Happy Robbie Burns Day!

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).

4 thoughts on “Happy Robbie Burns Day!

  1. raidar says:

    Thought I would run up there with my father today and see if the shop was open to pick up some haggis. Unfortunately it is closed on Sunday. Funny thing was we both remembered it from previous visits in the past..always funny how you forget about places you’ve been. So, thanks for the mental reminder!

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