Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In which we sample the local cuisine (and other forays into the intercontinental culinary abyss).

"Is this your first time?"

Amanda and I glanced to one another. On any other occasion, I may have offered her a mirthful smirk and she might have returned it with a grin. This time I just grimaced and she answered with a nod.

"Yes," I finally answered. "And we're a little nervous."

Our server smiled. "No worries. This is the best place to try it in all of Scotland. We only buy from the most trusted butchers and it's all done in whisky*."

"You had me at whisky," Amanda said. "Bring it on."

She sounded braver than I felt, that was for sure. We had decided early on while planning our two-week venture to Ireland and Scotland that while there we were going to sample the local cuisine and that, of course, included haggis.

Our guidebook swore that haggis got a bad rap, and that while it was an acquired taste it was nonetheless delicious. I had my doubts. Meat and I had a tumultuous relationship to begin with, and though my brief foray into vegetarianism had ended rather abruptly upon discovering I was borderline anemic and thus prone to dreadful nosebleeds if I didn't get enough iron and protein in my diet, I mostly stuck to chicken and, now and again, cheeseburgers. There were some exceptions to the rule, sure, but for the most part I simply didn't much care for meat.

Naturally, I assumed that, on top of the knowledge that I was trying to swallow sheep stomach, wouldn't do much for my appetite. To be safe, I ordered a very big glass of wine.

On the way to Edinburgh from Dublin, Amanda and I had already pushed the boundaries of our palates. I didn't care for either potatoes or onions, but when the soup of the day in Dublin was potato and chive, I dove right in. I even tried some of Amanda's mash and found I didn't absolutely hate it. In Galway, Amanda ordered the local specialty -- mussels. Then she ordered them the next night as well, and again at lunch a few days later. I had squid for the first time in Belfast. Amanda followed my recommendation and tried banofee pie.

And now we were going to eat haggis.

When it came, I took a big gulp of wine. "I can't believe we're going to eat this."

Amanda took out her camera and snapped a quick photo. "It won't be so bad. Think of it like meatloaf."

She sounded brave, but I noticed when she set down her camera she picked up her beer, not her fork. I was going to have to take the first bite. Which was only fair: I'd set the goal to being with. Then again, I'd suggested we eat blood pudding, which she'd vetoed, and that had left us with haggis. But since there was no use squabbling over the details, I took a bite.

"Oh," I said.

Amanda considered me a moment before she followed suit. She chewed thoughtfully, then set her fork down. "Oh," she agreed.

Our waitress came back. "Ladies, what do you think?"

We answered as one. "It's delicious!"

And it was. It was savory and cooked with scotch whisky and we ate our fill of it without hardly stopping to breathe. I ordered it again the next day for lunch, served on a chicken sandwich (a surprisingly good combo), and when we perused the gift shops in Edinburgh I briefly considered buying "haggis in a can", although after ten seconds of thinking about how gross meat in cans could be I changed my mind. It would have to remain an occasional, when-in-Scotland dish.

We tried a handful of new dishes over the course of the next week and a half, although nothing quite as adventurous as haggis, and it wasn't until we were back in Dublin that we came across a menu item that puzzled us. We had seen it before, but until now we'd never considered eating it.

"Okay," I said, frowning at the menu. "I really think I want the full Irish breakfast today. But I'm not sure what black pudding is. Do you know?"


We considered it for a little while longer before I nodded. "I'm going to get it," I decided. "I'll figure out what it is once I have it in front of me."

Amanda was quiet a moment, then nodded. "Me too," she decided, and went up to the bar to place our order.

It is important to note that while the word "pudding" in the United States typically refers to dessert, Ireland and the United Kingdom have a different use for the word altogether. While they do also use it to refer to desserts (or, if Wikipedia is to be believed, anything sweet served after the main course), it's just as commonly used in reference to savory dishes. Anything from popovers to sausage can be termed a pudding, so when we ordered the black pudding we really weren't sure what to expect.

In the end, our plates came out piled high with eggs, ham, sausage, beans, and toast, and we spent a moment considering the banquet before us.

"This one must be the black pudding," I decided, prodding a round patty with my fork. "Right?"

"It's the only thing I don't recognize," Amanda agreed. Then, after a substantial pause, "You try it first."

I did. All in all, it was different and nothing wholly remarkable, and I told her so. She tried hers and agreed with me, and we ate the rest of our meal. As we were preparing to leave, however, I half-remembered something I'd read a long, long time ago. Rather than bring it up there, however, I decided I would confirm my suspicion the next day, once we were back home, before telling Amanda what I suspected: that we had just eaten the one thing she'd refused to try during our entire sixteen-day excursion overseas. And besides, until I had the internet in front of me, how could I be absolutely sure?

Which reminds me: Amanda, we (accidentally) ate blood pudding. Surprise!

 * Not a typo! This is how they spell it in Scotland.


  1. Man, now I want to fly back to Galway for some good mussels. :)