Toasting Haggis

The big Scot stood in the middle of the room, wearing a kilt and sporran, and brandishing a long, serrated knife.  Could it be someone slighted the honor of the Haggis?

Haggis.  It’s one of those foods that most have heard of, but given a chance to try, will say “um, no thanks, I’ll pass.”   Why would it have such a notorious reputation, but still be so popular with the Scots?

And, given the chance, would I risk my taste buds to something that makes so many say “ew, yuk?”

For those who aren’t clued in, haggis is a mysterious concoction of “stuff”, stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.   Sounds tasty, eh?  As for what the “stuff” is, I’ll just pass on an old quote about its cousin the sausage: “There are two things nobody should ever have to watch being made, sausage and laws.”  It seems it’s better not to know.

Salivating yet?  No?

Maybe it’s not so bad.  Scotland’s favorite son, poet Robert Burns, penned a poem in 1787 to honor the haggis. They wrap entire “Burns Suppers” around this culinary delight, with Burns’ poem serving as both an ode and a toast.  It was at something like this that I first encountered haggis.

We made an excursion to Stirling Castle – well at least to the outside.  There we met up with a Scottish piper who regaled us with a bunch of history I remember little of.  The gist? They consider Stirling Castle, about 25 miles NE of Glasgow, the gateway to the highlands.  There it played an important role with the English crown trying to deal with the unruly Scots which among others, include William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and other Braveheart characters.

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But of more import, after his spiel, our talkative Scot piped us down the hill to dinner.

I don’t remember what the entrée was that night.  I do remember the piper introduced us to Robbie Burns’ poem; his tribute to haggis with all its olde dialect and dramatic inflection.

But first, he had to pipe in the haggis.   After volunteering a guest they retired to a side room.   Then, the piping began. The piper marched in, skirling away, followed by the guest who carried the haggis on a silver plater.

You may have heard bagpipes outside, from a block away.   Can you imagine how loud they are in an enclosed room?

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After piping in the haggis, he introduced the Robert Burns poem and addressed the haggis. Here’s the first stanza. Add your own dramatic inflection.

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin‘-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o‘ a grace
As lang‘s my arm.

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This went on for another seven verses, each as incomprehensible as the first.

Afterward, he did it again, only in more modern language. But this time he pulled out a big knife, and at a dramatic moment in the poem he sliced the haggis open. And when the poem ended, we raised our glasses and toasted the haggis.

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Frankly, the modern language version was only marginally more comprehensible than the old one.  The gist of it, as best as I can make out, is that haggis is a meal for real men; other dishes are for weaklings.

After the toast, he invited the real men and women to sample the haggis.  Some of us took him up on it, others, “um, no thanks, I’ll pass.”

I had to try it, no more feeling sheepish for me. The flavor was surprisingly good. Much spicier than I expected, savory, peppery, but not hot.  The texture was a little odd, maybe a bit sticky.

Call me weird, call me Scottish (and there is a bit of that in the family tree), call me too canny to ask what the meat is that’s mixed with the oatmeal and spices, but I kinda liked the stuff.

So when, a few days later, a “haggis stack with a mustard and whiskey sauce” showed up on the menu as an entrée, I had to go for it.   It was even tastier than the first one, and the texture maybe not quite as odd.

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Haggis stack with a mustard and whiskey sauce

Salivating yet?

And if you’re thinking the meat that goes into a haggis has questionable sources, like its riffraff cousin the hot dog, consider this article from the Veterinary Record.  Circa 2007, it covers reproductive management of Dux Magnus Gentis Venteris Saginati, AKA the wild haggis.  It’s not your usual dry medical paper. Dry wit, maybe.

So if you find yourself with a chance to try the haggis, set aside what you think it’ll taste like and forego the “um, no thanks, I’ll pass.”  You may even end up raising a glass in its honor.

