An Ode to Haggis

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Last Updated on April 17, 2018 by

This is a story about making peace with a squishy edible ball of sheep innards, and a song I rewrote to help me through the process.

I have a confession to make. I was afraid of haggis, almost deathly so. You could say I harbored an irrational fear of the stuff. Yes, haggis.

And yes, me. The guy who's eaten a lot of sh*t and then some. The guy who's eaten bugs, balls and innards, tongues, goat jaw bones, and all manner of bits and bobs. And that's the stuff I was aware of. I'm sure I've unknowingly eaten cat and dog and maybe even someone's pet hamster.

But I gotta be honest: before my recent visit to Scotland, the thought of haggis kinda' freaked me out. Culinary fear of the ground unknown.

I'd had bad dreams — bad dreams about haggis. Haggis was a mystery. I was so afraid of it that I couldn't even bear looking up to see what it actually was.

(By the way, the official definition of haggis, if you're wondering: a traditional pudding made of the heart, liver, etc., of a sheep or calf, minced with suet and oatmeal,seasoned, and boiled in the stomach of the animal.)

And all of this made me feel a wee sheepish.

My History with Haggis

Maybe it's the word. Haggis. It just doesn't sound right, does it? Haggis. It's onomatopoetic, like something hanging down, dripping, dragging. Haggis. Like a post-disembowlment draping of innards on a clothesline. I look at the word and it does weird things to me. Haggis. It makes my skin creep, it gives me the willies.

Then there's the silly film So I Married an Axe Murderer. “Harriet, Harr-i-et, hard-hearted harbinger of haggis,” Mike Myers' character Charlie MacKenzie would crow during his stand-up routine.

Haggis, you know there's a problem with you when you have harbingers.

How Then, The Haggis?

Then I visited Scotland. There in Edinburgh, I was introduced to deep-fried haggis logs. Deep fried haggis logs!?!? Why not serve deep-fried antichrist? Actually deep fried logs of just about anything ought to frighten us, but these particular digestive hijackings looked like something we men could never in a million years imagine happening to us.

Yes, that. You know what I mean. And if you don't, may I introduce you to Lorena Bobbit. Yes, that. Haggis.

There's a popular rendition of haggis called Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. Basically a poo-shaped pile of haggis sided with piles of mashed turnips (the neeps) and mashed potatoes (the tatties). Haggis, neeps and tatties. The sound of that dish, at once childlike and pornographic. I pull the blanket up over my head. Haggis.

Scottish Haggis Neeps and Tatties
Holy poop, it's haggis!

I was so stricken with fear that I sought to shield myself. If I were to lose my haggis virginity, perhaps there was a preferred method. I would set off to find it, to seek the haggis with which I might make peace.

I asked our first taxi driver in Edinburgh where to eat it. “You could buy haggis at the butcher, but it wouldn't taste like much,” he framed his recommendation. “It's about where you get it and how you prepare it. It's not going to taste interesting to you…

Sounded fair and balanced, like a good FOX News episode. Innocuous enough. (I kid)

Hmmm,” I said.

That's when he suggested, “You can get it with a whisky sauce.”

Now you've got my attention.

Later, a friend recommended a restaurant that served something she called a “Haggis Tower.” Haggis Tower? Sounds like an office building crying out for its own demolition. A tower of innards, probably pulsing. The Leaning Tower of Haggis. Why on Earth would anyone want a god-forsaken pile of such a thing? Haggis.

Eventually, after multiple consultations with taxi drivers, tour guides and five-star hotel concierges, Audrey and I opted for the Bard's Haggis at 1780 pub, a mini mountain of the stuff on a pile of mashed potatoes, all drizzled in whisky sauce. I hesitated for a moment, dark bits staring back at me. Then I ate it.

It wasn't that bad.

Scottish Mashed Potatoes and Whisky Cream Sauce
Haggis, Mashed Potatoes and Whisky Cream Sauce.

Honestly, it was pretty good. Actually, Audrey and I scarfed it, devoured it like it was our last meal. (I'm certain there was a drug in it.) Or perhaps the truth: just about anything tastes good with whisky cream sauce, and even better when you wash it down with a pint of freshly-pulled Scottish Ale.

In some parallel universe, haggis is probably even good for you — if you are a shepherd who regularly runs marathons with your sheep in the face of fierce winds blowing across the Scottish highlands.

But enough, I said. There's a lesson in all this haggis. I thought long on it all, and I came to this: It's easy to be hard on haggis. Haggis takes it on the chin. Haggis is the red-headed stepchild of ground offal. But all that notwithstanding, haggis is really not that bad. Most of all, you'll never really know for yourself until you try it.

I registered another life lesson on fear, this time from haggis.

Haggis. Sounds like hell, looks like purgatory, and depending on how its cooked, it can taste like Heaven.

