In the summer of 1980, my sister Janet and I traveled to Scotland to visit our dad, stepmother Mandy and baby brother, Greg. It was the first time we ever experienced the Scottish side of our family (our mother is Okinawan), and our dad made every effort to instill a sense of clan pride.
Our paternal grandmother hailed from the Maxwell Clan (in fact, her maiden name was Maxwell), and dad had the family tartan and crest on display for us when we arrived. After just a few days in picturesque Bridge of Weir village, my sister and I proudly stood ground with our dad, arguing that the Maxwells were much braver (and smarter) than the Anderson Clan (Mandy’s family).
It was also on that trip that we had our first taste of black pudding (aka blood sausage) and of course, haggis. Janet and I hated both of the infamous Scottish delicacies back then, especially the haggis.
Like most first-time visitors to Scotland (especially children), we were told that a haggis was a small animal we would be hunting in the Highlands. Similar to “snipe hunting” in the U.S., a haggis hunt would always end with us “just missing the critter run away”.
JUST WHAT IS HAGGIS?
From Wikipedia: “Haggis is a dish containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal’s stomach for three hours. The haggis is a traditional Scottish dish memorialised as the national dish of Scotland by Robert Burns’ poem Address to a Haggis in 1787. It is traditionally served with “neeps and tatties”, especially as the main course of a Burns supper.” (see link below for more info)
Looking back, it was probably a very good thing that Janet and I didn’t know what haggis was, because I’m sure we wouldn’t have tried it. My baby brother, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough haggis and black pudding. I would just laugh when he’d crawl up on my lap, and cheerfully grab a leftover piece of black sausage from my plate. Mandy said that it was “full of iron and great for babies” but I still didn’t want to eat it. My little brother grew up to be a brilliant 6′ 4″ musician, so my loss I guess!
As my palate grew a bit more sophisticated, I fell in love with black pudding or as the French call it, “Boudon Noir”. One of my favorite bites from a recent dinner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon was indeed the plump and zesty black sausage. If you’ve never had it, black pudding is a type of sausage made by cooking blood or dried blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled.” (via Wikipedia, link below)
There were more memorable meals to come during that first visit to my father’s village. Janet and I both gasped when dad first showed us how to suck bone marrow out of his slow-cooked oxtails. And at a formal Scottish dinner (with men in their best dress kilts), we were introduced to mutton and “Scotch Broth”, which was made with neck of lamb.
I’m a little embarrassed to say (as a proud 1/2 Scottish lass and all), that even to this day, lamb (especially mutton) is not a favorite. There have been a few rare occasions when I could stomach it, but that was usually when it didn’t taste like lamb at all. Bone marrow, on the other hand, is on my “last meal before I die” list.
As for Janet, it wasn’t long after that trip that she gave up red meat altogether. Her choice was mostly to do with eating healthier, not an aversion to Scotland’s (sometimes) arduous cuisine.
For many Christmases after that first visit, our dad would send Scottish care packages to us in Los Angeles. We loved the pure butter shortbread cookies, and McVities chocolate covered digestives, but we NEVER opened the cans of haggis included. I still keep an old can on my kitchen shelf… as decor only.
I’ve returned to Scotland many times since 1980, and my favorite meals are always those prepared by my dad. But on each visit, we gather at a local restaurant (built in the 1700′s), called “the Huntsman” for a traditional Scottish meal. And as always, my dad insists that we “soak up the culture”, which means there will be either haggis or black pudding on the table.
When I took my nephew Cody to Scotland a few years ago (for graduation), his grandpa (my dad) was giddy with anticipation when two plates of haggis were placed in front of us at dinner. Of course I had eaten it on previous visits, so all eyes were on (then 18 year old) Cody while he slowly took his first bite. After he swallowed and proclaimed that, “HAGGIS IS AWESOME”, my dad (who was shocked) gave him a pat on the back and proudly smiled.
Recently, I thought it would be fun to search out haggis locally in Los Angeles. I’m always boasting about how we can get “any type of food” in L.A., so why not haggis? After a few minutes on google, I decided it best to ask Jonathan Gold via his L.A. Weekly Food Column:
Dear Mr. Gold:
I’ve only eaten haggis with my dad in Scotland, and loved every bite. Is there a proper, classic haggis (along with neeps and tatties) in Los Angeles? Never been to Tam O’Shanter (sort of feels like “cheating”), but it’s about time I search it out locally. Thanks for any help!
