Let’s face it – Scotland isn’t exactly known for its cuisine, at least historically speaking. While there are some chefs these days that are doing more than just the usual meat and potatoes fare, Edinburgh probably isn’t the place to go for a food-centric holiday.
Unless, of course, you’re in the mood for some haggis.
Haggis is one of those legendary foods that often trotted out in conversations with the culinarily squeamish, but there’s very little reason it should be any more unappetizing than any other sausage. Of course, what’s the old joke about sausage? You don’t want to know how it’s made. Well, if you’re among that lot, you’ll want to look away, because you’re about to learn how haggis is made.
In most recipes, the innards of the haggis consist of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep, minced together with onion, oatmeal, suet and spices. The entire mixture is then stuffed inside a sheep’s stomach (or a more modern sausage casing) and then boiled for about an hour. The end result is a large brownish sausage-looking thing, which is sliced into and shared. And though it might not sound very appetizing, unless you’re strictly an herbivore – give it a try. You only live once, right?
Haggis is perhaps most popular as the main course of a traditional Burns Supper, which honors Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Suppers dedicated to Burns are held all over Scotland during the week of January 25 every year, and the highlight of the evening is the recitation of Burns’ poem, “Ode Tae a Haggis” (Ode To a Haggis). There is a line in the poem in which Burns talks about sharpening his knife and cutting into the haggis, and generally these actions are carried out in tandem with those lines at a Burns Supper. It’s a fun cultural event, even if you’re not a bit Scottish.
Although haggis is most traditionally associated with a Burns Supper, it’s eaten year-round and in many different fashions. You can by it pre-made in Scottish supermarkets, get it deep-fried with chips and the local fish and chip shop, and even find vegetarian varieties these days. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the haggis is the popular myth (which Scots are eager to keep promoting) that haggis is actually a wild creature with legs that are shorter on one side than the other. Humor a Scotsman if he tells you this tale, but don’t be fooled – there’s no such animal.
On your Edinburgh trip, be sure to sample one of Scotland’s finest culinary contributions and have yourself some haggis. Oh, and if you’re at all worried about not liking it, just be sure to have some wisky on hand to wash it down – just in case.