Eating and Drinking

Who would have thought that Scotland and, in particular, Edinburgh would become a foodie destination. When I was growing up, Scotland was known for its 'plain' (ie dull) cooking. Tatties, boiled cabbage and overcooked meat were staples. Now, the general standard of restaurant cooking has increased enormously with good food available everywhere. You can buy all sorts of food from all sorts of countries and specialist food shops have opened to join the few surviving butchers and fishmongers. Of course, the whole 'foodie' thing can get a bit painful if you take it too seriously but, in general, I think Edinburgh has been much improved by a more cosmopolitan food culture. There are several 'fine dining' restaurants in Edinburgh where food is an (expensive) artistic experience. This rhubarb dessert in Castle Terrace is a bit different from the stewed rhubarb and custard that my mother made. Like everywhere else, the expansion of supermarkets has decimated small food shops in Edinburgh. Maybe this has led to cheaper food (I think the jury is out on this one) but visiting these food sheds is a soulless experience. Thankfully, there are still a few food shops left including J. C. Christie's, a traditional butchers in Bruntsfield, that's been there for more than 100 years. Run since 1967 by Willy (centre) and his two sons Angus (back) and Bob, they make fantastic sausages. The best I've had in Edinburgh. The Scottish food revolution has meant that there is now a market for artisan cheese shops like Ian Mellis in Victoria St in Edinburgh. They have a great selection of cheeses of different kinds and the knowledgable staff are always happy to talk with customers when they have time. You pay for quality in Mellis's but it's a pleasure shopping there. Supermarkets don't have much of a reputation for looking after their suppliers. As a reaction to this, some farmers started selling directly to the public through Farmers' Markets. Edinburgh Farmers' Market in Castle Terrace is one of the oldest in Scotland and possibly the one with the most glorious setting. Afternoon tea has become fashionable again. Well-dressed young ladies celebrate special occasions with afternoon tea to talk about life and loves over crustless sandwiches, scones and cakes. Edinburgh was the centre of the brewing industry in Scotland with historic names such as McEwans, Youngers, Ushers and Jeffries establishing breweries to take advantage of the Edinburgh fresh water springs. When I first moved to Edinburgh, I lived near the large Scottish and Newcastle brewing complex in Fountainbridge and the smell of malt was the background to my life. I loved it - and I love beer - although I didn't much care for the industrial stuff that was produced in Fountainbridge. The old Edinburgh breweries were taken over, merged and became industrial brewing giants like Scottish and Newcastle. They've long gone from the city but have been replaced by a new wave of craft breweries. The craft brewing revival, often led by graduates of the brewing degree at Heriot-Watt university, has led to a re-emergence of excellent Edinburgh beer by brewers such as Stewarts and Knops. Long may it continue. Bennets Bar in Tollcross is a beautiful old Victorian bar with fabulous stained glass windows and a carved wood gantry.It was an oasis in the desert in the 1970s where it was one of the few Edinburgh pubs that sold real ale and it continues to maintain the quality of its beer.  It goes through phases of being fashionable but it has always maintained a core of regulars from the local area. Before I took this photo, I hadn't noticed the hooks on the bar for people to hang their bags. The Canny Mans in Morningside is really quite a remarkable pub. It was established in 1871 by James Kerr and it has been run by the same family ever since. They seem to have started collecting knick-knacks in the early 1900s and there are literally thousands of them all around the pub. Some people say that the staff are unfriendly and, certainly, Watson Kerr, the previous owner had a reputation for being irascible. I first went there in the 1970s and have been going there regularly for many years. we have never experienced any unfriendliness and have always been made welcome. Watson did not encourage cameras and patrons are still greeted with a 'No Cameras' sign. I suspect there's more tolerance than there used to me so I hope I won't be barred if the staff see this photo. I like this picture of the couple at the bar - it is good to see that affectionate gestures in pubs are not limited to those under 30. When I lived in Edinburgh in the 1970s, al fresco eating and drinking was unheard of (and possibly illegal). Now lots of places have outdoor seating - sparsely populated by smokers in winter but busy in those long Scottish summer evenings. Lupe Pintos in Tollcross  is, by far, my favourite deli. They specialise in Mexican, American and Spanish food although they also have a vast range of other stuff from all around the world. It's another one of these small shops which are a pleasure to visit and you always learn something when you chat with the staff. This is Doug, who started the business way back when.  He's an expert in Mexican food (2 cookbooks) and drink and, in this picture, he's talking about tequila. My knowledge of tequila is based around the old adage 'One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!' but I learned here that tequila is a bit like whisky with expensive tequilas being the equivalent of single malts.

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