Eating Offal: notes from Scotland

by Jeff Oaks

I tried the Haggis; it wasn’t bad, although, because it’s made of ground sheep offal (read: anatomical parts no one wants to visibly eat) mixed with oats and spices, all non-Scots expect it to be bizarre, awful-tasting. It’s at once a joke and a test, a question I wanted answered early about myself. The texture was a little strange to me, not being brought up on minced meat, but it was not unlike those meatloaves the cook has put just a little too much bread into.

There were a number of things that turned out to be, if not a complete pleasure, not as bad as I’d thought. The problem was always in my imagination, never on my actual tongue. 

I tried both freshly opened oysters and scallops (as in: I was on the boat I saw the fisherman’s hand use the knife to pry open the shells and then cut “free” the life (called euphemistically “the meat”) inside from its life), and as I tipped the shell into my mouth, I was surprised that the goopy sliminess I imagined (as in: a snort of snot, a squirt of jizz) didn’t exist and instead they possessed a density any slightly salted steak might have. 

Too late I tried the Cullen Skink, a sort of stew of fresh haddock and potatoes which I then could not get enough of, because I knew the word Skink as a salamander and I had a hard time swallowing lizard, never mind that skink means in Scots a shin or knuckle of beef and laterally a soup made from bits. No question: the best bowl was on the Isle of Arran, in an excellent small bistro called Fiddlers, which is where I finally ordered it, if only just to say I’d tried it. After that, I wanted it every time I sat down.

Carrots and potatoes and, oh holy of holy root vegetables!, parsnips. Baked, buttered, carmelized, fried, dauphinoise (mixed with cheese and cream), the quiet good of the earth, the too-often rejected. 

The sticky toffee pudding was in fact a piece of sponge cake made with dates and drenched with caramel or butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice cream. Pudding, that word haunted by puddles and mud and thick goos. That I hesitated ordering this even once because I thought I knew what pudding meant haunts me still. 

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