LOWLANDS - HIGHLIFE
Valerie O’Connor sets off on a foodie trip to Edinburgh and finds much to her satisfaction
Edinburgh has plenty of options to sate the vegetarian appetite, says Valerie O’Connor
“HAVE some vegan haggis!” was the taunt from a friend when I announced my plans to travel to Edinburgh for the weekend. A short hop on a wee propellorplane from Shannon, trailing over sunny snowcapped mountains, we landed in no time at the friendliest airport outside of Portugal (the Portuguese win hands down in the cheerful contest).
Travelling alone is a doddle, nobody to corral and that blissful time in the air when you have, briefly, disappeared. The city was sunny and clear — Edinburgh is a grand city, affluent and wellto do but with little pretension. Our apartment was a stone’s throw from Castle Rock, pedestal to the famous Edinburgh Castle and home to a royal residence since the twelfth century. It dominates the city and in particular, gorgeous Prince’s Street Park. This public space, complete with it’s own outdoor theatre provides a pretty and wide open arena, scooped into the ground, meandering up and down on hilly levels. We found a gem of spot called Herbie that has magic soup, sandwiches and salads for great prices. Seven soups a day to choose from, and a choice of sandwich and snack for a fiver. A roasted carrot salad with spelt and spinach was a treat in the winter sunshine. We went there two days in a row as the weather was so good we
wanted to soak it up. Edinburgh has a happening food scene with lots of popup food markets taking place in recent years — the much loved Castle Terrace farmers’ market has been going for years, Stockbridge market is on every Sunday and Leith happens every Saturday. The Food & Flea is the newest of the bunch and is open every day, a great idea where hungry punters can combine their love of vintage gear with a haggis burrito. Sourdough pizza is the city’s newest thing and artisan doughnuts and good coffee abound. With so many places to choose from we found ourselves in Wahaca, one of a chain of Mexican eateries set up by the very first Masterchef winner, Thomasina Miers. Mexican food is a dream for the meatfree traveller as beans abound and real corn tortillas are bursting with flavour. The tortilla basket salad was filled with roasted veggies, greens and cooked Scottish spelt grain had great bite and flavour. With spicy salsa and guacamole we were rolling out the door.
EDINBURGH is a city that’s easily covered on foot so we made our way to the East End and the famous Indian eatery, Khushi’s, while local foodies feared this might be overshadowed by the opening of uber-hip Dishoom on St Andrew’s Square, the place was bursting with jolly diners. We were in veggie heaven here with delicious and juicy skewered tandoori mushrooms, sticky chilli potatoes, rich and warm dahl tarka and a tasty pinach dish.
My last night in the city was spent alone so I was keen to check out Henderson’s, an institution in Edinburgh and more than 50 years old. The business started life as a greengrocer and shop supplying the then alternative lifestyle of vegetarianism and it now has three parts to it’s veggie wheel; the shop and café, a buffet style restaurant and a full-on vegan restaurant that featured, yes you guessed it, vegan haggis. Of course I had to have it.
FOR anyone who doesn’t know, regular haggis is a distant cousin of the pudding family, made of sheep organs which are minced and mixed with onion, oatmeal and spices before being stuffed into a sheep’s stomach lining and boiled. This is the kind of grub I’d usually go mad for, so I sat down and waited for the sheep free version with neeps and tatties and red wine gravy. This plate of food is probably the most satisfying thing I’ve eaten since my vegan dark-side experiment (I’ve been dreaming of sausage rolls) and reminds me it doesn’t have to be all sweet potato and kimchi every day.
The gravy was the best bit, but the texture of the haggis was spot on and the veggies had every bit of their flavour and texture intact. Desert was a sublime lime and avocado cheesecake with a coconut crust, elegant and refreshing, I was back in vegan heaven.
As cities go, this was love at first sight, it’s beautiful, laden with history, great food and cosy, ancient pubs and warm, witty people. On the tram-ride back to the airport the ticket inspector said: “Oh, you’re leaving us.”
Princes Street (opposite) is is one of the major thoroughfares in central Edinburgh, Scotland, and its main shopping street; Henderson’s (above) is one of the city’s institutions, promoting vegetarianism since it was established more than 50 years ago and Herbie (right) offers seven different veggie soups on a daily basis, with excellent sandwiches and snacks to go.