Are You Serious?

One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.

Haggis. An inevitability of Scotland according to everyone we know who’s been here before us. And everyone has advice on how to relax and enjoy the inevitable. It’s OK with gravy, some say; others claim that ketchup is just the ticket; still others recommend a shot of whisky as a precursor. None of these sound like tactics for savouring the flavour. Which is slightly ironic, considering Wiki’s take on Scotland’s national dish:

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.  

Savoury. Well, perhaps in the Free Online Dictionary’s second sense of that word: ‘salty or spicy, not sweet’. Goodness knows, haggis is not a sweet pudding. Indeed, there is nothing dessert-like about haggis, not even in a nation that considers Spotted Dick (aka Spotted Richard in these politically correct times) as a suitable meal-ender. But haggis is not necessarily ‘savoury’ in the first sense of the word: ‘attractive to the sense of taste or smell’.

For our first evening meal on Scottish soil, our hotel menu offers us two forms of haggis: as starter, encased in phyllo pastry, and as entree, a chunk atop a chunk of chicken.  Prone to cannon-balling into Canadian shield lakes off the dock, the Big Guy opts for the entree.  Prone to acclimatizing myself step by freezing step down the ladder, I go with the starter. At least we are each running true to form.

Ten minutes later, I am reflecting that I will have to modify my rule of thumb which has, hitherto, served me well: Anything wrapped in phyllo pastry can’t be all bad. The haggis thus served was edible, but not, you know, savoury. A slightly greasy texture; a distinctly sheep-like aftertaste: these are my lasting impressions.

As a cook, I sure wouldn’t be happy with this result after investing three hours in simmering, let alone the preparation time and the handling of sheep’s pluck and stomach (although Wiki also tells me that Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach. Good to know, for so many reasons.).

As a consumer of haggis, I am reminded of nothing so much as the turnabout gag from Crocodile Dundee, where Mick Dundee and Sue Charlton take turns introducing each other to nominally representative food from their respective home turfs. Each in turn eyes the proffered food askance — grubs in the outback and hot dogs with all the fixings in NY City — and asks the equivalent of Really? Are you serious? The other responds: Well, you can eat it, but it tastes like shit.

It isn’t quite that bad, but as I watch the Big Guy chomp happily through his much-larger serving of haggis, I do hope that I remembered to pack the floss. He’s going to need it.

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6 Responses to Are You Serious?

  1. Jim taylor says:

    I’ve only had haggis once, at a Robbie Burns’ Day evening supper. I remember it being, well, something like meatloaf. Which, generally, I like, but would rarely go out of my way to obtain. Meatloaf is what one does with leftovers. And I suppose that’s also how haggis originated — what do you do with the semi-edible leftovers once you’ve eaten the rest of the sheep?


    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yes, that’s what some say that some haggis is like – meatloaf. We had some later in the trip that was closer to a chunky/coarse pate – tastier to me, but still not something I’d seek out. You can eat it… Another fellow traveller took a photo of haggis nachos, arguing that it is very much part of the ‘unexceptionable’ food category for Scots.

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    Hi Isabel:

    I’ve enjoyed your miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland posts. You have such a great way of writing, and describing travel fun and games.

    We have not been subjected, thankfully, to Haggis on our current trip in the US (Virginia, W Virginia, Vermont et al)…

    But you were braver than I, I didn’t try haggis until my 3rd(?) trip to Scotland. And have avoided it since….

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim (also) – Thanks for the comments. Vermont is a lovely place in October, albeit busy with the ‘leaf peepers’, as they call them. We have often said that even if one were confined to North America, that would be a whole world of interesting places to see.

  3. sheep-like aftertaste !!!

    The last time (she said meaningfully, despite it being the first) I had haggis, it was a surprise course brought in by our dinner hosts’ neighbours. We were eating Japanese shushi at the time.

    The steamy hot smell of it…the finding of utentils (chopsticks don’t cut it)…the fake smiles as we tried it…the enthusiasm of the neighbours…the hot mess bagginess of it…

    I still have flashbacks…

    It takes pluck to eat pluck. Never again.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yup, I get that. It sort of makes you wonder what we eat that others find objectionable, no? I’ve heard that Asians find cheese disgusting, but don’t know if we eat anything that Scots or Americans, for example, would approach with the same hesitation as we do haggis.

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