Quirky Foods Of The World: Haggis In Scotland

We think it’s time to take a journey and delve into the weird and wonderful world of food. Our quirky foods of the world series aims to save you from shock, by exploring the details of curious, innovative and delightful dishes from all over the globe.

Starting with Haggis, the national dish of Scotland, which actually consists of a sheep’s stomach stuffed with diced innards. Haggis is typically served with root vegetables, neeps and mashed tatties (that’s turnips and potatoes by the way!).

Lets look at the history, tradition and myth behind this fascinating food.

What is it again?

It’s generally made up of a sheep’s heart, liver and lungs – minced with onions, oatmeal, suet, salt and spices – that are then all mixed with a stock and boiled in the animal’s stomach for an
hour or so, as is tradition.

Doesn’t sound particularly appetising – but the end result is surprisingly a culinary masterpiece, ready to be washed down with a spot of Irn-Bru.

Folklore fairy tales

The exact origins of Haggis still remain somewhat of a mystery – over the years this gave rise to a typical response that’s gone from a popular joke to some, to curious folklore for others. Many Scottish people would maintain that a Haggis, was a small four legged creature that dwelled in the Scottish Highlands. The animal was said to have had two legs shorter than the rest, so that it could run around steep mountain sides without  toppling over. It was said that a person could catch the creature quite easily, by running around the mountain side in the opposite direction.

Although widely recognised as a national joke and bit of fun, an online poll conducted in 2003 found that a third of American tourists believed Haggis was indeed a wild animal. Many visited Scotland in the hopes of joining in on a Haggis hunt.

Haggis history and speculation

Haggis is widely assumed to have originated in Scotland, but the exact beginnings of the dish can’t be conclusively attributed to any one place, largely due to a complete lack of historical evidence. Despite this, there are a number of accounts and theories…

One theory ties the dish to prehistoric origins, as a way of cooking and preserving offal that would otherwise quickly spoil following a hunt. A Chieftain was thought to have had a few animals killed for a feast, and the slaughterman responsible was then offered the offal as payment.

Others claim Haggis originated from old Scottish cattle drovers, where women would prepare a Haggis-type meal for the men. Who would be able to easily carry it, as they embarked on long journeys from the Highland glens, to cattle markets in Edinburgh.

There’s even speculation that Haggis came to Scotland from Scandinavia, on a Viking longship – way before Scotland was even a single nation. Etymologist Walter William Skeat claimed that a part of the word Haggis, namely hag was derived from the Old Norse haggw or the Old Icelandic hoggva.

Legacy and celebration

Wherever it came from, Haggis is now firmly established as a national Scottish icon, alongside kilts, tartan, bagpipes and ofcourse, whiskey.

Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns helped immortalise Haggis in his famous poem, Address to a Haggis. During his day the dish was popular amongst the poor – being made from leftover sheep parts that would have otherwise been discarded.

The Burns supper is a celebration that now takes place worldwide each year, on Jan 25th. It’s a commemoration of the poet and Haggis traditionally forms an integral part of the festivities, commonly carried in on a silver salver.

Burns’ legendary poem ends with “Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware, That jaups in luggies: But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer, Gie her a Haggis!”