Why should Angus be circled on the map as a foodie destination? There’s only really one answer to that: why wouldn’t it be?
In an age where provenance is king, when everyone from professional gourmand to primary school pupil wants to know what they’re eating and how it got there, our region is a must-stop for food lovers.
From our famed, and eponymous, Aberdeen Angus beef to vodka made with our very own potatoes, this isn’t just one big banquet – it’s an exciting one. Local food and drink producers, eateries and shops are taking all that our land and sea has to offer, embracing its history, and getting creative at the same time. The result? Standout dishes and products, with some fascinating tales behind them.
A fishy tale
So much of our food has a tale to tell, but no more so than the Arbroath Smokie. Its origins are thought to go back to Viking settlers, but the smokie industry as we know it was created in the 1800s when local fisherwomen salted and cooked haddock over wood, hanging the fish by their tails.
Today, there are a few family smokehouses still producing smokies and they’re a popular delicacy, sold on their own or in fishcakes and fish pate. Walk along the Fit o’ the Toon area of Arbroath and you smell them: the dedicated fishmongers who are still practicing the same traditional smoking and hanging methods.
Some like to call them artisans, but our smokie producers would say they’re just doing a job they know and love – preserving fish while at the same time preserving history.
Waste not, want not
The Gin Bothy came about by accident when founder Kim Cameron was looking for ways to use up extra berry juice from her jam making. She decided to have a go at infusing gin. Our local raspberries and strawberries have now been joined by rhubarb, pine needles and heather as sources for Kim’s infusions. The Gin Bothy may be a trailblazer in the red-hot drinks sector that is gin, but its values are resolutely old-fashioned. And there’s now a visitor experience in Glamis that shares the whole story (plus tipples of gin of course!)
Did you know? The Arbroath Smokie doesn’t originate from Arbroath. It began life in the nearby fishing village of Auchmithie, a few miles north of Arbroath. A stated favourite of actor Alan Cumming, who grew up in nearby Carnoustie, the smokie is eaten on its own and is also used in the traditional Scottish fish soup Cullen Skink.
Move over Cornwall…
Cornwall has its pasty but we have the Forfar Bridie – a meat and onion pastry named after the historic Angus market town it was developed in. Much loved by locals and a hot seller in these parts, the bridie has another claim to fame: its link to writer J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan. A native of Angus, Barrie mentioned the bridie in one of his novels, Sentimental Tommy, The Story of His Boyhood. We quite like the idea of wee James snaffling a bridie on his way home from school, and it ending up in a novel…
You say potato, we say vodka (and gin, and whisky)
Angus’s native potato is all glammed up now thanks to the innovation of companies like Arbikie and Ogilvy Spirits, producers of potato-based vodka. The farming families behind them are getting uber-creative with the ‘tattie’ fields which Angus has long been known for. The result? Award-winning booze that ranges from small batch to international exports.
At Arbikie Highland Estates near Arbroath, the tattie fields have been joined by juniper and chillies for Arbikie gin, and the barley is being turned into whisky. Look out for more launches from this innovative brand, a self-professed ‘disruptor’ in the premium spirits market.
A place of global tastes
The breadth of this region’s food offerings runs wider than simply its local delicacies. This is a place where you can enjoy Italian, Indian and Mexican food too. Check out EL Tajin, a family run restaurant in Montrose led by a Mexican chef from Veracruz, Mexico. It began life as a pop-up restaurant and is now a permanent fixture and firm favourite among visitors and locals. Or sample the slow-cooked sauces, pizzas and paninis at Panzerotti, an Italian café and bakery in Forfar. Maxibell in Carnoustie is a French restaurant with a twist, mixing things up with a tapas menu and Indonesian curry dishes.
A gin with your sandwich?
With sandwiches, cheeses, hampers and sharing platters, Smithies Deli and Gin Emporium in Arbroath covers all the bases when it comes to the munchies. Plus, there are 220 craft gins on sale, from as far afield as Japan. Inspired by the owner’s grandad’s greenhouse and his love of botanics, Smithies is now producing its own gin brand, with ingredients like citrus, berries and orris root (look it up!)
Did you know? Picking fruits and vegetables is ingrained in the culture of Angus. Children and adults used to spend summers picking raspberries and strawberries, and October picking potatoes. So ingrained is the potato lifting in local culture that the region’s two-week Autumn break is still referred to as the ‘tattie holidays’.
Pick(s) of the day
With so much produce around us, it’s no wonder that Angus is home to one of the first modern-day farmers’ markets in the country. A market established in Forfar in 1999 is now under a permanent roof in Forfar’s John Street, and also hosts seasonal and special events. Monthly markets also take place in Montrose and Arbroath.
The family-run Charleton Farm near Montrose is a pick-your-own place which grows seasonal berries, asparagus and potatoes. The on-site café has been converted from stable blocks and caters for all dietary needs, including gluten-free and vegan.
Sammy Reid is co-owner with husband Ian of Sea No Waste in Arbroath, which sells zero-waste food, herbs and toiletries. They were inspired to open the business after watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet TV series. Sammy has a couple of firm favourites when it comes to eating out locally.
“There are two places I’m in love with just now. One is Wild Thyme in Arbroath’s West Port, which has an array of vegan meals, cakes and amazing smoothies available for sit-in or takeaway. I frequent this place regularly as I’m just up the road. The other is a quaint wee café called Bearpig in Guthrie Port. The lads are so welcoming, kid- and dog-friendly. It’s small but out of this world for breakfast and lunch. The side salads are amazing – so fresh!”