44 thoughts on “Toasting Haggis

  1. Every year in a nearby village there is the Robert Burns night at the end of January. It is put on by the local legion and offers good entertainment in Scottish tradition. When it comes to the dinner, which includes haggis, I also said, “No, thanks!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Having haggis as the main entree might be asking a bit much for the first time out, a taste would probably suffice. BTW, I understand haggis can’t be imported from Scotland, so you’d be trying the local Canadian recipe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hilarious, Dave. The image of a kilt-wearing dude singing the praises of haggis in that unintelligible accent after blasting you with bagpipes is just too much. I know Scotland well, but never tried haggis. My excuse is that I’m a pescatarian. 🙂

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  3. A braw story, enjoyed it! I always figured those Robbie Burns dinners ply you with scotch, so you can brace yourself for the haggis, and deaden the impact of the bagpipes a bit. I like your photo with a heavily-armed Scotsman – – like he’s pulled out a bayonet and told everyone they will try this stuff, like it or not, or maybe, he wasn’t 100% sure that haggis was completely dead yet. Well, I’d never turn up my nose, I grew up eating scrapple, potpie, etc. and then moved on to Chinese dumplings – – I love all of them, but sometimes better to not know what got ground up to make them.

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    1. I actually have another photo where the Scot has that big knife at the throat of the fellow (Marc) who carried in the haggis – all in fun of course. The Scot has a big grin and Marc has this, OMG how did I get myself into this look on his face.

      I think the reason I liked the haggis was the spices, if it was more lightly spiced I’d probably pass too. I haven’t had scrapple, but I like pot pie (and made shepherds pie last night), and dim sum is a favorite as well (ok, maybe not all the variants). And I learned early on that America’s favorite picnic food, hot dogs, was something you didn’t want to know the ingredients.

      I guess the “gross” food you grow up with is fine, but other folks’ gross food is disgusting.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Guess I’ll have to try scrapple one of these years, if I ever get to that part of the country. Somehow, with your Zen background, I tend to think of you as a vegetarian. I have no idea if that’s a valid connection.

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  4. What fun! I’ve tried haggis a few times and I don’t actually mind it. I love that my Scottish cousin says, “I try to like haggis but I just don’t” as though it’s an obligation:-) I once had deep-fried haggis balls with a whiskey cream dipping sauce–now that was different but really quite delicious–must have been all the whiskey!

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  5. Macsween Haggis is the only brand we have this far south in Laaaand’n, but I love it! I used to follow a project in Glasgow and my Scottish chums tried the age-old trick of “let’s get the foreigner (aka non-Scot) to try it, and let’s tell him about the Haggis animal”. Boy weren’t they disappointed when I ate it. Besides, if it comes to seemingly disgusting stuff, in Italy we got mouldy cheeses, blood sausages, tripes, cheese with weevils in it, horse meat, rabbit, sea urchins, cow brains, cow tail… If it moves about somebody will eat it. Long live the haggis!

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    1. I haven’t had horse meat (as far as I know), sea urchin, or cheese with weevils, but I’ve at least tasted the rest (not that I can claim to have liked it all.)

      Taste buds are weird. How is it I can like haggis and hate coffee?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Good on you, Dave! I was impressed by your courage to taste the haggis, but have even more respect for you ordering it off the menu. I once saw Andrew Zimmern eat haggis on his Bizarre Foods television show, and he approved of it as well. I suppose I too would give it a try if a small bite was offered. For now; however, I think I will stick with paella and orange juice.

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      1. I was 10 when I tried my first lutefisk. It was at a Christmas party with relatives, and I didn’t understand what the big deal was. It tasted like fish dipped in butter. My dad said since the smell didn’t bother me, that meant I was a true Norwegian. 😉

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  7. I don’t know. I’m kinda wimpy with trying new foods. I envy the people that can eat anything. Vic is more open than me. I also have a sensitive tummy and when things don’t agree, they really don’t agree. It looks good though.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m semi-adventurous when it comes to trying different foods. If Scotland was a third world country where those questionable meats might also have been sitting out in the open, unrefrigerated, with a congregation of flies I’d think twice about trying it. Or if it falls into a category I know I don’t like, that would also bring out my inner wimp.

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