In a little over a week, it will be Burns Night and, throughout the world, people will be celebrating the life of Robert Burns with poems, whisky and haggis.
While Burns’ Address to a Haggis pretty much nailed down the idea that haggis is Scotland’s national dish, variations on the meal have long existed in most corners of the world.
Haggis predates Scotland
Haggis and Scotland may now be permanently intertwined but haggis has a history that pre-dates Scotland as a nation state and is as old as hunting itself.
Over the years, the 5pm Dining blog has had numerous reasons to turn our attention to the haggis.
Last year, we looked at a haggis-themed play at the Fringe and, the year before, we told readers about the launch of the excellent Haggis Bible, written by Jo Macsween of the well-known haggis makers Macsweens.
Seven haggis facts
In honour of the great chieftain o’ the pudding race, here are seven facts about haggis that you may not have known:
1) Haggis is traditionally made with the pluck of an animal. The pluck is the lungs, liver and heart. These organs deteriorate rapidly after death so, in early hunting cultures, these needed to be preserved or eaten quickly. Finely chopping and mixing them with salt before boiling the ingredients is one way of extending the period in which they are safe to eat.
2) Haggis is traditionally cooked in a sheep’s large stomach. Artificial casings are more commonly used to day.
3) The ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks both ate haggis-like dishes. The Greek playwright Aristophanes mentioned a very similar dish to haggis in his work The Clouds, written around 400BC.
4) The oldest known recipe for haggis is in a 1430 book from Lancashire called Liber Cure Cocorum.
5) Macsweens sells more haggis to customers based in England than in Scotland.
6) Burns may have reckoned that the haggis was a dish for hard-working, honest ‘rustics’ but it also has a place in some of Scotland’s most sophisticated restaurants. Not least in Martin Wishart at Loch Lomond where haggis bon bons have been known to feature as an amuse bouche.
7) Fittingly for a dish which has roots all over the world, haggis lends itself to being combined with other culinary traditions.
Sue Lawrence has one for haggis lasagne here but it would be remiss of us to write about haggis fusion dishes without mentioning the haggis pakora.
Many reckon that Glasgow was the home of the haggis pakora but we are not brave, or daft, enough to hazard a guess as to which restaurant created them.
Mr Singh’s India has long run haggis-pakora master classes and we’re sure that haggis pakora featured on the menu at Murphy’s Pakora Bar in the Nineties.
We’re also sure that the haggis pakora has been around a lot longer than that.
If you want to see how to do them yourself, take a look at the clip below we shot last year in the Ashoka West End.
Burns Dining Offers
Corinthian – £25 for 3 courses on Burns menu
MP’s Bistro at Parliament House Hotel – £20.50 for 3 courses on the Burns Supper Menu
Cranston’s – £24.95 for 2 Courses on the Burns Supper Menu
Den – £25 for 3 courses on Burns Supper menu + dram
Playfair’s Restaurant – £25.95 for a 4 course Burns supper with a nip