I love Jonathan Gold (his writing!) and was thrilled when he answered my question. He had several suggestions on haggis hunting in L.A., including Tam O’Shanter in Los Feliz or Buchanan Arms in Burbank (link to full article below). The truth is, I would eat anywhere (or anything) he recommended so I quickly made a reservation for “Burns Night” dinner at nearby Buchanan Arms.
Burns Night Supper Menu 2010
Cocky-leeky Soup or Salad
With choice of:
Fish & Chips
Haggis, Champit Tatties & Bashed Neeps
Bangers & Mash
Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding
Dinner & Show $25
Cocky-leeky Soup (leeks, onions, rice, chicken) Basically a tasty chicken soup with extras!
Haggis, Champit Tatties (mashed potatoes) & Bashed Neeps (turnips) If you like corned beef hash, Haggis is similar but much more course in texture, and of course the flavor is “sheepy”! I wouldn’t eat it often, but it’s sort of a “must do for Scots”, at least every once in a while!
Bangers & Mash: Choice of plain bangers, or deep-fried bangers and gravy. Of course we went for the deep-fried bangers, and THESE I could eat every day, twice a day even. I’m going back SOON just for this!
Crispy coating, crispy banger skin underneath, and a nice pop when I bit into one!
Sticky Toffee Pudding We were both LOVING this and found out they were sold next door in the freezer section! I’m not a big fan of sweets, but this was just so spongy, buttery and… sticky good!
The awesome Ploughboys!
The Ploughboys perform music from the British Isles; Scotland and Ireland, as well as world beat and original compositions. The members are the Romano Brothers, Peter & Mark, fiddler Howard Chu, bass guitarist, Rich Cashman, and Mark Haber, licensed bodhran player. (info via website, link below)
As we were leaving Buchanan Arms, Peter noticed the market next door! I went a little crazy buying some of my favorite treats, including chocolate covered digestive cookies, Flake bars and sticky toffee pudding!
We had a wonderful time, but next year we’ll do it just a little bit different. For those of you who may be interested in going to Buchanan Arms for Burns Night next year, some notes:
1) Don’t reserve too early. The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived at 6:30, and we were at our table before the band (who were fantastic) set up their gear. The food came quickly (so did the booze!), but by the time the music festivities finally got rolling, we were whisky & lager filled (happy, full and tired!), so next year I’ll reserve a table after 8pm.
2) Request a table in FRONT of the band or near the front doors. Our cozy table was to the side of the band near the bathroom, and at first we didn’t mind because we were really having a good time (thanks partly to pre-dinner Scotch!), until we noticed that the space around us was also for “standing room” only. After eating our meal, we hoped to relax at the table and enjoy the music, but it was just too crowded, and no other tables were available. We left before the traditional “Address to a Haggis” (where the haggis is paraded around with bagpipes, while someone recites the Robert Burns Poem), which was a shame because Peter had never experienced it. But we’ll be back next year…
Until then, I’ll be looking forward to visiting my family again in Scotland this summer. It’s the 30th anniversary of my first visit there, and I can’t wait to celebrate with a good old plate of haggis (and black pudding too)!
2013 W Burbank Blvd
Burbank, CA 91506
Dining Date: 1/23/10
All my Burns Night photos on Flickr
My Scotland photos on Flickr
Cody & I in Scotland & London
Jonathan Gold’s “Ask Mr. Gold: Address to a Haggis”
Jonathan Gold’s Restaurant Reviews on LA Weekly
Wikipedia Links: About Haggis Robert Burns Burns Night Supper Haggis Hunting Black Pudding
More about the PloughBoys I really liked the band’s kilts!
Maxwell Clan Tartan
Secret Scotland (fun website!)
Fox & Hounds Pub, The Huntsman (our family favorites)
Interesting article about the U.S. Haggis Import Ban
Check out Deep End Dining’s Photos & Video of Burn’s Night
My brother’s website http://IamGreg.com (he really is a brilliant musician!)
More about my wonderful family on my “About” page.