The deep-fried Mars bar has been a staple of Scottish cuisine – and jokes about Scottish cuisine – for years.
The dish was invented by Aberdeenshire fish bar The Carron way back in 1995, but Edinburgh café owner Selim Sener told BuzzFeed Life that he was the first person to introduce it to the Scottish capital 16 years ago.
"We sell about three big boxes of battered Mars bars a week, as well as deep-fried Snickers," he said. "I like to experiment too. The weirdest thing I've ever deep-fried was an entire kebab: pitta, salad, meat, even chilli sauce. It was surprisingly nice."
As Selim was up for a fresh challenge, we dared him to help us come up with a new battered and deep-fried national dish for Scotland.
We suggested 12 snacks for deep frying, and recruited three volunteers to taste-test them. The rules: Each person had to try at least one bite of each dish (no matter how odd) and then rate it out of 10. We'd then add up the scores to find a Mars-bar-beating winner.
Selim, who's a damn good sport as well as the chip-wrapping world record holder, agreed to add the winning snack to the Café Piccante menu, no matter what it was. "I really hope it's something I can actually sell," he said.
Our suggestions were pretty varied to say the least.
The deep-fried Mars bar has been repeatedly slammed for being far too unhealthy, so what better way to undo all that damage than by making the next iconic deep-fried Scottish dish the world's healthiest food?
Ayla: "It's actually pretty nice, plus you get deep-fried onion rings so it's not that out of the ordinary. An onion is basically a salad. I'm going to give this a solid 7/10."
Amy: "The cucumber is really squishy and oily. The tomato burned the fuck out of my mouth but it was tasty, like the tomatoes you get with a cooked breakfast but with added crunch. I'd give the tomato an 8, but the salad as a whole gets a 5."
Eilidh: "The cucumber is hot and odd and lettuce basically doesn't even have a flavour, but it's not nearly as weird as I thought it would be so I'll give it 7."
Total score: 19.5
2. Big Mac
A chippy in Preston recently made headlines for selling deep-fried Big Macs wrapped in doner meat, so we thought we'd try something similar. Also, how dare Lancashire try to steal Scotland's deep-frying thunder?
Amy: "Mmmm. It's got a nice salty, oily, crunchy coat. It's like the fried bread you get with breakfast, but with added meat and weird cheese. I give it an 8."
Ayla: "I was quite afraid of this as it looks like a zombie Krispy Kreme doughnut, but it does taste really nice. It's like a Big Mac raised to another level. I would eat this when drunk, definitely. It's an 8 from me."
Eilidh: "It's better with chippy sauce, like a Scottish-American fusion dish. 7/10"
Total score: 23
3. Pickled eggs
Rubbery, vinegary pickled eggs have been a popular snack in Britain for generations. Would they become even more popular if they were deep-fried? There was only one way to find out.
Amy: "It's like cutting into an eyeball. Argh, it's hot and so vinegary. I'm going to be sick. No no no. Please don't take a photo of me if I hurl. It's like gelatinous piss. It's putrid. It's a big fat zero from me."
Ayla: "It's a pickled egg! I didn't realise. I'm going to die. It's just slime and oil and vinegar. Plus it was too hot so I breathed in to cool it and all the vinegar hit the back of my throat. It's horrific. Zero from me too."
Eilidh: "I actually quite like it. It's tangy. It's not a flavour I would choose but I didn't find it as bad as I thought I would. I'll give it 3."
Total score: 3
4. Greggs sausage roll
Greggs sausage rolls are flaky, meaty tubes of pastry heaven, so maybe a deep-fried sausage roll would be even better? Plus they're massively popular in Scotland, so including one was a no-brainer. It's frying time.
Amy: "Nooo, why did I eat an entire third? This is the grimmest thing I've ever eaten, apart from that pickled egg. It's really greasy and the meat is rank. I wouldn't even eat this after a night out. I give it a 2."
Ayla: "I was really looking forward to this as I love Greggs sausage rolls, but this is just nasty. I usually like the flavour of the meat, but the whole thing tastes like sewage mixed with cement. It gets a 1 from me. If I needed to make myself puke I would eat one of these."
Eilidh: "The batter plus pastry isn't as massive a crime as I expected, but it's still pretty rank. I give it a 5."
Total score: 8
5. Dry-roasted peanuts
Would frying crunchy, savoury nuts work, or would the batter ruin them? They were one of only a few things on earth that Selim had never deep-fried, so we definitely had to give it a a try.
Amy: "Wow, those are so good. The flavour of the peanut's really coming through, and they're surprisingly soft inside. It's like peanut butter in batter. Peanut batter? I really like them with the curry sauce too. 9/10"
Ayla: "They're really strange but quite nice. I miss the crunch from the nuts, though, and the batter's not that crispy. Maybe they should have been fried for longer? 7.5/10"
Hilary "(standing in for Eilidh as she doesn't eat nuts): These are really good. They're like cheeky, chewy, oily little nuggets of fun, plus they're a delight with curry sauce. I'd definitely eat these as a pub snack. 9/10"
Total score: 25.5
6. Pot Noodle
Pot Noodles have been keeping Britain's students alive for generations, but would they benefit from a bit of batter? After they'd congealed a bit they certainly looked substantial enough to deep-fry.
Amy: "It looks like some kind of demented desert spider. I'm getting hints of flavour but nothing substantial. It's like the ghost of a Pot Noodle – I'm being haunted by oily chicken and mushroom. 3/10"
Ayla: "The individual bits look like a Dark Mark. This is so bland. I feel like this dish had potential but couldn't cope with the hot oil. Or maybe the batter beat the Pot Noodle up and stole its flavour. It's a 2 from me."
