Friday, January 27, 2012

Haggis & tattis & neeps, oh my!

Last night, our Scottish friends, J & A invited us to Burns Night at their house, where we celebrated a traditional Scottish holiday with 14 of our good friends. Burns night is a celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose birthday is 25 January. It is considered a National holiday in Scotland and in some parts of Ireland. The celebration centers around a dinner, as most holidays do, and includes grace, a number of toasts, traditional food dishes and at the center of it all ... haggis.

To my American readers, I'm guessing you probably have heard the same rumors that I have about haggis ... that it's weird, made up of nasty sheep parts, and not something you want to taste in your lifetime. Ranks right up there with tripe and rocky mountain oysters really.

Haggis - I was faced with a dilemma and thought before making any rash judgements, I should try to learn a bit more about what haggis actually is. Thinking A a reputable source of information, I asked him about a month ago as we were discussing the upcoming dinner. He told me that what I'd heard was false rumor and that haggis is actually an animal found only in the highlands of Scotland. Now, maybe it was the glass of beer I was working on or maybe he's just a really good liar, but I believed him instantly and asked questions about what it looked like, where it lived, what it ate.

Hook. Line. and Sinker.

Almost 3 weeks later, it was confirmed that he was pulling my leg and haggis is actually:

"a traditional pudding made of the heart, liver, etc., of a sheep or calf, minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned, and boiled in the stomach of the animal" (thank you Wikipedia)

See, and here's yet another example of how we all speak English, but don't speak the same English. To call this a "pudding" just doesn't seem right, and what exactly is "etc."? (I'm guessing it's best not to know.)

So off we went to Burn's night to taste the haggis.

The Burns night supper actually follows a traditional agenda (see link below for more detail if interested) and is really fun, interesting, and well, Scottish. The evening started with a welcome from our hosts, J & A, and then a traditional Scottish grace, which I found on wikipedia and include below because it'll give you an idea of the Scottish language.
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.
Next up was the Entrance of the Haggis. It's a bit like the entrance of the Figgy Pudding at traditional Wassail dinners. The haggis is displayed on a plate and walked around the table so everyone can admire it (or maybe prepare themselves to have to eat it).  We then all filled our glasses with a shot of traditional Scottish whisky in preparation for the toast to the haggis. (And just so you don't think I've lost my ability to spell, Scottish whisky is spelled without an e - it's the "fake" American whiskey with an e that we were told to stay away from by our Scottish whisky connoisseur. :)

The highlight of the evening then was the Address to the Haggis, which is a poem by Robert Burns, singing the praises of the haggis and presented with appropriate drama and flair by our host, A. You can find the poem in the link below if interested. I'm glad I found it because hearing it only once, I caught about 25% of the poem as it's also in Scottish brogue. At the end of the Address, we tossed back our shots of whisky, and as my friend K said on Facebook, that's probably so you can later eat the haggis. :)

The address to the haggis was followed by a Toast to the Lassies by one of the guests, which was full of funny jokes and references to the audience. Then a response Toast to the Laddies, which was written as a poem and presented by another of the guests and included references to each of the husbands present. And then it was time to dig in. ... oh boy

The main meal was haggis, tattis (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnips) - traditional Scottish fare and I have to admit, quite good. The haggis tastes a bit like meatloaf if you mashed it up into mince and added some sausage and oats. It didn't taste at all strong like I was expecting and it's not served in any casing. It's cooked in the casing, which is removed before serving. It was good really. I'm not sure I'm going to rush out to the grocery to find some, but I definitely won't hesitate to attend Burn's Night next year.

A huge thank you to J & A - it was a lovely evening!

Burns Supper Info - Wikipedia

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