Do you like food as much as I do? Scottish food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I was absolutely thrilled when I found the Secret Edinburgh Food Tour. If you’re planning to visit the capital of Scotland, I would have to recommend taking this tour as one of your first activities.
Why You Should Consider a Food Tour
I joined my first food tour in Sweden in July 2016. Before that, I had only experienced walking tours in most cities I visited. Nowadays, you can take running tours, bike tours, literary tours, history tours, and, well, just about every type of tour imaginable. Having experienced several myself, I’ve concluded that food tours are my favorite, not to mention the most rewarding. Not only do you get to try the local cuisine, you’ll learn about great places to eat during your stay in the city, and they usually include some local history too.
Secret Food Tours
When I started traveling over three years ago, there weren’t that many food tours around that I heard of. In 2013, Secret Food Tours launched its first tour in London. Since then, they’ve expanded to over 60 cities and are continuing to grow. Their current cities include several capital cities around Europe, some cultural hotspots in the USA, and Hong Kong and Bangkok in SE Asia.
I booked the Secret Food Tour of Edinburgh when my traveling friend Bonny came into town. We arrived at St Giles Cathedral just before noon with empty stomachs. I was excited to see what delicious Scottish food I was missing, and Bonny had absolutely no clue what was in store. I managed to keep the tour a surprise for her right up to the point when the guide arrived with his company umbrella. After all, the food tour is a secret! Not really, but…
Scottish Cuisine on an Edinburgh Food Tour
Didn’t think there was such a thing as Scottish cuisine? You’re not alone. I’ve even had arguments with locals about whether Scotland has its own food. There are actually dozens of dishes unique to or originating in Scotland. In three and a half hours, the tour only covers a few items. Scotch broth, Scotch pie, Scotch egg, Lorne (square) sausage and shortbread are some other items to try after the tour. While the restaurants and dishes are subject to change, here’s what we experienced on our tour.
Cullin Skink – Howies Restaurant
I honestly can’t figure out why I’d never had cullin skink before the tour! It’s smoked haddock, potatoes and leeks in a cream base, and it’s delicious! Fishy, smooth and perfectly spiced. Rosemary bread and Scottish butter were served on the side. I’ve walked past Howies countless times, but never really noticed it. I’ll admit I usually avoid the touristy restaurants near the Royal Mile, but this one surprised me. After just trying one of their dishes, I immediately fell in love with them. Ironically, I’ve had a bunch of other recommendations recently for Howies since going on the tour.
Location: 10-14 Victoria St, Edinburgh EH1 2HG
Haggis, Neeps and Tatties – The Beehive Inn
Our second stop on the tour was a place I’d not only seen often but once lived across the street from! The Grassmarket is where cows used to be sold, and is now lined with pubs, Italian restaurants, and vintage shops. Our tour guide pointed out that pubs in Edinburgh serve some of the best food in town. I couldn’t agree more. The Beehive has particularly good quality food. They order their meats fresh every day and never use frozen foods. They make their own haggis using that fresh meat and a secret recipe. Having tried this quintessential Scottish dish all around the country, I can say that The Beehive makes some of the best I’ve tasted.
The dish that we had at the Beehive was haggis, neeps and tatties, which is how haggis is traditionally served. Neeps are boiled and mashed rutabaga (swede in British), which is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. Tatties are potatoes, mashed in this case. Haggis is…I’m not going to say. Let’s just call it ground (minced) lamb meat with delicious spices and flavoring. Unfortuantely, most Americans are woefully ignorant about haggis as it’s been banned in the country since 1971. Don’t think that’s because there’s anything wrong with haggis; all UK cow and sheep meat are banned in the US. I’m telling you, America just doesn’t know what good meat tastes like!
Fudge – The Fudge Kitchen
There’s something about pulling a blob of fresh fudge off the scraper as soon as it’s been made which makes it so much more delicious. The Fudge Kitchen makes their fudge daily and free samples are always available. There are over a dozen flavors, including dairy-free options for Bonny. Okay, fudge might be generic around the world, but tablet is very definitely Scottish. You could call it a “butter fudge” with its own unique flavor. Our guide gave us each a sample, and I quickly realized I didn’t have enough of this Scottish dessert in my life.
Auchentoshan Whisky – The Whiski Rooms
No trip to Scotland would be complete without trying the Whisky. I’ve taken a few distillery tours myself, but somehow I had never made it to the whisky showrooms in Edinburgh. The Whiski Rooms are perhaps a little less touristy than the Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile. We got to try an Auchentoshan 12-year single malt whisky. For those not familiar with whisky, Scotch whisky legally has to be aged for 3 years to classify, although some are aged much longer. Single malt means it’s a single batch, rather than a blend of flavors; almost like varietal vs generic wines. David described this as we all polished off our dram…except for the teenager who got to try Scotland’s Irn Bru, one of the only soft drinks in the world that currently outsells Coca-cola in its own country.
Location: 4-7 North Bank Street, Edinburgh EH1 2LP
Cheeseboard and Oatcakes – The Canons’ Gait
For a lighter course to follow our whisky, we went to another pub on the Royal Mile. You might be getting the idea now that pubs in Edinburgh really do have good food. At the Canons’ Gait, we had a cheeseboard with samples of Strathdon Blue, Inverloch goat’s cheese, Applewood cheese, and Clabber Brie, served with Scottish oatcakes. I’m not usually the biggest fan of blue cheeses, but this one wasn’t that strong. The goat’s cheese was a harder cheese, but I liked it too. Brie is something I eat on a regular basis, and the applewood is the one that really stood out for me. It’s a smoked cheddar made in the UK, and reminded me of the smoked gouda I grew up loving.
Location: 232 Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DQ
English Tea, Scones, Jam and Clotted Cream – Edinburgh Press Club
We ended the tour with an afternoon tea at a very hip cafe right in the center of town. The Edinburgh Press Club is actually in an old printing house, and the decorations were pretty amazing. It was full of university students on their laptops when we went. It’s the kind of place I’d happily spend my time working at as a digital nomad. As to the tea, well, Edinburgh and Scotland have their own line of teas, and they are delicious. I never truly appreciated tea growing up in the US, but I’ve now settled into drinking my ritual morning English (Scottish) Breakfast tea. One spoonful of sugar and a tad of milk makes it perfect.
Location: 20-30 Cockburn St, Edinburgh EH1 1NY
Booking the Secret Edinburgh Food Tour
The Secret Food Tour in Edinburgh runs daily at noon, leaving from the front entrance of St. Giles Cathedral. The guide will have his iconic orange umbrella with the company logo, so you can’t miss him. If you only have time for one tour in Edinburgh, I’d have to recommend this one. Not only do you get great food, you’ll also have a chance to learn some of Edinburgh’s history and see a good portion of the Old Town. Approximate walking distance is two miles. Restaurants and dishes are subject to change.
- Location: St Giles Cathedral
- Hours: Mon-Sun 12:00 p.m.
- Price: Adults – £69; teens – £65; children – £59
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: Secret Edinburgh Food Tour
- What to bring: Comfortable walking shoes and a big appetite.
- Best time of year to visit: Jan-Dec. As a good portion of this tour is outside, it’s better to book on a sunnier day if possible.
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Additional Activities in Edinburgh
For more information about Edinburgh and Scotland, make sure to check out the rest of my Scotland articles.
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