Scotland’s Traditional Culinary Dish

Australians may claim Vegemite, and the English may swoon over Marmite, but in Scotland, the home grown food boasting a peculiar and slightly gruesome international reputation is haggis. What is haggis, you ask? Ask a witty Scot and he or she may tell you that haggis is a small four-legged Highland animal with limbs shorter on one side than the other to aid in running around hills more effectively. Read a newspaper, and the editors may tell you that the Wild Haggis Hunt is due to take place. Truth is told however, haggis is a concoction of a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs mixed with minced onion, oatmeal, suit, spices, and stock, and traditionally boiled in the sheep’s stomach. Bon appetit!

Haggis, though maligned in culinary circles, enjoys a rich history. Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, wrote an epic verse for the dish entitled, “Address to a Haggis”. Curious subject, no doubt, but at the time Burns penned his adoring words, Scotland’s struggle for independence from England was front and center, and became a cultural rallying cry. Committed Scots serve haggis in honor of Robert Burns as part of their Burns night annual suppers.

Lest readers think that haggis is only an occasional item on the dinner table, take a trip to the local supermarket. Available year round, modern-day haggis is wrapped in artificial casings, rather than stomachs, and can be cooked in a microwave. Scottish fish and chip shops offer haggis burgers. Pizza joints have added haggis as one of the toppings. Even Indian restaurants have their own version on the menu – haggis baji. The spicy nature of haggis is often sited as the reason for the prevalence of Scottish whisky at tables, but thickened stock and a dose of whisky combined to make a sauce flavors the dear haggis as well.

Haggis is not simply for eating, however. Haggis hurling competitions are consistently celebrated. Indeed, the current world record holder managed to throw a 1.5 pound haggis over 180 feet. Jugglers get into the act as well. The annual Scottish Juggling Convention welcomes competitors able to juggle three, four, or five haggis.

Not for the faint of heart, haggis may at least be worth experimenting with when travelling to Scotland. Besides, when was the last time you ate a food that addressed your appetite and your entertainment?