for National Geographic News
The deep-fried Mars bar, served with a side order of fries, threatens to usurp the haggis as Scotland's best-known dish.
Worried public health experts, who investigated stories about the chocolate-covered caramel and nougat candy bars being deep-fried at Scottish fast food outlets, say the claims are not an urban myth.
The researchers discovered similarly bizarre examples of calorie-laden fast food cuisine, such as batter-fried ice cream, pizza, and pineapple rings.
The study, reported this month in the British medical journal The Lancet, adds to concerns over poor diet and physical health problems in Scotland. Only last month First Minister Jack McConnell, the leader of Scotland's executive cabinet, described the country as "one of the unhealthiest nations in Europe."
Doctors David Morrison and Mark Petticrew, both based in Glasgow, Scotland, say they decided to check claims that Scots had developed a taste for deep-fried Mars bars after the phenomenon was mentioned by Jay Leno on his NBC Tonight Show in the United States.
"We hoped to be able to lay to rest an urban myth," said Morrison, a consultant in public health medicine with the National Health Service.
Morrison and Petticrew surveyed around 300 Scottish fast food restaurants that sell Britain's most popular meal: fish and chips (fries). They found 22 percent of these "chip shops" also served deep-fried Mars bars (a Milky Way in the U.S.). Each contains more than 420 calories.
Average sales were 23 bars per week, with some shops selling more than 200 each week. Three-fourths of customers were children.
The researchers found that Mars bars aren't Scotland's only deep-fried specialties, with chip shops also frying up ice-cream, pizza, pineapple rings, pickled eggs, Snicker bars, and bananas.
Haggis, Scotland's national dish, a combination of seasoned meat and oatmeal boiled in a sheep's stomach, also appears on the fast food menu. But instead of being boiled and served with "neeps and tatties" (turnips and potatoes), in the traditional way, the haggis goes into the deep fat-fryer as well.
The deep-fried Mars bar is believed to have originated in the northeast Scottish village of Stonehaven, following a bet struck between a chip shop owner and a customer. The Carron Fish and Chip Bar today sells as many as 300 deep-fried Mars bars a week. They cost 70 pence each (U.S. $1.38), or £1.70 (U.S. $3.30) when served with fries.
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