Today’s entry is all about the Scottish favorite offal dish – the haggis, in celebration of Robbie Burns Day.
Much maligned for it’s taste and ingredients, haggis is a mixture of minced sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, onions, suet, oatmeal, and spices, which is then stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled in water.
My first exposure to haggis was at the annual Heritage Days festival (now called the Heritage Festival). I was intrigued to see that the Scottish pavilion was selling haggis on a bun, and was determined to try it – partly out of curiosity and partly as a dare. It was probably not the best haggis ever, but it was decent enough that I became hooked on it. The next year, I had two orders of haggis on a bun, and was tempted to eat more. I probably could have gone to some butchers to look for my own haggis that I could cook at home, but I’m the only one in the family who actually likes it and there’s no way I could finish one on my own. Unfortunately the local Scottish association doesn’t have a pavilion at the festival anymore. There went my haggis fix.
In the fall of 2007, I took my first (and so far only) trip to the U.K. I spent most of the trip in England, but a friend of mine was living in Edinburgh at the time and I took a few days to visit. And when in Scotland, you definitely have to try the haggis. I actually ate a couple of different versions during my visit.
The first was a vegetarian haggis on a baked potato, from a little place just off of the Royal Mile called The Baked Potato Shop. This place is a treasure trove of filling meals perfect for budgeting travellers or poor students. A mountain of vegetarian fillings are heaped onto a hot baked potato. Their veggie haggis used nuts as a replacement for the offal, and it tasted very close to real haggis due to the spicing. (Found someone’s photo of their veggie haggis as I stupidly didn’t take any myself!)
The B&B where I stayed, Ashdene House, also served vegetarian haggis as a part of their breakfast, but I was more interested in the blood pudding they served with their full Scottish breakfast.
My second haggis was a traditional one eaten at a teeny, tiny pub that I stumbled upon prior to catching the train back to London. Called the Halfway House, it’s awkwardly located in the middle of a long staircase. The place was packed with locals and I got a few strange looks when I stepped inside, but it didn’t take me long to find the only other tourists in the place (a lovely couple from the US) and we agreed to share a table. The haggis was served in a mini casserole dish with neeps and tatties (a.k.a. turnips and potatoes). This haggis was rich with the taste of organ meats and I wanted more, but the dish was so filling that I was practically rolling out of the pub. This was also where I had my first experience with a half pint of hard cider. Yum!
I haven’t had any haggis since that fall. I think I’m having cravings again.
The Guardian in the U.K. has instructions on how to make your own haggis. The reporter was a haggis doubter, but changed his opinion after trying this recipe.
Edited to add: According to an Edmonton Journal article in today’s paper, haggis can be purchased from Old Country Meats and Deli (6328 – 106 Street).