Scottish cuisine — really?

So I was walking around the hood recently and I spotted a squirrel in the road squished like a jelly donut. It was gruesome and sad and got me thinking about mortality, careless drivers, blameless rodents and, yes, Italian food. 

I envisioned the shockingly good meals I ate last year in Rome and Naples: pizza margherita, caprese salad, pasta carbonara, ravioli, gelato, etc. And that led to thoughts about the kinds of food I might eat on my upcoming journey to Scotland. 

This was tricky, because I don’t really know what native Scottish fare is, except for the shuddering national dish haggis, dubiously defined as “a pudding composed of the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep, mixed with beef or mutton kidneys and oatmeal and seasoned with spices, which is packed into a sheep’s stomach and boiled.” 

Suddenly, I see that pulverized squirrel.

This is a job for some A.I., I mused, too lazy to grab my Scotland guide books. So I asked ChatGPT to spit up some famous Scottish dishes and it gave me haggis (#1), smoked salmon, porridge (!), black pudding (sausage made with pig’s blood) and other grub that doesn’t sound wildly appetizing on paper, but rather Dickensian.

That said, I’ve made reservations at seven restaurants in Edinburgh and Glasgow that seem delicious, and almost all of them boast Scottish cuisine (the exception is an Indian joint that looks otherworldly). I’m particularly amped about Makars Gourmet Mash Bar in Edinburgh, which merrily touts affordable farm-to-table dishes featuring lots of mashed potatoes and scads of fresh meats and veggies. Bangers and mash? Um, yeah. 

I was watching “Top Chef” the other night and the show’s deceptively sweet host Padma Lakshmi — she of the cutting parting words, “Please, pack your knives and go” — reminded me how food is of paramount consideration when choosing where to travel. I go partly for the local cuisine, be it sushi and takoyaki (octopus balls) in Japan or jamón ibérico and patatas bravas in Spain (or, gulp, haggis in Scotland).  

This trip is different. Despite my A.I. research, nothing but the cursed haggis stands out, and yet the menus at my reserved restaurants are thoroughly enticing. A quasi-foodie — sort of a Foodie, Jr. — I’m all about adventuresome eating, be it silkworm cocoons in China or that whole cobra in Vietnam I’ve mentioned here a thousand times. Will I try haggis? Maybe. Yet I don’t want to order an offal-filled sheep’s stomach only to gag on the first bite and then where will I be? Embarrassed and out 20 bucks. 

I rarely strike out in my gastronomical exploits — OK, the silkworm cocoons were disgusting — so anxiety is low. I bet I can do haggis. Right? After all, it really isn’t like it’s roadkill or something. 

Damn. That poor, pitiful little squirrel. 

Haggis. There you have it.

6 thoughts on “Scottish cuisine — really?

  1. I’ve eaten haggis twice. It all depends on where you buy it. I had it first from a fish and chip shop north of the border and it was similar to a spicy sausage. The 2nd time was in a pub in the highlands and it was “interesting” but edible. Go on mate…be brave.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good piece Chris.

    Your comment, “You make it sound quite palatable” reminds me of my own experiences. I like to think of myself as being somewhat adventurous when it comes to food. That said, there are limits. One of those limits is offal. It’s where I part ways with my gone far too soon hero, Bourdain.

    I’ve taken a run at it in different forms after having fallen for various versions of, “Oh, well, they must not have prepared it correctly” (aka, “You make it sound quite palatable.”). I’ve since come to the conclusion that there are some things that simply cannot be prepared correctly, because they aren’t meant to be prepared – even by the culinary offal king, Chris Cosentino.

    “I don’t want to order an offal-filled sheep’s stomach only to gag on the first bite and then where will I be?” That’s easy. You will be stuck with a plate full of haggis and a fork (pun intended) in the road. Let me leave you with an experience I had just a few weeks ago. You mentioned black pudding, another item that’s lived in my no fly zone. While in Spain recently I did try black pudding (aka blood sausage). When it was brought to the table, my dog Lexi came to mind. Not Lexi per se but what Lexi leaves in the yard every morning. After a taste … well the vision of Lexi’s leavings never left me. Luckily, the order was a tapa and I was able to choke it down in two bites, after which I drained my beer and promptly ordered another. Had it been a full plate of black pudding, I would’ve been asking myself, ‘where I would be.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just got back from Scotland, and wisely dodged the blood sausage, though I did brave the haggis. They mostly don’t serve it in a balloon-like sheep’s stomach, just offer (offal?) it as ground animal guts. And guess what? It was delicious. It seemed every eatery and pub served it, and mine was “award-winning” haggis, so perhaps I just hit the sweet spot. Glad to hear you’re an adventurous eater, too. So important if you’re going to roam this big, variegated planet.

      Liked by 1 person

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