Red herrings

 

As everybody knows, the Scottish Haggis is a furry little animal that is native to the Highlands of Scotland. Little is known about it apart from the fact that it has two legs shorter than the other to enable it to scamper up the hilly slopes, where it feeds only on heather. It is prized for its delicious meat.

 

I’m joking of course, but the above description has been given by many a weary Scotsman having to reply for the thousandth time to a tourist asking him what haggis is. I read an article in the Guardian where it was mentioned that 33% of American tourists in Scotland believed that the haggis is an animal and 23% were actually hoping they could catch one.

 

In fact the haggis is a boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with liver, heart, oats and other ingredients. The less said about what haggis contains, the better, but the truth is that it is delicious.

 

Some people say that the haggis is Scotland’s national dish, and the great poet Robert Burns wrote a tribute to the dish, “To a Haggis”. This ode is traditionally recited on Burns’ Night, held on the poet’s birthday each year, when haggis is eaten with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes).

 

Some people also say that the Scottish national drink is whisky. But they, like those who claim haggis is the national dish, are wrong. In fact, according to several Scottish people who seem too interesting for me not to believe them, the real national meal of Scotland is…wait for it… deep fried pizza and a can of Irn Bru. This is often served with chips and followed by a deep fried Mars Bar. Yummy.

 

Apparently in some parts of Scotland, where, as I understand, the heart attack rates are amongst the highest in Europe, taking something that is loaded with fat and calories, plunging it in batter and frying it is considered a good idea. That said, Greek loukoumades, though delicious, are probably not much healthier.

 

Irn Bru by the way is a kind of caffeinated orange soda that tastes pleasantly medicinal (well, I for one, liked it when I tried it) and is considered an excellent hangover cure. I understand that it is controlled or prohibited in some countries, but the Scots are so attached to it that, when McDonald’s opened their first restaurant in Glasgow and didn’t offer Irn Bru, people protested with pickets until McDonald’s relented and began selling the drink.

 

As far as strange national delicacies go, the pizza supper sounds nowhere as unpleasant as surstromming, fermented herring from Northern Sweden, a food which some people swear by while others do not even want to be in the same country as. This is a food which some airlines like British Airways and Air France have recently banned from their planes (much to the chagrin of the Swedish Surstromming Academy) firstly because it stinks to high heaven and secondly because it is considered as (I am not making this up) liable to explode. 

To make the dish, herring is caught just before it is ready to spawn, stored in barrels where it ferments, and then tinned. Once it is tinned, it continues to ferment, and tins of surstromming can bloat to double their original size. Because they are so pressurized, cans of surstromming have been known to spill forcefully like a can of beer or cola does when it is shaken before opening. When opened, the smell of surstromming is said to be so overpowering that the can only be opened outdoors and underwater and handled at arms length and the reddish-grey contents, usually served on a thin, soft bread must be chewed and swallowed as quickly as possible. The smell has been likened to that of rubbish left to rot in the sun for a day or five. The taste, everyone seems to agree, is not as bad as the smell.

 

This is all not to say that we don’t make some things in Cyprus that other people find foul-smelling. I remember making trahanas (the sour tasting soup made with wheat soaked in fermenting milk) with a friend at his English aunt’s house and seeing her rush downstairs to open all the windows. And to be fair I have not tried surstromming. I think maybe one day I will try it, but I am not very brave and it is not very high in my list of priorities. In fact, it is just below bungee jumping and only slightly above eating several bowlfuls of live worms.

 

 

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