Grinch alert. I’m not really a fan of Edinburgh’s Christmas Markets, which run until January 4.
I try to avoid them, as you do, if you’re an introvert and a misanthrope who hates crowds and queues.
However, this year, I was tasked with a mission to investigate the food offerings at this event, which is produced by Underbelly. I felt like an alien or an anthropologist, heading into the fray to study humans and their strange customs. No dissection necessary.
I quickly give up on the main East Princes Street Gardens bit. It’s too busy, and the German-style stalls are same-y. On offer, there’s haggis, mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers, stovies, grilled salmon or pork sandwiches, crepes and waffles. I keep getting icy drips down the back of my duffle coat as I shuffle along under the awnings.
I escape along the front of the Scottish National Gallery, where people are sheltering and eating rolls from The Original German Sausages stand on Princes Street.
Onto Santa Land, in West Princes Street Gardens. Maybe he’ll share his candy cane lunch with me. Except I’m a bit premature for his grotto, which isn’t set up yet, so there are just lots of fairground rides, like dodgems, as well as a Christmas tree maze and some stalls that look uncannily similar to the ones I saw at the Mound.
I do about three hungry laps of the Ross Fountain, like a cotton headed ninny muggins, before heading up to the third festive outpost at the west end of George Street.
This one is sponsored by Lidl GB and includes an ice-rink. At last - ta-da - I find something I want to eat, thanks to the three independents that are stationed here.
At one end of the rink, there’s a stand from Screaming Peacock. I’ve tried their venison burgers before and can vouch for their excellence. However, I’m drawn to Melted by The Pitt, who sell currywurst dogs, steak ‘n’ fries, oven-baked Camembert and other cheese slathered goodies, though I go for their signature raclette (£8).
Then I find a spot on a bench, so I can watch people on the rink, while eating my lunch. I’m so hungry that I singe my mouth on the batch of halved potatoes, which are blanketed by a high tog duvet of puffy melted fromage and crispy lardons, as well as acidic cornichons, pink pickled onions, crispy onions and sauerkraut. A very Merry Christmas to me.
While I’m in the happy munching zone, someone thumps onto the ice and it makes my sciatic nerve shiver, while others are doing the full Blades of Glory routine and could probably tackle the escalators in the St James Quarter. The less Torvill and Dean-y people shuffle along, while holding onto those plastic mobility aids. Everyone looks very happy, smile-y and pink cheeked.
As I’m inactive and starting to feel the chill, I get something from Cold Town Beer to warm my cockles. As well as their own cans, including Christmas Pudding Ale, plus gluhwein and mulled cider, there are Hot Toddies, which are also available at some of the other stalls at East Princes Street Gardens.
“Do you know this has alcohol in it, because some people don’t realise,” says the barman. Oh yes, I was totally sold on the Maker’s Mark that comes with the Salted Caramel Hot Choc (£6). This shot of bourbon whisky is mixed with hot chocolate, whipped cream and salted caramel sauce, for a warming and boozy selection box’s worth of sugar that makes me want to salchow over the barrier and do a triple axel.
There’s yet more sweetness, once I’ve crossed the bridge over the rink, taking teeny tiny granny penguin steps so I don’t slip.
Here’s where you’ll find Churros, Baby? You choose your portion size of 12 bites (£4.50), five regular (£5) or six large sticks (£6.50), then they add a topping of Nutella, Biscoff spread or white chocolate, followed by Biscoff crumb, mini marshmallows or sprinkles. I choose the smallest portion, with the hazelnut spread and russet crumbs, and they shake on some powdery sugar and push a little silver star on a stick into one of them. Thanks, baby.
Churros are strangely compulsive, and I think I can only eat one or two, but end up munching my way through all of these coat hook and horseshoe shaped off-cuts, with their biscuity and crispy ridged edges. They’re toasty hot, and keep my hands warm. I think I have a chocolate moustache, but I don't care.
Maybe I’ll come back here again, and order the same three things. I start to wonder about putting the tree up when I get home.
So, THIS is Christmas. Maybe there is something to be said for the markets after all.
East and West Princes Street Gardens and George Street
How much? Lunch for one, £18.50
Places to try Nearby
Baba, 130 George Street, Edinburgh (0131 557 4999, www.baba.restaurant)
Escape the cold and visit Baba, where they serve warming mezze and feasting dishes including yoghurt marinated whole grilled sea bream, verbena harissa, fennel and orange shredded salad.
Wellington Coffee, 33a George Street, Edinburgh (0131 225 6854)
Pick up an excellent coffee from this tiny downstairs cafe, where there are just a few seats. Their carrot cake and brownies are also worth a try.
Greenwoods, 61 Frederick Street, Edinburgh (0131 220 6799, www.greenwoods.eu)
This cafe landed in Edinburgh from Amsterdam sometime earlier this year. They do a great brunch, especially the pancakes, or a very seasonal Dutch appeltaart.