Landscape to Larder
Images of clear crystal waters and heather covered hillsides feature regularly on our pages here at CalMac. Often the backdrop to a memorable trip, it's little surprise these landscapes are home to some of the best natural produce, appreciated by food lovers all over the globe.
For instance, more than two thirds of the langoustines devoured and enjoyed around the world are sourced here in Scotland, many from the west coast. Scottish Salmon was the first non-domestic product to receive the prestigious 'label rouge' quality mark in France. That recognition has continued with many Scottish products, including Scotch Beef, Scottish Wild Salmon and Stornoway Black Pudding receiving special status - Protected Geographical Indication - from the European Union, a rank which identifies high quality products unique to a particular area.
Enjoying this kind of produce in its own locality is a highlight of any visit to Scotland's west coast. However, if you've remained at home this year, you can recreate the taste of the west in your own kitchen. An impressive variety of local produce can be sourced from shops throughout the UK and online - direct from the producers.
All sorts of island icons grace the shelves of mainland shops. The Hebridean Food Company was set up by the son of a fisherman from the Isle of North Uist. The business is known for sourcing the best fish and meats the Outer Hebrides has on offer and earlier this year they expanded into creating their new brand of handmade ready meals - Stewart's Kitchen - which are now on offer in Co Op shops and supermarkets throughout the country.
Everything from Stornoway Black Pudding, Isle of Arran cheese or even seafood from the Tobermory Fish Company, caught fresh from the Hebridean waters around Mull, can be shipped direct to your door - sometimes the very next day.
Scotland Food and Drink's Support Local page will help you locate what's on offer and where.
Pit stops on the way to our ports
For those of us lucky enough to visit this year, the west coast is a dream location for food lovers. This taste adventure begins as soon as you set off since there are some lovely places to pause for a pit stop on your way to the port.
The Loch Leven Sea Food café sits on the banks of Loch Leven, just off the A82 and the main route to Fort William. The team there offer an incredible selection of deli products, take away or picnic options. It has been a challenging year for the food and hospitality sector, and while the main restaurant remains closed, the team here offer an impressive and imaginative take away menu, which changes regularly, depending on availability.
If you're bound for Oban, the Gateway to the Isles, you'll find the Oban Seafood Hut a popular option - offering a delicious selection of freshly cooked scallops, crab and lobster down by the water's edge.
Or in Ullapool, the award-winning Seafood Shack, which sits close to the town's museum is renowned for its simple but stunning food - from langoustines to oysters - everything is caught fresh nearby.
Michelin stars to Les Routiers entries
It's well known that the Isle of Skye has a world class culinary reputation - but it's also notable for the breadth of options on offer. The island is home from everything to Michelin star fine dining to equally impressive inns, pubs and farm shops nestled in the beautiful other worldly scenery. The Red Roof Café and Gallery is one such place - situated near the Duirnish peninsula on the island's west coast, the café cooks up a variety of vegetarian foods all sourced locally, organically and ethically. Soups, tea and cake are on the menu by day and freshly prepared vegetarian meals available in the evening.
On Mull, the Fisherman's Pier Fish and Chip Van sits on the pier in Tobermory, serving all sorts of seafood, cooked fresh from their van. Specialities like locally caught King Scallops, seared to order, have earned this particular van a prestigious 'Les Routiers' award. It's the very first establishment of its kind to be included in the food bible.
Further south on Arran, Mara Fish Bar and Deli offer a creative menu, using Arran's local produce, while supporting sustainable fishing throughout Scotland's coastal waters. The way they operate has changed this year - given the circumstances they now run a pre-order takeaway and collection service only - but the same fantastic taste, imaginative menu and quality remain.
The sights and surroundings are what many of us love most about a trip west - when this is combined with the delights of local produce, you'll struggle to find a better place to visit all year round.
Wherever your food journey takes you - do keep in mind that things will be slightly different this year. Always check the arrangements of the establishment you intend to visit. Many of them will have slightly different opening hours, and some might require you to book in advance. What hasn't changed is the opportunity to sample the same fantastic food and experience the warm welcome the area is renowned for. The opportunities to support them continue long after you've arrived back home from your ferry journey.