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.