Scotland is famed for its produce, but one ‘dish’ is shameful, writes Stephen Jardine.
What is your idea of food heaven and hell?
For those of us who are enthusiastic eaters, that can be a tough question. As a kid, heaven would have been chocolate but hell would have been a difficult choice between most seafood, the majority of vegetables, all things green and anything on the menu at school dinners. Plus, of course, tomatoes.
However time is a great palate cleanser. Seafood has now switched to the heaven list and the hell side looks relatively empty. I’m not that keen on Brussels sprouts but I will eat them and even tripe tasted pretty good on a trip to Italy last year.
So that leaves just one thing that will never, ever touch my lips and unfortunately it is something we’ve foolishly become famous for.
The deep-fried Mars Bar has always been our culinary badge of shame. It first hit the headlines about 25 years ago with coverage which basically bellowed, look at the state of us. Revelling in the revulsion it provoked, a few chip shops churned them out for curious tourists and a handful of locals determined to eat their way to an early grave.
Outsiders pointed at us and laughed. “Look at the state of the stupid Scots who have to deep fry everything before they can eat it,” was the general concensus.
Then Scotland changed. Around that time, the Farmers Market movement started in Perth and farmed salmon production really took off. Shellfish producers began to target the home market and soft fruit growers harnassed new technology to ramp up production. On top of all that, a new generation of chefs revolutionised Scottish food.
In just a few short years, we went from being a deep-fried joke to developing a worldwide reputation for our produce and our cooking. Visitors actually started coming here because they wanted to eat well.
Since then the deep-fried chocolate bar has retreated to the fringes of Scottish food, tolerated in a few places in the same way a few objectionable Frenchmen still like to eat the tiny Ortolan songbirds, feet, head, beak and all. In recent years, European legislation has tried hard to end the practice.
While we are still in the EU, it’s a shame it couldn’t also consign the deep-fried Mars Bar to the dustbin of food history as well.
Instead in recent years it has undergone a revival. As the number of restaurants and takeaways reaches record levels, the truly desperate have turned to deep frying anything to grab a wretched headline and waddle into the limelight for a few miserable moments.
From Crème Eggs to Snickers bars and everything in between, nothing is beyond deep frying for those with no imagination or new ideas. They say it’s a laugh ... but at who’s expense?
Like the fat boy who lifts his shirt so everyone can laugh at his belly, surely we are now better than this.
If we really want to be known as a land of food and drink, we need to get beyond asking people to laugh at us for being unhealthy and stupid enough not to care.
When the French ate the Ortolan, they covered their head with a napkin to hide their shame. The deep-fried Mars bar deserves nothing less.