It is sometimes easy to forget that food tourism is big business: our distilleries, farmers’ markets, restaurants, pubs and tea rooms are responsible for encouraging visitors to our shores.
VisitScotland estimates that visitors spend around £995 million a year on eating and drinking when they are on holiday in Scotland.
While here, 55 per cent of visitors try local food and 46 per cent try local drink.
Unsurprisingly, dining out in restaurants, cafes and pubs topped the list of visitor activities at 92 per cent.
A recent encounter with Seafood from Scotland, the industry body which promotes Scottish fish and shellfish, made me think about the importance of the sea to our tourists’ experiences.
Eating fresh Scottish seafood – whether it is fine dining or a pub supper - is a treat many people seek out. And it’s all the better after a day spent on the coast.
However, it was not always so: 20 years ago specialist seafood restaurants were few and far between and fish on other menus a bit of a one-off. Our choice in Edinburgh was probably the Cafe Royal Oyster Bar, Fishers or the Mussel Inn.
What a treat it was when Roy Brett fresh from working with Rick Stein in Padstow opened a fish restaurant at the Dakota Hotel in South Queensferry.
Ondine followed on George IV Bridge in 2009 and Brett is now on the cusp of opening another fishy venture at Newhaven harbour.
Today Edinburgh has plenty to choose from and in addition creative seafood dishes feature on many a menu. Across Scotland seafood diners are now offered the freshest of fish – direct from “crate to plate”.
And thinking about it some of my most memorable meals have involved seafood. There were the oysters doused in Bowmore malt served in the ancient vaults, beside barrels silently maturing the whisky in the Islay distillery.
Another time it was a crisp salad and lobster on an unexpectedly sunny day in North Berwick and relishing showing off the pretty East Coast town to London cousins, who in turn delighted in the value-for-money bill.
Seafood from Scotland’s recent feast in a secret pop-up space on a bitterly cold night in the capital was another delight. We were treated to exquisite pairings of scallops, mackerel, salmon and cod with Scottish craft spirits.
In fact, Cullen skink on a grey day sightseeing in Aberdeen is right up there for great meals. Nothing else would have hit the mark better than that bowl of soup.
The sea is intoxicating and a walk on the coast is one of my top choices for a day out.
Often it’s in the East Neuk villages where fishing boats and stacked lobster pots hint at what will be for supper.
Or perhaps it’s at North Berwick marvelling at the Lobster Hatchery before a slap-up lunch in the sunshine.
A beach at dawn – or dusk – never fails to bring a smile to my face and sitting on the rocks at St Andrews as dog walkers, joggers and kite surfers make use of the West Sands brings to mind hair-tugging student pier walks followed by piping hot fish and chips.
Then there’s the unexpected joy of finding a pretty shell on a beach and childhood memories of rock pooling in Galloway when we discovered the slimy delights of wet seaweed.
Who back then would have thought seaweed was such a delicacy?
Galloway’s coast introduced me to many seaside pleasures –galloping a horse on the sands, rowing small boats and lighthouses.
I suppose my other top childhood memory of the coast was “finding” the secret harbour hewn out of the rock at Seacliff near North Berwick.
It was a vivid part of the magic of Scotland to a young expat discovering her homeland for the first time.
This article appears in Grand Tour 2018 which was published with The Scotsman on 31 March 2018. Read the emag of the Grand Tour 2018 here