Scotland - Haggis and Whisky at Robbie Burns Night

A wee while ago my friend Neil invited Brence and I to a special mid-winter "Robbie Burns Night" at the University of Canterbury Staff Club. I share Robbie Burns day with my birthday, January 25th, but down here in the southern hemisphere January is the height of summer, so the locals tend to shift some events to the New Zealand winter. For example, we celebrate Christmas in December with the rest of the world, but it's popular for many people to host a "Mid-winter Christmas Dinner" in July. I assume the folks at the staff club felt that a Burns night drinking whisky by the fire was best done in winter.

We agreed this was a great opportunity for Operation Dumpling to explore Scotland and excitedly went out and bought Brence a tartan tie for the occasion. It turns out he was in good company. Many of the guys there (older blokes mostly) were sporting tartan ties and there were a good few kilts wandering about too.

The Staff Club is situated on the University of Canterbury grounds, in a lovely old two-storey historic building, complete with a big wooden bar and large fireplace. It was a great venue - made even better by the fact that we were given a complimentary mulled wine on our arrival.

After enjoying our wine and chit-chat, the official haggis was ceremoniously 'piped in' and some Robbie Burns poetry was recited. Then we all sat down and got ready to eat!

Piping in the haggis


On the menu was haggis and side dishes of mashed potatoes and 'neeps' (mashed turnips). Basically you got a plate with 3 different coloured piles of goo. Hungrily we tucked in:

Look! We're excited about eating haggis!

We're REALLY excited about eating haggis!

Urgh! We are now less than excited about the haggis.

But it's all in good fun - that's what Operation Dumpling is all about!

The haggis was pretty nasty, but not how you might think. The flavour was fine, rather like turkey stuffing, but the texture was appalling. It was extremely smooth and pastey, and trying to eat even a small mouthful made my mouth go all dry and gummed up and I found it impossible to swallow. Neil said that he's had much better haggis (in Scotland, funnily enough) where the texture was a lot nicer than the one we were sampling.

The mashed potatoes were nice enough but the surprise winner of the night was the 'neeps' - I'm not usually a fan of turnips (mashed or otherwise) and I don't know what they did to these ones but thankfully they were delicious.

After dinner we retreated to the bar where we decided to complete our Scottish mission with a small whisky tasting. Neither Brence nor I are whisky drinkers, so we relied on the advice of Neil and the barmaid to select three different ones to sample. They all tasted like Avgas to me, and one in particular (a 'peaty' style) had the aroma and flavour of burnt plastic. They tell me it's an acquired taste, but I think it's one I'll leave unaquired.

Look! We're excited about drinking whisky...

Um, why did nobody tell me it would taste like burnt plastic?

It was fun to sample the different whiskys but I will never understand the appeal of the 'peaty' flavour and will stick to my gin, thank you very much.

So Robbie Burns night was indeed full of interesting flavours. I admit I left feeling a little hungry but was glad to have had a great all-round Scottish experience chalked up on our Operation Dumpling 'mission accomplished' list. Now will somebody please pass the neeps?

3 comments Posted by Sharon on Monday, September 15, 2008