Monday, January 25, 2010

Start your celebrations now, haggis is back!

That's right, haggis.  It's been banned from the USA for 21 years.  What is haggis?  I'm glad you asked.  Basically it's offal and oats stuffed into a sheep's stomach.  Offal.  Not awful, offal.  Well, actually, awful.  But that's not the point.  It's utter genius to take a sheep's heart, liver and lungs, chop it up with onions, suet, spices, salt, pepper and shove it right back into that sheep's own stomach!   Like a round little handbag stuffed with offal goodness.  Folklore suggests they were carried by Scottish cattle drovers on their long treks to take their herds to market.  Perfect packed lunch.  Here's a nice photo of a whole lot of them, note they appear to have belly buttons, creepy!

Haggis is fascinating stuff.  It's history dates back to at least 1520, the first record of a poem written about it.  Never before has a food item inspired such devotion.  Poems have been written about haggis ever since, most famously by Robert Burns, known as Scotland's national poet.  On Burns Night, traditionally held during the week of January 25th, poems about haggis are recited, songs about haggis are sung, everyone will be expected to eat the haggis, either before or after a lot of whiskey drinking (preferably after, so you forget what's actually in the haggis).

You may be asking yourself right now, why do I say haggis is back?  I'm glad you asked that as well, good question!  Haggis was banned from the US in 1989 at the height of so called "mad cow" disease hysteria.  All offal was seen as possibly infected with mad cow disease.  Presumably, sheep would have been fed other sheep, indeed perhaps they were even fed haggis, which would result in "mad sheep" disease.  This was never proven, but pretty much all meat from the UK was suspect.  What's truly sad about this is that we American's were robbed of not only eating haggis, but also haggis hurling (sorry, that's not actually what happens after you eat it, but competitive throwing of haggis), haggis eating contests and indeed, Gung Haggis Fat Choy dinner, the fusion of Burns Night and Chinese New Year (brilliant!).  

The World Organization for Animal Health recently ruled that sheep's lungs are safe to eat.  Which is good news for anyone who was really hankering for sheep's lungs, because as a result, the US Department of Agriculture is currently drafting new regulations to allow the UK to import haggis into the US once more. 

As good old Robbie Burns said himself, in his "Address to a Haggis":

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 o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

If you'd like to read the whole thing, try to make sense of it, and get a translation, go here:

I couldn't have said it better myself.  Really, I couldn't. I have actually eaten haggis, and all I can say is that it was kind of bland and crumbly.  Since I no longer eat meat, I wouldn't touch the stuff with a ten foot cattle prod, but it's still fascinating.


  1. I beg to differ! Last night I was watching the food network and I can safely say the hot dog inspires serious mania. And I'm pretty sure it's got a bit of everything in it, although it probably tastes better. But Haggis to me seems like a meal you would eat and be thankful for if you are a hillbilly. I mean, if you think Crackerbarrel or Fuddruckers is "fancy rich people eatin'". And it seems like you might prefer it if you have no teeth...but maybe not if you've been having amorous relations with your sheep. Those hillbilly folk are a complex people.

  2. Just for the record, I do believe you could eat haggis even if you didn't have teeth.