Sunday, February 6, 2011

I Came to Australia for the Haggis

If you had heard for years and years tales of a dreadful dish made by a strange people far way and then one day you were offered the opportunity to actually taste the dish yourself, the very first time you brought a spoonful of the stuff toward your lips you would have visions of terrifying monsters clawing their way out of your bowels, making wicker baskets of your intestines. The dreadful dish could be called "ice cream": if you had never had it and had been told wicked tales about it, the first bite would be terrifying.

So it was with the haggis.

I went the Warringah Scottish Society's (Warringah's the local council area) Robert Burn's Night last night. It reminded me a bit of the volunteer fire company's pancake breakfast events I've been to in rural New York. Unpretentious people of all ages, although in this case it was primarily people of considerable years, getting together for some silliness and fundraising.

I sat with Therese, Pam, and Lesley, all officers of the Scottish Society, Lesley the Chief. An illustration of how sweet these women were: at one point Lesley was off performing one of her numerous duties, and Therese asked if it was alright if she and Pam danced, as nobody was dancing and she wanted to get the crowd going. She asked because she didn't want to leave me alone at the table. I mean that's just sweet.

They did the traditional Burns Night ritual, which I wasn't familiar with. (You can read about the details at the link.) There was a bagpipe band, complete with drummers and one young woman dancer—unbelievably elegant and focused—and the address to the haggis and all that. A few cell phone pics is all I got:

The Piper

Therese and Pam

The pipers and the lass

Then they actually brought bits of haggis around and gave everyone little dishes of it.

We've all heard the tales of the dreaded haggis: It's made from sheep's brains and lungs wrapped in a cow's anus and left to stew underground for a year before being shat upon and eaten. Or something. (Actual recipe here.)

It was actually good that the ladies weren't present when I had my first bite. Perhaps they planned it that way? It was just me, a bottle of thick red wine, and the haggis. I figured if things went sideways I could pour the wine over myself, smash the bottle, and cut my throat.

The first taste was awful. Horrible, dreadful, disgusting, sickening, gag-inspiring awful—because that's what you expect after all the stories. Then you actually shut up and taste it: Haggis has a texture like corned beef and hash. Which, come on, is just not a texture you want associated with food. It's silly. Barf has a more intriguing texture. But you get past that—it's not unlike turkey dressing in texture, now that I think of it—then you get a bit of a meat flavor, and then the spices. It's weird, but while it was in my mouth, it wasn't the best taste in the world. It wasn't terrible, just a bit, I don't know. Maybe "brainy." Or "lungy." But as soon as I had swallowed—I wanted more. It left the most delicious flavor in my mouth. It was almost cinammonlike. I ate my dish, then ate Pam's, who had returned by this time and took just one bite of her dish and offered me the rest. "I had my one bite," she said, "good enough."

The haggis ritual over, we chatted some more, about brain tumors for a period, strangely enough, (or appropriately enough?), I had a dance—a progressive barn dance, which allows you to look stupid with all the ladies in the room!—then there were toasts, some more bagpipes, coffee, and the singing of "Auld Lang Syne" and the Australian national anthem, "Advance Australia Fair," which sounds like a play at a cricket match: "Smith's knocked a good one…advance Australia...fair!"

Then it was home, to Christine, with my haggis breath. Put on the Barry White!


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