Canary WharfBishopsgate, Mayfair) are well rated by us, which isn’t surprising given the range of Scottish delights on offer. Expect the classic dishes, with a high-class finish. The décor will easily get you in the mood, with all manner of tartan and whisky bottles on display.

The Pope’s Eye Steakhouse, Putney

Why: To get you in the spirit of Burns Night, head to The Pope’s Eye for grass-fed Aberdeen Angus steaks delivered daily from the Highlands of Scotland; a hearty meal of rump, sirloin, ribeye, fillet, or T-bone steak will get washed down nicely with a strong whisky.

Deeney’s Café, Leyton

Why: For a more casual approach to Burns Night, check out this café for some Scottish-inspired eats, such as full Scottish fry-ups replete with haggis and tattie scones. We're particular fans of the Macbeth: a delicious sandwich filled with haggis, cheddar and caramelised onions.

The Queen of Hoxton, Hackney

Why: For Burns Night, east London bar fave The Queen of Hoxton will host a fun whisky tasting to get everyone buzzing. They will also be serving haggis to pay tribute to Burns and there will be live music from a traditional band to keep the mood and spirits high.

For the next time you find yourself in Scotland, check out our pick of the best restaurants in Edinburgh.