Saturday, October 08, 2005

scotland, in a nutshell

what i love about food in nyc is that you don't need to spend a lot of money to get a great meal. the $2 pakistani food at the punjabi grocery on houston is decidedly good, as are the $5 arepas at caracas on 7th street. if you mention to people the bad food in scotland, they will likely give you a response that mentions how much british food has improved, and also that there is a michelin 4 star restaurant (martin wishart). but to eat at this place, one must be a millionaire. scotland has not yet had a food revoultion for the people.

i myself was in edinburgh on a very tight budget (thanks to the poorly-performing US dollar, you rat bastard), and i had a hard time eating well. i ate a lot of potatoes. and a lot of cheese. there were however, some highlights. though be aware that some things on this list are not here for the culinary excellence.

1) snug scottish bistro. here i spent my 31st birthday. a wee dram of a place, snuggled in the basement floor of a stockbridge townhouse. the proprietor is a delight--friendly and kind and totally invested in his restaurant. it is BYO and quite casual. if the dollar weren't so bad, it would be very reasonably priced. i dined with emily, my new friend. i had venison, she had chicken stuffed with haggis (surprisingly--YUM!). both were expertly prepared and we also really liked our oddball scottish dessert called "cranachan." we finished up, tipsy and sated, and headed off to see david o'doherty, a charming and understated irish comic.

2) piemaker. a fast food joint of sorts, selling basically single serving chicken pot pies. but with many different options for filling (chicken tikka anyone?). at one pound fifty a pop, hard to resist. not to mention that flaky crust.

3) cheese. the brits know their cheddar. the cheese aisle at the supermarket practically consists of nothing but. not to be missed: an extra sharp white cheddar sandwich with onion pickle (basically chutney). I found a pickle at crombie's of edinburgh, a gourmet sausage place on broughton road, that i'm very fond of. of which i'm fond. crap.

4) valvonna and crolla. i found the gourmet food shop! this small italian specialty food store would be nothing special in food-obsessed nyc, but in edinburgh it is a rare treasure. sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, fresh pasta, prosciutto, and a gourmet cheese counter. i bought a "sourdough" bread, which was certainly the best and crustiest bread i had all month, but ch-rist people! you should be able to break your teeth on the crust of a good sourdough. i also bought a scone--the best one i had in scotland; i could taste the cream. and an english cheese called "cairphilly," which i thought to be a ridiculously fun name. i made open faced sandwiches of this cheese, on the sourdough bread, with caramelized onion pickle. yesssssss.

5) clarinda's tea room. the first friday we arrived, eric led us at sunrise for a crisp morning hike up arthur's seat. it was virtually empty and there were clear views of edinburgh for miles. delirious with lack of sleep, it was an oddly grounding experience, a great way to start off the month. after our descent, we hit this small grandma-style tea room, replete with doily tablecloths, and antique china on the walls. at the time i had no way of knowing that this place is indeed special, that the food is notable, etc. after trying other places over the course of the month and returning to clarinda's several times, i understood. the tea is delicious, the scones are great, the scottish breakfast is a greasy delight. the service is gruff and perfunctory, at odds with the gentle sweet decor. this, too, i came to love.

6) fried fried fried. they have these shops where there is a glass case at the front, with heat lamps, and piles of every food known to man--all of it DEEP FRIED. fish, sure, but also hamburger patties, haggis, sausages, mars bars. late at night, drunken folks crowd these places and order up heaping portions of all things fried. it is one of the most astonishingly gross things i have ever seen. miraculously, americans continue to be the fattest creatures on earth.

it was interesting for me, though, to be in a place in which there were few culinary marvels for me to behold. it helped me ease off of my obsession, and freed up my extra dough for unceasing theater attendance.

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