Burns Night in Edinburgh

Edinburgh got a mention a couple of weeks back as Gail spent her New Year there. It also won the ‘Favourite City’ vote in Britain’s Guardian newspaper for the 12th year running. It is a fabulous city with so much to do; great walks, interesting and unimposing galleries, a good range of shopping, superlative headgear and a decent pub or two. As you can see, Edinburgh has become something of a blog favorite.

Robert Burns Monument

enceladus79/Via flickr

So what about the food? Well, Scotland does not always get the credit it deserves, certainly given the country produces some of the finest beef and salmon you will find anywhere in Europe. Go into any Scottish pub and you will find a pretty familiar menu, some recognisable things alongside a couple which might need translation, such as Cullen Skink. One of the main dishes visitors to Scotland want to try, or at least watch someone else eat, is Haggis. Look up any recipe for haggis and pretty much the first ingredient listed will be sheep’s’ stomach (or an ox secum if you can’t get the sheep). If you can get the sheep then you will also need the heart and lungs (known collectively as the pluck). What then happens is that the pluck is cooked, minced, mixed with onion, herbs and oats and, eventually, placed inside the sheep’s stomach which is sewn up before cooking. Sometimes it is enough to know that a dish is traditional rather than what it actually contains before being the adventurous tourist. There are a variety of theories on where the dish originated and how it came to Scotland but there is no doubt that Scotland has made haggis its own and it is a part of the national identity.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 25th January) is Burns Night and haggis will be served as part of the celebrations along with the traditional sides of neeps and tatties (turnip and potato) and a welcome dram of whisky. Robert Burns is one of the great names of Scottish literary history. Known to many in Scotland simply as ‘the Bard’, his writings reflected the times he lived in (the late 18th century) as he touched on themes of Republicanism and class inequality as well as being the inspiration for many of the great romantic poets that followed. He packed a great deal into his 37 years, was a social man in the truest sense and is a cultural icon to this day and Burns Night is a commemoration of his life and work.

Burns Night suppers take place at various dates around the poet’s birthday. Proceedings are initiated with the recital of the Selkirk Grace.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thankit.

Following the first course, soup, everyone stands as a piper plays and the chef brings in the haggis. The host will recite Address to a Haggis. At the line His knife see rustic Labour dicht the speaker normally draws and cleans a knife, and at the line An’ cut you up wi‘ ready slicht, plunges it into the haggis and cuts it open from end to end. When done properly this “ceremony” is a highlight of the evening.

Following the meal, various toasts are made and, at the end of proceedings, one of Burns’ most famous poems is recited as everyone stands for a rendition of Auld Lang Syne (yes, the same one, he wrote that too). All in all, it is a fitting tribute to a great writer and the haggis which Burns described as the ‘Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!

What are other holidays in which a specific food is associate with the occasion?

(Editor’s note: Add Paul on Google+ If you have a question about for EF Tour Director Paul Mattesini, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Paul here, and he will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)

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