Eilidh: "It's just batter, really. The noodles clearly crumbled under pressure. It's like a really greasy Chinese takeaway. 3/10"
Total score: 8
7. Strawberry Krispy Kreme doughnut
US doughnut chain Krispy Kreme broke Edinburgh when it opened its first shop on the outskirts of the city. People flocked from miles around, causing traffic chaos, so it felt right to honour the doughnut's massive popularity by deep-frying the hell out of one.
Amy: "That is so good. Nom. It's extra-extra Krispy Kreme. It's really coating my teeth but I don't care. I'll give this an 8."
Ayla: "This is amazing. It's like the doughnuts you get from a fair that you have to put on a piece of paper because they're so hot and crisp and greasy. It's the best thing I've eaten in ages, despite the fact it looks like something you'd find on someone's bum on Embarrassing Bodies. 9/10"
Eilidh: "It's like a creamy, crispy strawberry pie. I'm totally finishing it. 8/10"
Total score: 25
8. Tunnock's Teacake
No Scottish deep-frying experiment would be complete without the "daddy of them all", the legendary Tunnock's Teacake. But would these delicate domes of marshmallow cope with being battered?
Amy: "Oh my, they look like little poos. They're so turdy. The white gloopy sludge coming out of them is a bit upsetting. They taste pretty good, but they're too sweet: It's like sugargeddon. 7 from me."
Ayla: "I love it. The marshmallow with the batter works surprisingly well, though it's a bit of a weird combination. It's gloopy and crisp at the same time, which isn't something I ever thought I'd say. 9/10"
Eilidh: "I think the doughnut was better, but there's something very classically Scottish about this. The marshmallow was sticky and really delicious. 8/10"
Total score: 24.5
Shortbread has such a high butter content that deep-frying it is probably illegal, but it's such an iconic Scottish food it would have been a crime to leave it out. Plus the volunteers had proved they'd eat anything by this point.
Amy: "I thought it was going to be really dry but it's gorgeous. It's got a strange flaky, chewy texture, almost like pastry. It's bizarre but very moreish, and the batter's basically giving the whole thing a hug. 8.5/10"
Ayla: "This would be even better with ice cream. It's crusty and crumbly, but in a good way. Because the shortbread is so sugary all the flavour and butteriness stays in. It's incredible with strawberry sauce as well. 9.5/10"
Eilidh: "It's making all my internal organs happy, even though I feel sick after everything else I've eaten. You do need a sauce or a dip with it though. Maybe melted chocolate? I'll give it 7.5."
Total score: 25.5
We really wanted to deep-fry a Solero (and ideally feed it to Alex Salmond by a lake), but sadly the local Tesco was out of stock so we chose something that sounded vaguely similar instead.
Amy: "This is a bit toxic. It's too oily for me. I quite like the contrast between the crisp batter and the cold ice cream though. 6/10"
Ayla: "Oh, that's nice! Yeah, I'm going to go ahead and eat all of this. It's like banana fritters with ice cream, minus the banana. The deep-fried cone is good too. It just tastes like an extra crispy cone. I'll give this an 8."
Eilidh: "Urgh, my mouth is just full of soggy batter. If you don't eat it straightaway the ice cream starts to melt. Honestly, I think this is worse than the egg. I'll give it 2."
Total score: 16
11. Mince pies
Could mince pies be the next Mars bar? Probably not, because they taste like a packet of potpourri encased in pastry, but it was worth a try.
Amy: "I actually really like this despite the fact it's tougher than shoe leather. I love mince pies, and these are mince pies 2.0, with extra oil and fat and shame. 7/10"
Ayla: "This is what people leave out for Santa in Scotland. This is just way too heavy and claggy and the pastry has sort of dissolved into the batter: It's the pie that ruined Christmas. 3 from me."
Eilidh: "I don't usually like mince pies but the batter has somehow improved it, it's taken some of that cloying sweetness away. It's not something you'd want to have every day but it's good. I'll give it a solid 6."
Total score: 16
12. Quality Street
To round off this oily experiment we deep-fried a handful of Quality Street. The volunteers chose the caramel-and-nut-filled purple ones, the green triangles, and three golden fudge sticks. Surely these iconic treats would be far more delicious than a boring old Mars bar?
Amy: "They look like fried dogshit but taste incredible. The chocolate and batter and caramel all explode into each other when you bite down. It's like the chocolate chainsaw massacre. 8/10"
Ayla: "The chocolate fudge stick things are amazing but they're dangerously hot and sticky, like napalm. The purple hazelnut ones are delicious, but the green triangles win. I could eat a few of these, but not many. 8/10"
Eilidh: "They're too soft, oily and far too hot, but for some reason they work anyway. They're really oozy and indulgent. 8/10"
Total score: 24
Dry-roasted peanuts, and shortbread.
With 25.5 points each (and just beating the Krispy Kreme doughnut), deep-fried dry-roasted peanuts with curry dipping sauce and deep-fried shortbread with ice cream and chocolate or strawberry sauce will be the new additions to the Café Piccante menu.
However, Selim is happy to deep-fry any of these foods if you want to give them a try – you just have to bring the item with you. Unless you want a pickled egg, that is, as he has a large supply of these for some inexplicable reason.
What we learned.
1. There isn't a great deal of food that's improved by being battered and deep-fried. Fish was clearly a lucky guess.
2. Deep-fried Big Macs should be added to the Scottish McDonald's menu.
3. Not all foods can handle the deep-frying process – they have to be both solid and flavourful.
4. Deep-fried shortbread could probably unseat Mars bars as the top sweet fried snack in Scotland: It's damn tasty and far less sickly.
5. Dry-roasted peanuts turned out to be a far more versatile snack than anyone ever imagined.
6. Deep-fried pickled eggs could be used as a torture device.
7. You should be very careful what you volunteer for.