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Cake or Haggis? A culinary exploration of Scotland

By Grace Brown, Opinion Editor

Scotland, 2023. It’s early February, and though the overall temperature is rather mild — a balmy 45 F — the wind is biting, and people rush around the crowded sidewalks of Glasgow’s west end. As the largest city in Scotland, Glasgow boasts a population of nearly three million, and there is never a time when the streets are barren.

There is, however, a lull in activity on weekday afternoons around 2 p.m., after the corporate-sanctioned lunch break and before the hoards of school children dressed in uniforms identical to business attire are released to swarm the streets; this is the time of day I set out for a coffee and pastry to accompany my studies.

Due to the incessant humidity, a consistent 80%, shop windows steam up in a way I’ve never seen in Buffalo, providing customers with a heightened sense of privacy and intimacy inside. Most cafes have Wi-Fi, which is essential for international students like myself who may have elected not to purchase an international phone plan, thus confining our travel and dining options; I leave a nastygram on Google Reviews for all those cafes which don’t.

Regardless, European coffee is undeniably better than American coffee — you can discern a good cup of coffee before you even buy it based on a) whether there are multiple size options (there shouldn't be) and b) if it's too expensive for your own good — and I have decided drinking as much of it as I can possibly afford is part of the experience. Besides, the pastries in Britain are next level.

In fact, all British food is actually quite delectable. I know this is a hot take, and popular sentiment begs to disagree. However, I have yet to have an unsatisfactory meal in the UK. “Breakfast rolls,” which consist of various meats enclosed in a crispy golden bun, are a common dish here and are often accompanied by the deliciously vinegar-y “brown sauce,” a.k.a HP sauce.

“Frangipane” is another widespread delicacy which may have originated in Italy but has been entirely claimed by the British (shockingly) and is essentially an almond custard tart. Likewise due to Britain’s imperial legacy, Indian food is abundant in Glasgow; there appears to be at least one quality Indian restaurant on every corner, if not more. Imagine if every Tim Horton’s was replaced with an Indian place: wow!

Furthermore, meringue is quite prolific. A Swiss culinary invention, this is another abducted dish, but I’m not complaining! Meringues are fluffy and light, so you can pack a lot away before you feel gross, and are often served with local fruits or vegetables and a thick cream.

This actually leads to an intriguing point worth noting separately: British people, especially women, enjoy desserts more often than their American counterparts. When heading to class or to meet a friend for lunch, I have frequently noticed pairs of friends sitting with a “cuppa” and personal pastry for each of them — most especially middle to older-aged women who seem to while away hours chatting with a friend over scones and tea.

Perhaps it is the feminist inside me rearing its ferocious head, but I can’t help feeling that this way of life is superior to that led by many women in the United States. Whether it is a result of the demanding lifestyle expected of mothers in this commercialized 21st century — chauffeuring children to and from school, sporting events and playdates, along with grocery shopping and preparation, not mention trying to maintain one’s own career — or the product of a diet industry that has infiltrated the minds of even adolescents, it seems that many American women do not permit themselves the simple pleasure of embarking on an afternoon journey for a hot drink and sweet treat.

Are we somehow expected to sacrifice our own satisfaction for the demands of a commercial society that objectifies our bodies or neglect our emotional needs for the mainstream tastes of others? The fact that I am surprised to see women out on their own, enjoying the company of one another and the taste of a scrumptious cake or croissant, reveals much about the society in which I was raised.

While I am on the topic of ways in which British culture exceeds that of the United States, I want to mention the fact that Brits are far less focused on monetary gain than they are on following one’s professional passion. In the U.S., if one declares their plan to study creative writing and philosophy, they are looked upon with the sympathetic “oh, they’ll never find a real job” perspective. We, as American college students, are expected to pursue an education that will provide us a stable career or at least have some sort of professional plan to ensure income following graduation.

Here in Scotland, when I announce my creative writing major, people smile sincerely and say, “How exciting, reading a lot of Robbie Burns, aye?” There are no hidden snickers of “Good luck finding a job with that” or concealed concern that I will end up working in Starbucks until I’m 50.

People are genuinely excited for me, and there appears to be a greater appreciation for seeking a career in the arts. More students choose to follow their passions and study music or literature as opposed to the more “logical” or “safe” studies. I could speculate that this is the result of a society less thoroughly ruled by capitalism, but the price of my daily oat-milk latte begs to differ.

Finally, the food we have all been waiting to talk about: haggis. It’s salty and spectacular, and that’s all I have to say about that, so stop groaning.

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