A Food Tour of Scotland: Vegan Edition

(Approximately 5 min. read)

I flew to Scotland in October of 2021 to take part in an event at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26. Not one to miss an opportunity for an adventure, I extended my stay, spending some time in Edinburgh and the Highlands. I’m new to traveling as a vegan (in fact, I’m used to struggling to find meals as a vegetarian), but I was pleasantly surprised with the options even in the remote parts of Scotland.

My first day in Edinburgh began at the Grassmarket. Street food! The first vendor was offering what looked like a stuffed pastry. A quick google later, I learned that “haggis” was a Scottish specialty, typically made of the least expensive cuts of meat. Some recipes date back to the 1200s and say it was invented to utilize parts of the hunt that would spoil if not consumed near the hunting site. Not keen on eating any animal innards, as commendable as not wasting is, I was happy to see Vegan Haggis on display.

The Scotsman reported in 2019 that vegetarian haggis was on the rise, with traditional meat and vegetarian varieties becoming equally common in recent years. The modern versions substitute lentils, peas, beans, and nuts for the animal innards. Mixed with mushrooms, onions, and carrots, the stuffed pastry had a really nice taste. We followed up this very Scottish snack with vegan Gyoza Dumplings and Noodles.

The Grassmarket: Vegan Haggis and Veggie Gyoza (hi, Dom!)

Later that day we explored the famous Royal Mile. We headed to Albanach for “fish and chips.” I didn’t see any vegan options besides Beyond Meat burgers, and I did see Halloumi. Halloumi was a staple during my time living in Sweden and is not very well known in Italy, where I currently live. Embracing my self-identification as an “Imperfect Vegan,” I went for it and… as I’m surprised to find is common since making the switch, I was disappointed. Cheese just usually isn’t as great as I remembered it to be! Trust me, I’m as shocked by that as you are. The peas were completely unflavored and the fried halloumi and potato fries (“chips”) tasted pretty “meh.” On the other hand, the beer was good and Dom enjoyed the vast Scotch tasting-menu.

Vegetarian “fish” and chips

I had a brief day in Dumfries to play in the Last Game, where the Costa Coffee (a chain) had options to sustain me. I then made my way to Glasgow, where the streets were buzzing with excitement and tension from the ongoing COP26. This billboard emphasized how critical our food choices are to climate action.

Advertisement emphasizing the connection between our diets and the Climate Emergency

With the “business” part of the trip complete, I made my way back to Edinburgh to explore. There I visited Holy Cow, a fully vegan spot near the Edinburgh Playhouse . The restaurant was a little tricky to find as it is located below ground, but once I found it, I was thrilled. There were lots of unique options and lots of cakes to choose from. I had a delicious pulled jackfruit burger.

Holy Cow in Edinburgh: Pulled Jackfruit Burger and Cake

The next morning I started my day at The Milkman, where I had a vegan cookie and chai latte. Thankfully, it seemed like all the cafes in Edinburgh had plant-milk varieties. Cockburn Street, where this little shop is located, is a small offshoot of the Royal Mile/High Street and one of my favorite spots in Edinburgh. It has the feeling of stepping back into a different era with stone buildings and narrow stone staircases winding in unpredictable directions.

After my snack, I hopped on a small tour bus with a driver in a kilt to venture up to the highlands. Departing from Edinburgh, we ventured to the farthest tips of the northern isles:

Our first stop was at the Kilmahog Coffee Shop, which was mostly a souvenir shop. Here, we met and fed our first highland cows. The furballs were really social and nudged our hands to demand scratches and (owner approved) snackies.

The second stop was in Fort Williams where I was shocked to find a vegan cafe called The Wildcat. They were too busy to seat us but I grabbed some goodies for the road (the muffin was great!) We stopped to visit Nessie (aka the Loch Ness Monster) before making our way up to Inverness for the night.

In Inverness, we struggled a bit to find a place that could accommodate our group (gluten free and vegan), but after a misstep at a Lebanese spot, we managed to find a cute chain called Revolution that had vegan nachos and a no-chicken burger. I really love nachos, it was my go-to in Calgary, so finding a place that made them with vegan cheese was amazing.

In the morning, I visited Blend. Knowing we were headed into pretty remote areas without many food options, I took two bagels to go. The first bagel was a vegan “bangers and hash” with vegan cheddar, hash browns, and veggie sausages. I dove into this eagerly at the Balnuaran of Clava a bronze age archeological site that had a truly magical feel to it. Vibrant fall leaves littered the ground among these mysterious stone structures. The second was a sweet bagel with a vegan cream cheese and a delicious chocolate peanut butter snack bar, which I ate in the van while we continued northwards.

Vegan “bangers and hash” from Blend (Inverness) at the Balnuaran of Clava

In Portree, with few options and many of the options closed,  I grabbed a soup and sandwich from Relish, a cute little shop with a line around the corner at lunch time.

The tour being a success, I made my way back to Edinburgh for a few more food adventures. I stopped for a lazy breakfast at Holyrood Café where they made me a vegan English breakfast. As I sat at the counter facing the window and people watching, a kind girl about my age stopped-in to ask if I was okay. I guess I looked really tired from all the adventuring! (and not sleeping, thank you dorm-hostels)

Holyrood Cafe Vegan English Breakfast

I ventured farther from my hostel to Sugar Daddy’s Bakery for a decadent brownie and then after a quick stop to see Dolly the first cloned sheep. From there, I headed to Beetroot Sauvage. Beetroot Sauvage was my favorite restaurant of the trip, although Blend was a close second for the food. To be honest, the service was really slow and they forgot about me for a long time, but the vibe of the little nook was amazing. It was bustling with people and had the sense of a place that was truly creating a community rather than just serving food. I was thankful for the slow down and quiet space to read.

A quick recap of the Edinburgh stops:

One of my last visits before heading home to Italy was Arthur’s Seat. A beautiful ridge overlooking Edinburgh. Before walking there I came across one of my favorite google reviews of all time:

So, that’s what I did: Enjoyed the view. Maybe I should have also tasted the grass.

Hey there!

I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.

More About Me

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