Hello and welcome to another throwback edition of Mastication Monologues! I’ve finally made it out of the Eastern European leg of posts (Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary), and now time to focus on Western Europe. Where better to start than the land that has given us Sean Connery, the Loch Ness Monster, and Groundskeeper Willie among many other great cultural exports: mighty mighty Scotland!
My first and only visit to Scotland was during the summer following my graduation from undergrad in 2010. It seems like forever ago, but it was an enchanting place to explore. We started first in Edinburgh which is often mispronounced by Americans as “Eh din burg” instead of how the locals say it “Eh din burra”. Luckily, I learned my best Scottish accent from the previously mentioned surly yet totally hilarious Groundskeeper Willie who we aren’t quite sure where he hails from. Aberdeen? North Kilt Town? Who knows? Either way, I at least didn’t get made fun of by any of the locals or when out on the town with my friend, Sandy, and his sister’s friends. Linguistic differences aside, the Scots are wonderful people and very proud of their heritage, especially in Edinburgh. My parents and I walked along the Royal Mile, the Edinburgh Castle, and gazed at Arthur’s Seat from afar among many other famous sights.
We also took a trip to Glasgow, the knife crime capital of Europe, but I found it to be the rougher, more realistic Scotland compared to the neat and shiny Edinburgh. While there, we visited both Rangers and Celtic Football Clubs a.k.a. The Old Firm. This is one of the fiercest sporting rivalries in the world which makes Bears vs. Packers look like a day in the Brady Bunch House. What makes the relationship between these two clubs particularly tense is that they were traditionally divided along political and religious lines. Rangers being pro-Union with England and Protestant while Celtic is pro-Scottish independence and Catholic. The clashes of Protestant versus Catholic left the battlefields of Europe and were transferred to soccer rivalries. Hundreds of people have died or been victims of violence caused by the tension between the warring tribes. Even back in 2011, then manager and former Celtic player Neil Lennon received packages containing bullets and death threats from Protestant supporters. Luckily, my visits were much more peaceful minus the fierce winds. Along with the futbol, we sampled a bit of the local flavor in the form of haggis. Now, if you’ve never heard of this quintessentially Scottish dish, brace yourself for this description. It is a sheep’s stomach stuffed with hearts, lungs, liver, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt. It is all then boiled for around three hours and then sliced or minced. This organ rich dish even has its own special dinner and poem dedicated to the memory of Scottish poet Robert Burns. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any fanfare when this meat dish was placed in front of me along with the naughty sounding neeps and tatties on the side (those are turnips and potatoes, respectively, in Scottish English, pervs). I started with the haggis and was pleasantly surprised.
It was rich, beefy, yet slightly nutty, but it wasn’t heavy at all. It was almost like a meat granola in texture which I could imagine was due to the oatmeal. The oat crackers on the side didn’t help it at all since they tasted like eating cardboard coasters. The neeps were ok. They were lightly salted with more of a neutral flavor. The tatties tasted like standard mashed potatoes. After finishing off my haggis, I should have washed it down with a warm glass of Glenfiddich, but I found something that was both eye-catching and super Scottish. It was a drink called Irn Bru or Iron Brew pronounced with a thick Scottish burr. Not only was this soda radioactive orange, but it was so sweet I could feel the enamel being stripped off my teeth with every sip. Totally worth it to cap off my visit to the North.