Friday February 17, 2012
Haggis does not command a lot of respect in the food world. Its primary uses seem to be frightening children, acting as a conversation piece and Scotch sponge at (Robert) Burns Suppers, and perpetuating the tired old idea that there's no good cookery to be found in the British Isles. And to be fair, its traditional description does not paint a pretty picture: a pudding of "sheep's pluck" (lungs, liver and heart) mixed with oats, onions, spices and encased in a sheep's stomach. On a recent trip to Edinburgh, I decided to taste for myself what all the fuss was about.
And the verdict: not ghastly at all. It's hearty, generally heavy on the oats, and at worst, not particularly remarkable. Lamb lungs are no longer in the equation these days, and most of the renditions my travelling companions and I encountered were not stuffed in a sheep's stomach, but encased more like sausage. The first haggis we confronted at The Royal Macgregor on the Royal Mile was beginner friendly. Though traditional in title: "haggis, neeps and tatties," this version was noticeably upscale. Of the vertical food variety, it consisted of haggis topped with billowy mashed potatoes, "bashed" turnip with red onion and rosemary gravy. All in all, a decidedly unscary, pleasant meal with complex texture.
Truly, this was not the haggis of the people, though it was a good way to ease ourselves into the idea. The next morning, we sampled a more conventional haggis alongside our traditional Scottish breakfasts. It fit right in with the morning meal. We were surprised at the amount of oats, rendering it a hearty start to the day, like a meaty side of granola - not particularly flavorful, but relatively inoffensive. There was more haggis to be had, however. We wandered down the Leith Walk to The Mermaid, a fish and chips takeout known for its prowess with a deep fryer. One particular item in the glass case caught our attention: deep-fried haggis. This substantial hunk o' haggis is apparently one of their top selling items. "Brown sauce," one of our group's most beloved discoveries on this trip, went a long way towards helping out the haggis this time. It must be noted that The Mermaid's fish and chips were battered and fried to perfection.
After sampling traditional Scottish cuisine for a multiple meals in a row, our tastebuds eventually required a change-up. So we ate what any sensible UK tourist would: Indian food.