Daniel Noll plans a forthcoming novel about the around-the-world travels with his wife entitled “What Haggis Taught Me”

An Ode to Haggis

Finally, I promised to you, in the title, an ode. I'm not sure if you've heard that song about Alice. We once saw a rather terrible rendition on a ferry from Stockholm to Estonia many years ago; since then, I've never been able to fully purge the tune from my head. (But I digress). Anyway, I decided to rework the song a bit and came up with this. Perhaps you'll want to listen to the original song to get an idea of the tune.

Eating Lotsa Haggis

Haggis called, and we got the word
It said: “I suppose you've heard
– about Haggis”
When I rushed to the counter,
And I looked inside,
And I could hardly believe my eyes –
As a big butcher rolled up
In royal haggis style

Oh, I don't know why I'm heaving
Or where I'm gonna go,
I guess I've got my reasons
But you just don't want to know,
‘Cos for forty-one years
I've been dreaming 'bout eating haggis.

Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,
To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,
Now I've got to get used to not eating lotsa haggis

We didn't know each other,
We didn't share a park
I'd like to carve my initials,
Deep inside its bark,
Me and Haggis.
Now it comes through the door,
With its tower high
Just for a moment,
I caught its eye
As a big waiter pulled slowly
up with a haggis pie.

Oh, I don't know why I'm heaving
Or where I'm gonna' go,
I guess I've got my reasons,
But you just don't want to know,
‘Cos for forty-one years
I've been dreaming 'bout eat-ing lotsa haggis.

Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,
To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,
Now I gotta get used to not eating lotsa haggis…

And haggis called me back and asked how I felt,
And it said: “I know how to help
Get o-ver haggis”.
It said: “Now haggis is gone,
But we're still here,
You know I've been waiting
For forty-one years…”
And then the tall waiter dissappeared…

I don't know why he's leaving,
Or where he's gonna go,
I guess he's got his reasons,
But I just don't want to know,
‘Cos for forty-one years
I've been dreaming 'bout eating lotsa haggis.

Forty-one years just waiting for a chance,
To tell you how I feel,
and maybe get a second glance,
But I'll never get used to not eat-ing lotsa haggis…

No I'll never get used to not eat-ing lotsa haggis.
(cue the nifty early 70s guitar riff)

(note: For those of you who know the alternative Gompie version, please join with the chorus: “Haggis. Haggis. What the f**k is haggis?!”)

Disclosure: Our trip to Scotland and the Blogmanay campaign are brought to you by Edinburgh's Hogmanay and is sponsored by VisitScotland, ETAG, Edinburgh Festivals, Haggis Adventures and Skyscanner. The campaign bloggers were sourced and managed by iambassador. As always, all opinions expressed here are entirely our own.
About Daniel Noll
Travel and life evangelist. Writer, speaker, storyteller and consultant. Connecting people to experiences that will change their lives. Originally from the U.S. Daniel has lived abroad since 2001 and most recently has been on the road since 2006. When he's not writing for the blog you can keep up with his adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about him on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

23 thoughts on “An Ode to Haggis”

  1. Many congrats on overcoming the fear of Haggis. Though I have eaten many strange things this one still remains on my list. But, the Haggis tower makes it a little less scary, actually looks good!

  2. Haggis is one thing I wish I had tried when I was in Scotland years ago. Good to know it isn’t as bad as I was imagining it to be. Will be traveling this summer and after reading your post about Haggis makes me want to try to eat something new while on my travels.

  3. My Dad is really big into honoring our Scottish heritage, and every year he throws a Robbie Burns party in January and recites the Burns poem Ode to a Haggis in a really terrible scottish brogue before we all feast on the stuff. It’s next week and I can’t wait!

  4. You slay me Dan, I don’t overly much care to read about haggis, BUT, you kept me until the end. You should go on tour as a stand-up comedian and the haggis could be your opening act. In fact, I would pay good money to see you sing that Haggis song 😉

    Glad you ended up liking it! There is a lesson in that, I don’t have to deal with much food-fear things, but the lesson in trying–a whole nation can’t be entirely wrong on haggis I suppose. (Oh, and now I have that song stuck in my head too, Gompie version of course). Thoroughly entertained by this post guys!

  5. I feel proud to have been present at your first tasting of a haggis tower Dan! Also I’m rather impressed how well you hid your haggis terror beforehand 🙂 long live the haggis!

  6. I had haggis when I was in Scotland.

    Had I not known what was in it, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. It just looked and tasted like mincemeat.

  7. Hilarious Dan. Are you and Audrey really thinking of writing a novel ‘What Haggis really taught me?’. Thought, I’d stupidly ask, although I think I might know the answer. 🙂 Had a lot of fun reading this.

  8. Since I was born in Ireland I’m definitely aware of that delectable dish so elegantly named Haggis from just across the water. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it, and I’m still struggling with black pudding. Maybe I just need to write a song about it….

  9. Wait, you ate the jaw bone of a goat?? I’m struggling with that bit. Hilarious post, though, and it may even have given me the courage to try Haggis myself!

