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The Intrepid Eater: Haggis Edition

The Intrepid Eater: Haggis Edition

Hannah Keyser travels to Edinburgh and throws herself at the art of eating Haggis.
By Hannah Keyser

Having grown up in the Philadelphia area, I have eaten a lot of scrapple in my life. Far from just tolerate this semi-congealed loaf of pork scraps, cornmeal, and spices, I love the stuff. Underneath poaches eggs or dipped in syrup, scrapple is the world’s way of saying “Hannah, my dear, vegetarianism is over-rated,”. Given this predisposition for meat that is essentially already leftovers the day it’s made, I’m the target demographic of American who might possibly eat Scottish haggis. But, to be honest, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. This is an accomplishment I’d never even considered acheiving until my older sister relocated to Edinburgh for university – and almost immediately began testing my self-proclaimed status as an adventurous eater by insisting that I had to have haggis.

For the uninitiated, 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 approximately three hours.” (Thanks, Wikipedia). You see why even two decades of eating scrapple seemed to pale in comparison to the task of stomaching such a delicacy? But, never one to back down from a challenge – or a meaty comestible –  I assured her that I would try haggis at the next opportunity to do so. Which happened to be earlier this month when I flew to the UK a little early to visit her before starting the first semester of my senior year at University College London.

Eager to hold me to that promise, my sister met me at the airport. And so, bleary from not sleeping on the red eye and toting enough baggage to last all semester, I resigned myself that if rest wasn’t an option I would just have to power through my first day on this side of the Atlantic with a week’s worth of protein.

Inside Kilimanjaro my sister assured me that this cute, unassuming coffee shop delivered equal parts food and charm. We both got the traditional Scottish Breakfast – which is not so much a category as a specific dish, served at pubs and bed and breakfasts throughout the country. It consists of: a poached egg, sautéed mushrooms, a single roasted tomato, toast with marmalade, a potato cake, bacon, sausage, and either haggis or black pudding all occupying distinct portions of the over-sized plate.

And though everything was delicious and perfectly cooked, the haggis was my favorite.

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If you’ve had scrapple, you know it is like sausage only grainier and with a crisp edge. Haggis is to scrapple as scrapple is to sausage. The texture of haggis, served in a round cake, is complex and even visible, with a definite “crust”. The spices provide the prominent kick, while the meat products add richness and depth. There is a distinct gaminess that distinguishes the sheep-based haggis from our American pork products but ultimately, I was surprised by the not-weirdness.

In fact, I might like it even more than scrapple.

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