‘Let me get this straight. You’re a food writer and you’ve never had haggis? You’ve never had haggis? You’ll be telling me you’ve never seen Star Wars next.’
‘Well, actually, I haven’t ever seen Star Wars,’ the look of shame that washed over my face was only partly deliberate and for comic value. Mostly it was about the shame.
To be fair these are just two of the many things on the list that is snappily titled ‘Things I probably should have done by now but haven’t, not due to not wanting to but because the circumstances have never been right and I’ve not made the time.’
I’m not a huge fan of those ‘If you’ve not done this you are not a worthwhile human being’ type lists that inevitably end with: walk the Inca Trail, see Aurora Borealis, swim with dolphins. I find them vaguely patronising and aimed at people who need to be told how to have fun (insert smile/shake of the head here).
But this is my own list. And it is things I haven’t done. Not things I have done and feel achingly and cloyingly smug about.
I’ve never been on a proper upside down, spin you round, make you vomit your spleen out through your nostrils roller-coaster (fear of heights, fear of speed, fear of falling out whilst 200 feet in the air and landing on my face). I’ve never read anything by Dickens (no reason, just haven’t). I’ve never seen a Shakespeare production. I’ve never been to Scotland or New York. I’ve never listened to a Sonic Youth album. Ditto Neil Young. I’ve never been to an opera or a ballet. I’ve never seen a Damian Hirst. You get the idea.
The list goes on when it comes to food. Never had a vindaloo (something I wish to rectify). Never eaten a KFC (something I don’t). I’ve never baked a chocolate cake. I’ve never tried frogs’ legs. I’ve never eaten tripe, brain, cheek or bollock (at least not knowingly). And I’ve never eaten haggis.
Until last night.
Last Sunday was Burns’ Night: an excuse (as if they need it) for anyone who is Scottish, claims to be Scottish, thinks they might once have been Scottish, is possibly of Scottish descent, has ever been to Scotland or seen the painting Monarch of the Glen, to drink whisky – without an ‘e’ (that’s not a drug reference) – read unintelligible poetry and eat haggis, that fabled national dish of Scotland.
Haggis is best approached with an open-mind and a willingness to ignore what is on the ingredients list, which reads like something from the opening scene of Macbeth.
It is essentially a great big sausage. Traditionally – and even today – sausages were a way to make palatable the bits that might have been less than appealing and we see this in many cuisines over the world from French boudin to Polish Kaszanka and the haggis is no different. Made from sheep’s pluck (liver, heart and lungs) and padded out with oats, suet and spices, it can be hard for some to swallow.
When I casually mentioned that I fancied getting a haggis for dinner on Sunday my comment was met with little enthusiasm and as such we ended up haggis-less. But my curiosity was finally sated last night when we walked up the road to take part in the quiz at the local pub. Answering general knowledge questions is tough work and at the halfway point we were offered plates of haggis, tatties (mashed potato) and neeps (mashed turnips).
Which was when I mentioned, perhaps mistakenly, to a fellow quizzer that I’d never had haggis. Knowing my line of work, his response was perhaps justified but I soon got to work filling this glaring chasm in my culinary history.
And I am glad I did because haggis is delicious. It has a great savoury taste, similar to black pudding (thanks to the spices) but a firmer and mealier texture reminiscent of course cous cous or quinoa. With buttery mashed potatoes and slightly acidic mashed turnip on the side it was perfect. It would have been a shame not to wash it down with a few ‘wee drams’ of whisky, which is possibly the reason it took me slightly longer to wobble-walk the few hundred metres back to the house than it normally does.