Posts Tagged ‘burns night’

London — By Andrea Kirkby on January 25, 2010 at 6:38 am
Filed under: burns night, featuredarticle, haggis, traditions

Beware the Haggis!

It’s Burns Night tonight, and while it’s really a Scottish thing, there will certainly be a good few Burns Night celebrations in London, both for ex-pat Scots and for anyone else who enjoys a few drinks and a good night out.

Ceremonial killing of the Haggis by a Scottish fashion victim.

What is Burns Night?

Robert Burns is to Scotland what Shakespeare is to England – the writer who sums up the country’s identity, the ‘patron poet’ as it were of the St Andrew’s Cross. Almost everyone knows phrases from his poems – ‘the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley’, ‘wee sleekit, cowrin’, tim’rous beastie’, or perhaps bits of  ‘Comin’ thro the Rye’ – even if they don’t know a whole poem to recite.

I have to point out Scotland has some very fine other poets, from Dunbar and Henryson in the Middle Ages to Carol Ann Duffy today. But Burns is the quintessential Scottish poet, and it’s his birthday we’ll be celebrating tonight.

And what is a haggis?

You really don’t want to know.

But I’m going to be eating one.

That’s exactly why you don’t want to know – but if you insist. Get all the bits of a sheep you don’t want to eat – heart, liver, lungs – chop’em all up, add lots of onion, oatmeal (which in my opinion is really better left for making porridge), and suet (are you getting an idea this might not be the healthiest food around?) and a few spices, stick it all back inside the sheep’s stomach, and boil it for three or four hours. To stay traditional, serve it up with neeps and tatties – mashed swedes and potatoes.

Ugh.

Exactly. Why do you think the Scots drink so much whisky? One friend of mine said after a Burns Supper “Haggis is quite nice, actually, if you wash it down with enough whisky.” I’ll take his word for it.

What’s with the guy in the kilt stabbing the haggis with a large knife?

I dare say you can eat haggis in other ways, but at Burns Suppers there’s due ceremony to be observed. The haggis is usually piped in by a Highland Piper in full regalia – kilt, bonnet and sporran, as well as tartan-covered bagpipes – and is then ceremonially sliced, a bit like a wedding cake!

The ceremony also includes Burns’s ‘Ode to a Haggis’ – or rather, to give its correct title, ‘Address to a haggis’, which begins: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!”

Are there any vegetarian options?

Fortunately, there are – and I shall definitely be taking one. Most of them use peas and beans, sometimes nuts, and often a mixture of other vegetables, to create a veggie alternative. Which, though I’m a meat-eater, I find far more palatable than the ‘real’ thing.

Another ‘different’ version has been formulated at Papillon [map], a Chelsea brasserie. It uses confit pork belly and beef fillet with foie gras and black truffles – definitely a gastro version, but possibly not one that the Scots would recognise.

Are there any other uses for a haggis?

Yes, a sport which personally I find extremely appealing – far more so than eating one – is haggis hurling. The world record is more than 180 feet.

Okay, where can I go for Burns night in London?

You’re a bit late to book into one of the Burns Suppers, but most of the Scottish pubs in the capital will be celebrating. I’d recommend one of the following:

  • Boisdale of Belgravia [map] with a very traditional Scottish ambience – tartan, stags’ heads, loads of whiskies;
  • The Rob Roy, Sale Place [map], a real Scottish pub that’s kept its traditional name and clientele, and is the home of Aberdeen FC supporters in London – FREE haggis tonight!

Photo by Ninett on flickr

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