Glorified Haggis?

Not the most loved dish in the world except in Scotland...And a poet named Robert Burns.

by: Ben Mcconville | 29 Jan 2007

Take heart, liver and lung of sheep, roll in oatmeal, add pepper and stuff into beef intestine. Boil for four hours until "warm-reekin' rich."


A skeptical world is catching on to the charms of the humble haggis, according to producers of the essential delicacy for Thursday's Burns Night celebrations, this year marking the 248th anniversary of the poet Robert Burns' birth.

"Some people recoil at the thought of the stuff, but I've never met someone who didn't like it after they tasted it," said master butcher Neil Watt of Watt the Butcher in Montrose, on the Scottish east coast.

"I used to work at the Savoy in London and put it on the menu as a delicacy. As far as I am concerned it is a gourmet dish to savor. It is nonsense to say it is bad for you; it is a healthy, traditional dish."

Haggis producers are reporting record sales as the traditional Scottish dish is served at leading hotels, the Orient Express and even an upmarket pizza restaurant chain. Macsween haggis made in Edinburgh has been available at Harrods department store in London since the late 1980s.

It was a staple of the poorest in Scotland – Highland "crofters" and Lowland "cottars" – in the 1700s and 1800s, and the meal was immortalized by Burns in his poem "Address to a Haggis" which hailed the dish as a "glorious sight."

Now each year Burns Societies and Scottish societies around the world mark the bard's birth with Burns Night suppers on Jan. 25 where the haggis is served with "tatties" (potatoes), "bashed neeps" The haggis is paraded into the room, accompanied by a piper, and the reading of Burns' tribute to the haggis is an essential part of the night:

"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
"Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
"Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
"Painch, tripe, or thairm:
"Weel are ye wordy of a grace
"As lang's my arm ..."

Because of restrictions related to fear of the human form of mad cow disease, many Scottish societies in North America use alternatives to the traditional haggis, substituting chicken, venison or canned products that do not include offal.

For those who like haggis with a modern twist, Macsween's product is now also being served in a special pizza at the Pizza Express chain in Britain.

"I receive dozens of calls from America each week looking to buy haggis, but I just cannot supply it," said Jo Macsween, of the second generation of the Macsween family business.

"There's a real mixed reaction in the States. While there is a lot of demand for the product, some Americans are really aghast at the contents," she said. "But I remind them of the ingredients of the average hot dog and the process of extracting that meat, then point out that haggis is actually more wholesome."

Macsween said supermarket sales are set to double this year thanks to improved supermarket distribution, including supplies of more than 10 000 portions of haggis across continental Europe last year. In January the firm will produce more than 250 tons of haggis, half its annual output.

Food writer and chef Sue Lawrence devotes an entire chapter to haggis in her book "A Cook's Tour of Scotland."

She believes haggis has shaken off its old image thanks to the work of some of Scotland's top butchers.

"There is haggis and there is haggis, including some dire greasy ones full of liver sold in supermarkets," Lawrence said.

"But a good butcher-made haggis is a joy, not too greasy as many butchers are decreasing their fat content nowadays and a nice touch of all round spice, predominantly pepper, and a good texture from pinehead or rough oatmeal.

"It is a versatile food, not just with tatties and neeps, but also as a stuffing, in a toastie, in lasagne or my personal favorite with tzatziki (Greek yoghurt and garlic dip) in pita bread."

If the thought of eating sheep's offal is too much, Macsween produces a vegetarian haggis. The dish, made with kidney beans and lentils, accounts for almost 25 percent of annual sales.

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