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07 May 2007 @ 23:19
I remember the first time I heard about haggis. I was about eight, and my older brother gleefully told me about a Scottish dish that people actually ate, consisting of sheep heart, lungs and stomach. This was too gross to be believed and yet to specific to be made up. I swore that if haggis actually existed, I would rather eat spiders. The fact that it was safely confined to Scotland was a slight comfort. Scotland was a dim, far off country full of castles, sheep and heather. I wasn't entirely sure what language they spoke, and I was pretty sure they were located where Norway is commonly found. The whole thing - country and cuisine - had an element of make-believe.

By the time I reached university, my knowledge of Scotland was somewhat improved. My best friend had lived in Edinburgh for a few months, and from her I learned about ceilidhs, pubs, and something called devolution. I also learned that Scotland is reachable by train from London, and that Edin-braaa (as she rolled it) is full of fog, mad Scottish men and wee old ladies. Although somewhat clearer, Scotland was still another world.

As it had always seemed somewhat fantastical, it was little surprise that my manner of arriving here was also strange. I was given a scholarship in my final year of university, with the stipulation being that I had to use it in Scotland. I had approximately two weeks to find a postgraduate programme that at least mildly interested me and would accept me, and then I had a few short months to relocate my life to a small corner of coast on the East Neuk. I went wholly unprepared for Scotland, never having set foot north of Liverpool, but resolved to experience as much as I could. And that would include haggis.

It only took me a few days to try the deep fried Mars bar, and a few weeks to have a fish supper. Haggis, though, I saved until Burns' Night. This was partly through fear, and partly through a sense of propriety. If I were really to eat sheep entrails, I was going to do it right.

My first Burns' night had no piper, address to the haggis, kilts, or whisky. It took place at my friend Nathan's student flat, with his Scottish flatmate doing the honours of boiling the haggis. He did indeed stab it, once we'd peeled open the aluminum foil we'd boiled it in, and with some trepidation and nose holding, I ate a few spoonfuls. And since that first time, I've approached the whole experience with much less fear. I do find it has a very strong meat flavour (not surprising, really), but it also has oats and spices and when served with a whisky peppercorn sauce, is really quite nice. On the whole, though, I tend towards the vegetarian option. It may not be real haggis but at least there's no mystery in the ingredients list.

A few years ago, my brothers came to visit and it was with great delight that I served them haggis. They weren't quite as afraid of it as we were were twenty years ago, but it still took a fair deal of cajoling. In the end, though, it was pronounced okay. It might have been offal, but it's certainly not bad.

I am reviewing a restaurant which, like many in Edinburgh, is Scottish with a French influence. This one is actually quite nice, with a menu full of Scottish dishes with a modern twist. I can't decide on my starter, by the waiter points me towards the haggis crepe, a house specialty. A square pancake, swimming in a light gravy and topped with deep-fried leeks, it is wonderful. The flavour of the haggis is there, but not overpowering. The leeks add a crunch and just a touch of depth to the dish, and the crepe soaks up the gravy beautifully.

Haggis is no scarier than a sausage, but I have to say the mystery is part of its charm, from telling tourists that they are wee furry animals that run about the hills, to smugly ordering haggis, neeps and tatties without blinking an eye. These little balls of insides are not half as scary as they like to think they are. I'd take haggis over spiders any day.
girlknownasannegirlknownasanne on 10th May 2007 03:53 (UTC)
What do you think about...
Appetite for Excess

I can certainly see the benefits of splurging sometimes on the cake rather than the RRSP!

Petit Dejeunerwhati8today on 14th May 2007 01:45 (UTC)
Re: What do you think about...
Well, I do like my food and can see what they're saying. But if I'm going for a peaty whisky, it's going to be Ardbeg over Talisker anyday.