06 July 2010

The Shorkneys: Delicious, Delicious Shorkneys

(Note: "Shorkney" is not a real word. We're just using it to write about our recent trip to Aberdeen, Orkney, and Shetland.)

The Orkney and Shetland Islands, I recall reading in the museums, cannot sustain themselves food-wise. Food has to be brought in on the same ferries that we took. While there, we went out of our way to try to get things that were local - not just for the hippy-dippy green food-mile value, but also for the fact that fresh things taste better, and also, heck, we went all the way to Orkney and Shetland. Let's not mess around eating French cheese.

Fortunately for your sake, we didn't photograph everything (between me and Justin, food often doesn't survive long enough to be photographed). But here are some culinary highlights.

First breakfast in Orkney: hotel B&B. I had amazing smoked salmon scrambled eggs (yes, the salmon was mixed into the eggs) and Justin had haddock covered in cheese and a poached egg:


Due to its location on the North Sea and its jagged coastline, Scotland is prime fishing territory. Fish isn't, however, widely eaten here in Edinburgh. I've heard various reasons for it, the most common being that fish has traditionally been so lucrative to tin and sell south that the Scots never kept much back for themselves, but this might not be correct. For whatever reason, despite its prime location, Edinburgh is not a fishy part of Scotland. The Shorkneys, however, are. And God bless 'em for it.

Shetland is even more fish-eating than Orkney because of its lower percentage of arable land. Our Orkney guide articulated the difference as "Orcadians are farmers with fishing boats. Shetlanders are fishermen with farms."

Later in Kirkwall, Orkney: Helgi's

You will notice that Justin couldn't get me to stop eating long enough to take the shot.

Helgi's is delicious and reasonably priced, which our guide (who recommended it) said made it a welcome addition to Kirkwall's waterfront. If you go to the islands, I hear sometimes it can be hard to find a place to eat if you don't make a reservation ("booking" in UK-speak). So you may want to either call or drop into the restaurant earlier in the day or the day before to make sure you get seated.

We were kind of hankering for something green, so on the left, you have a salad with Orkney cheese and candied pear. Top is smoked haddock with beets and horseradish, and lower right is frighteningly delicious mackerel pate. We ordered all of these off the appetizer menu to allow us to try more stuff.

When we weren't quite full, we went for dessert:

Rhubarb and cream. Rhubarb is a hardy little plant that grows extremely well in Orkney, and cream is another famous Orcadian product (if it comes from a cow, Orkney's famous for it). I found the rhubarb completely delicious but thought the ratio was off - the cream got a bit rich because there wasn't enough rhubarb to balance it. On the whole, I would have liked this better on a pie crust so it would have a little more substance.

We had had some rhubarb and ginger jam at lunch earlier that day, which was delicious when spread on Orkney oatcakes (quite possibly my mother-in-law's favorite food in the world). I don't have any pictures; I'm just doing this as an excuse to say "rhubarb" some more. Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb.

On to Shetland! (Rhubarb).

My friend Sarah, from Lerwick, suggested we get what she considers the world's best fish and chips at the Fort Cafe. Far be it from us to pass up what turned out to be the world's most fried dinner:

Fried haddock, french fries, and onion rings. Fresh vegetables are a bit slim in Shetland. If we lived in Shetland, I'm guessing we'd be the opposite of slim.

We had a fabulous dinner at our hotel but it was kind of a nice place so we didn't want to whip out the camera. We ordered from the appetizer menu again to get more variety. I think it ultimately included a bowl of smoked haddock/paprika chowder, pan fried scallops, and smoked salmon, with a cheese plate for dessert. The cheese was fabulous. The grapes looked a bit limp, but who can blame them? That's certainly how I felt after the ferry ride, and I only came from Kirkwall. Heaven knows where the grapes started out.

We timed our visit to Shetland to coincide with the Flavour of Shetland festival on the Lerwick Waterfront. This gave us the chance to try some local delicacies at the various booths. Here, Justin is eating a seafood gumbo:

Really good. This was actually the first time I'd seen scallops with the bright orange part attached (see here for example). I assumed it was a foot, but I just looked it up for this blog post and discovered that it's actually roe, or eggs. It was lovely. Not quite as rich or as textured as lobster roe - it actually tasted a bit like the small sweet part of a crab claw. Highly recommended!

Also from the Flavours of Shetland pier: bannocks!

(That's the buttery bread things served here with stew which, if I remember correctly, was mutton and potato).

Bannocks are a type of biscuit - "biscuit" in the American sense, not the British sense of "cookie." They are quite delicious, having a doughy, baking soda flavor. You can find some recipes here on the Shetlopedia (of COURSE Shetland has its own pedia.) I think the best are beremeal. No, I don't know what beremeal is. I just know it comes out more brown, and richer and sweeter. Here I am watching the Shetland Cooking demonstration lady make bannocks:

The butter, from a local Shetland dairy, was incredibly sweet, creamy, and smooth. And guess what kind of jam is in that bowl! Yes, RHUBARB. RHUBARB RHUBARB RHUBARB.

Last but not least, our lunch on our final day in Shetland: lamb burgers (lamburgers?). Shetland and Orkney are both known for their lamb, as sheep do well on the windy hills. A fine end to our culinary tourism!

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