One of the best things about living in Dubai is meeting - and eating with - people from all across the world. I particularly admire the citizens of any country that makes an odd dish the focus of a national celebration. And when those people happen to make up one of the biggest expat contingents I count among my friends, it seems only fair to dedicate a post to them.
So, all ye Scots out there, having had the pleasure of both visiting your beautiful country and taking part in a merry Burns Supper, I think it's time others were let in on the secret - haggis is absolutely DELICIOUS! And anyone who has the opportunity to enjoy a Burns Supper really shouldn't miss it.
So, based on my (slightly sketchy) idea of what one should include, here are my list of Burns Night essentials:
Lads in kilts: They need to be true Scots to avoid looking like they stepped out
in fancy dress. I'm a firm believer in national dress requiring a national to
wear one. Someone with a proper brogue will also be helpful for a couple of
other essential elements of a traditional Burns Supper. So make sure there's one at the party. Also, if you don't know any true blue Scots, why exactly are you celebrating Burns Night? Oh yes, that would be because of the ....
Haggis: This creation of sheep's insides cooked in its own stomach with suet, onions, oatmeal and spices has definitely got a bad rap. So what if it includes bits of sheep lung, liver and heart (the 'pluck' as it's quaintly called)? Do you really know what's in that sausage you ate for breakfast? Thought not. And because of all those paranoid people out there, most of the haggis you consume today will probably contain a higher quality of raw ingredients than most other meat products you buy at the store. Once boiled and cut open the insides have a wonderful mealy, meaty texture and a peppery, nutty flavour. Nothing like what you'd expect heart, lungs and liver to taste like.
Neeps and tatties: Sounds a bit rude but it's all very innocent. The 'neeps' refer to boiled Swedish turnips (swedes) that lend a great complementary sweetness to the hearty haggis while 'tatties' is just a Scottish term of endearment for humble mashed potatoes.
A wee dram of whisky: Note whisky without the 'e'. None of that Irish or American stuff at a Burns Supper. I'm no expert in Scottish whisky drinking so will defer to the opinion of friends, some of whom say drinking it neat is the only way to go while others claim that the true flavour develops when you add a little water - preferably soft, spring water from the Scottish highlands. With or without water, just make sure you don't ask to drink it with Coke!
A Sgian dubh: A real Scot will know what this is and more importantly how to pronounce it which is one of the reasons why it's good to have one around. The ceremonial dagger traditionally tucked into the top of the kilt hose is used to 'slay the haggis' before tucking in.
And finally... the Address to a Haggis: This famous ode by the Scottish bard Robert Burns (who lends his name to this whole celebration) is usually recited before the haggis is 'slayed' - well, cut open - for dinner. The ode is yet another reason why you won't be able to manage without a real Scot at the table as it's a mouthful of words only someone coming far north of Hadrian's Wall could realistically be expected to pronounce.
There are a few other elements - the Selkirk Grace, the toast to the lassies, the reply to the toast to the lassies, ceilidhs, bagpipes etcetera but you will be able to get away with a decent Burns Night celebration with the essentials mentioned above.
PS: For a traditional end to your meal, try some cranachan - a sweet concoction of toasted oatmeal, whipped cream, whisky and raspberries. Having eaten a particularly lurid pink version a few years ago, I can testify that like haggis, it does taste a lot nicer than it looks :)
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