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Celebrate Scotland’s bard? Break out the haggis.

THIS ARTICLE IS ADAPTED FROM THE JANUARY 21, 2023 ISSUE OF GASTRO OBSCURA’S FAVORITE THINGS NEWSLETTER. YOU CAN SIGN UP HERE.

Like most traditional dishes made with offal, haggis attracts both fan base and ridicule. I’ll leave that to the haters. Anyway, I love this Scottish classic.

Yes, it is seasoned organ meat cooked in sheep’s stomach with suet and oatmeal. But the process results in a meal that’s warm, rich, and flavorful. Along with its classic pairing of neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), it’s the perfect antidote to the cold winds that batter the Highland heather.

Of course, the most die-hard fans come from the home of haggis in Scotland. But people around the world celebrate the dish every January 25, the birthday of 18th-century poet and haggis lover Robert Burns.

Perhaps best known for writing the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, Burns also wrote Address to a Haggis. This poem is recited at burns-themed ceremonial events where haggis is the main dish.

But the Burns Supper isn’t the only way the world celebrates excellent offal. This week we look at how fans pay tribute to Haggis, from unusual ice cream to Haggis tossing competitions.

In 1801, five years after Burns’ death, a group of the poet’s friends gathered to celebrate him. They ate haggis, drank whiskey, recited his work and gave speeches in his honor.

It must have been a good time as Scots and Burns fans have continued the tradition ever since.

While Burns may be the star of the night, Haggis provides a smashing opening act. A bagpipe procession leads the haggis, seated on a silver tray, to the front of the room, where a tartan-clad performer recites “Address to a Haggis.”

The atmospheric ode reaches its climax with a theatrical carving. As the performer wields a large knife, he explains:

His knife looks rustic working light,
A ‘cut you wi’ finished easily,
Dig up your gushing guts bright,
Like Oniegraben;
And then, oh what a glorious sight
Smelling warm, rich!

After everyone has had their fill of dinner and dessert, guests are treated to concerts of Burns’ works, as well as ‘The Immortal Memory’, a formal tribute to the Scottish bard.

The key is to fling your haggis without breaking it. PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
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There’s something about throwing food that’s still exciting long after we’ve outgrown our high chairs. Just look at the annual World Haggis Hurling Championship, where contestants try to toss a sheep’s stomach filled with offal as far as possible without breaking it.

Haggis may be an age-old tradition, but the competition isn’t. While the inventor of the sport initially claimed it came from a 17th-century ritual in which wives tossed haggis to their husbands (whom they caught in their kilts), he later revealed it was a hoax.

If you love the ceremony of the Burns Supper but prefer something sweeter and smaller than a hearty meal, head to Aberdeen.

Whenever they release their limited-time haggis and jam ice cream, Mackie’s of Scotland has a bagpiper lead the bin in a parade that ends inside the store.

The ice cream parlor often has the sweet and savory flavor on hand for Burns Day, but be sure to check before you visit.

Haggis Spice Drops allow vegetarians to taste Scotland's national dish.
Haggis Spice Drops allow vegetarians to taste Scotland’s national dish. Courtesy of Coco Chocolatier

Vegetarians don’t worry. You too can join in the haggis action. Several Edinburgh-based pastry chefs have created chocolate bars designed to evoke the meat dish’s signature blend of spices.

Coco Chocolatier mixes spices such as pepper, cloves, allspice and nutmeg into their dark chocolate bar, creating a sweet and savory treat. Meanwhile, Chocolate Tree haggis spice bars contain rolled oats.

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