  10. So, so funny and well written, I really enjoyed this post! We’ve also just returned from a Hogmanay in Scotland, but I managed to successfully avoid The Haggis. Maybe next time… although I seriously doubt it 😉

  11. @Annette: Thanks. Though I have to admit that this piece is a bit more tongue-in-cheek than honest to goodness fear. Except the part about being afraid to look up the meaning of haggis in the dictionary. Go for the haggis tower. For us, the next step is haggis lasagna from our friend Kay.

    @Steph: This is so, so great. To be honest, I did not know (perhaps I should have googled it) that there was a Robert Burns poem to haggis. How fitting. And that your father has a Robbie Burns party. When I first read this, fits of laughter.

    I wish we could join you!

    Haste ye to the haggis!

    @Shannon: You are too kind to me, really. Pay good money, eh? I see a kickstarter campaign to bring my haggis song to reality.

    True that, on the whole nation can’t be wrong. Now, next on to vegemite!

    Glad you had fun and appreciated the post for all its intended silliness!

    @Flora: That was a great night, haggis-ing and sharing a few pints.

    Long live the haggis! (I’m imagining Mel Gibson saying this a la the Braveheart “Freedom” yell.)

    @Gary: Mincemeat. Truly. Minced what kind of meat is the key.

    @Kim: Give it a shot. Haste ye to the haggis! And let us know how you get on! Bon appetit!

    @Sutapa: Glad you had fun. That was the idea. You know, we don’t have an idea of writing a novel, per se. But a book is sloshing around upstairs. And conceptually, “What Haggis Taught Me” isn’t too far from one of the many working premises.

    Thanks for the second nod on becoming a stand-up comedian. I’m grateful for the compliment. I don’t know that I’d quit my day job (whatever that is), but a terrifying moment on stage trying to make them laugh — would probably be a good exercise for me. Good exercise in humility!

    @Amy: Haggis is only a small leap from black pudding. Actually, I had a Scottish version of black pudding, too. Very rich, earthy.

    Ah, to write a song. It helps every time.

    @cosmo: I ate the jaw bone of a goat. Well, I gnawed on it really, while a bunch of shepherds stared at me. The whole story is here:
    A Goat and Five Fingers

    @Peter: Touché.

    @Sunee: Thanks so much. Glad you enjoyed it. You avoided the haggis at Hogmanay?? Just means that you’ll have to return. It’s actually quite good, really — despite all written here.

  12. Haggis, how did you eat that? I mean , how was the taste of it? I haven’t tasted that but would think once to try it! Thanks

  13. Haha – “haggis logs” – I can’t imagine putting any other two words together and having them sound quite as unappetizing as that. I tried haggis in Wales – it was a haggis sandwich, to be specific. It tasted like very strong meat. I’m kind of curious to try it again when it’s prepared more expertly – whiskey cream sauce could definitely only make it better.

  14. I would have gone with the deep fried. I think you can eat anything deep fried. Just go to any county fair and see for yourself! However, it does look like you made the right choice! Funny story.

  15. @Suz: Pretty much all versions of haggis we’d eaten were ground. It tasted like ground meat, maybe a little bit earthier and sweet spiced (as in cinnamon, nutmeg or similar). Absolutely worth a try.

    @Jessica: Oh yes, haggis logs. Or Oh No! Haggis logs. Now a haggis sandwich (was it like a meat patty? or maybe haggis burger?) makes me think haggiswich, which makes me think of witches and old, saggy skin which of course brings me back to haggis and those awful looking logs.

    Haste ye to the haggis with whisky cream!

    @Gentry: Haggis at the county fair. Now I’m laughing. Fair point about deep fried. It seems as though the Scots have taken your suggestion and made it the underlying and prevailing philosophy of their cuisine!

  16. @Tammy: That’s what I keep trying to tell people…looks kind of awful, but it tastes pretty good, depending on the preparation of course. Thanks for the haggis vote of confidence.

  17. Haggis looks and sounds disgusting, but when I tried it for the first time I was a convert. I love those spices in there.

  18. I’ve never had Haggis, but have had sheep balls – barbecued on an open fire. Taste weird but not that bad at all, I’ve also had sheep tongue, brains, and even stomach.

    I’m going to have to give Haggis a try, just so I can say I’ve done it. Thanks for the song 😉

  19. @Michael: My pleasure. I’m not much into songwriting, obviously, but haggis took me beyond the call of duty. As far as all those sheep bits, that’s quite a collection. But honestly, I’d have been more impressed had you downed the sheep balls raw 😉

  20. Oh Haggis! My love, I just met Haggis on our trip to Scotland, too. My voyaging partner is appalled at my taste for it, but I make no excuses. I will be sad to leave Scotland, not just because of the beautiful, nearly untouched views, but also the boiled sheep’s innards!

    • I hear you, Sarah. The flavor of haggis, when prepared well and served with the right side dishes (oh, those neeps and tatties), almost belies what it is actually made of. Not to mention, if you happen to appreciate Scottish ale as I do, there’s no better pairing.


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