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

Italy - Pepperoni Pizza

Venturing out on another Operation Dumpling mission, we went in search of a small pizza place that had been recommended to Sharon by a friend at her work. I am no stranger to pizza and I have eaten my fair share; however, keeping with the theme of Operation Dumpling I don't think it would be right to eat any old pizza from the local Pizza Hut or Dominoes and to tick it off as a pin in Italy -- that would be too easy, too boring and probably would not taste particularly nice.

Sharon's friend recommended that we try out a little pizza restaurant in Christchurch called Pepperoni. After being told great tales of the hand-tossed pizza bases and scrumptious toppings at Pepperoni, we were anxious to try the place out

Sharon and I found ourselves driving slowly down Stanmore Road with a string of cars backing up behind us as we looked for the restaurant. It had been a long day and were eagerly anticipating the delicious pizza that we would soon be eating. Finally, in the fading light, we spotted the word 'Pepperoni' in large painted letters across the banner of a small establishment. After the stellar recommendation and the aching hunger in my belly I was initially disappointed with what I saw.

the extremely downbeat exterior of Pepperoni (made somewhat worse by the fact that we forgot our camera and had to take all the photos with Sharon's phone)

The outside of the restaurant was very unassuming and slightly run down, with fading paint and a very ordinary appearance - one that vaguely resembled the relics of a former corner dairy or fish and chip shop. It was also directly across the street from a really low-rent looking "Bargain Lounge Suites" furniture clearance warehouse.

However, from many other Operation Dumpling adventures we have discovered that looks can be deceiving (as the China Kitchen will attest), so with that in mind we headed inside, driven by a strong desire to find some of the delicious pizza that we had been promised!

We were politely received by a waitress as soon as we walked in and escorted to a nice romantic little table tucked away in the back corner. The interior of the restaurant was simple, but very nicely decorated. A massive mural on the back wall of a beach scene viewed through a 'fake' window (a bit like when Wyle E. Coyote paints a train tunnel on a rock wall) gave the impression of dining in a small beachside venue and, despite sounding a bit tacky, we both admitted it had a certain appeal and for some strange reason to both of us felt like we were in an 'authentic' little Italian hideaway. Neither of us have ever been to Italy so we're not sure our feelings of authenticity were themselves authentic, but the bottom line is that the place is quite cute and does feel a bit like a hidden treasure only the locals know about.
Can you see the beach? It's there, through the "window"

We made ourselves comfortable at our cosy corner table. The waitress brought over a candle to add some romantic flair and provide a tiny amount of light in our cozy enclave. We ordered garlic bread and red wine to tide us over while we choose our pizza. The garlic bread was fantastic; big hunking slices of baguette, and the chef certainly didn't hold back on the garlic!
Sharon eyeing up the garlic bread!
Luckily for us, a table near us had their pizza delivered before we ordered our pizza...and we realised how huge they are! We decided one pizza would be more than enough for the two of us. We settled on something suitable meaty from the large selection on offer.The service was very efficient and friendly, and our pizza arrived about 10 minutes after we ordered, and thankfully it looked like it would live up to its reputation.

Pepperoni make all their pizza bases from scratch and they are 'hand-tossed', which is the traditional Italian way. This means that back in the kitchen there is a stocky Italian guy wearing a chef's hat, a red scarf and sporting a bushy mustache who is twirling flat pieces of dough as it is thrown in the air to stretch it out. Unfortunately I did not get to see the chef, but I can only imagine what must have been going on back there. The result is a slightly misshapen and lumpy pizza - a far cry from the cookie-cutter perfect round and flat pizza from your local Pizza Hut or other similar pizza-mega-mart. Much like an organic apple, which is not all shiny and perfectly round, the pizza just looked more 'natural', and comparably, like the the organic apple, it also tasted much better than the mass-produced variety.

The pizza was indeed very, very good. Full of flavour and not too heavy on the cheese...not that I have anything against cheese, but you can overdo it. The pizza base is of the thinner variety, which I know that some people don't like but Sharon and I both prefer. I think the thinner base helps to bring out the flavour of the toppings. The meal was also reasonably priced - obviously more expensive than going to Pizza Hut, but typical of a pizza restaurant - in the $15-20 range per pizza.

So, lucky for us, the recommendation of Pepperoni was a good one and we extend the recommendation to anyone else interested in a quiet slice of authentic and well-made Italian pizza.
1 comments Posted by B on Saturday, September 13, 2008