We get together with friends Teena, Phillippe, Gina and Hot Dog quite often (a bit too often for Hot Dog the unsociable creature that he is). And as fate often works in mysterious ways, Teena had come across a butcher that sold Haggis. None of us had tried it although I do have memories of being in Primary School and having a "bring your own plate from your culture" day. My best friend then was Scottish and she brought Haggis. She had it cooking away, the aroma making us all hungry and lining up for a piece. Until she told us what was in it. The line of kids couldn't have disappeared more quickly. And even I am ashamed to admit I abandoned my friend food-wise and I couldn't bring myself to eat it.
Now that I am a more adventurous eater, I lament the lost opportunity. But Teena's suggestion allowed me to try the Haggis on what was coincidentally Robert's Burns's (author of Auld Lang Syne) birthday on January 25th. For those of you unfamiliar, Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish made up of Sheep's pluck (the heart, lung and liver) mixed with suet, oatmeal and seasonings and stuffed into a sheep's stomach. You may be able to understand why we almost fainted when first hearing about it. It is usually served with mash potatoes or "Tatties" and a dram of scotch whisky.[
Although no-one was dressed in a kilt Teena did manage to recite some verses from Robert Burns's "Address to a Haggis"
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.
The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.
That is just part of it as it goes on for a few more verses. I didn't quite understand what she was saying and her Scottish accent may have ran afoul of many a Scot I fear.
As for the Haggis, I made a mash using some organic Dutch Cream potatoes that I got from Alfalfa House which were so creamy that all I needed was the tiniest amount of milk and salt. The Haggis itself wasn't bad although it had a mixed reaction from some not minding it to some rejecting it. Coming out of the boiling water it's certainly a sight to behold, the glistening stomach holding all of the meat inside tightly. Inside we could see the even texture of the oatmeal mixed with the meat with a faint aroma of offal. And I'm glad that I tried it.
I had of course to visit the Hill's Butchery where this Haggis was procured to see what else they offered. After arriving in Scotland in 1982, Ian Ovenstone and his wife wife Lynda have run the store since the mid 1980s. They've been at the current Maroubra location for 15 years and before that, they were in nearby Coogee. Walking in, we see that it's an old fashioned butchery with plenty of Scottish decorations. He's very welcoming, in the way that your memory of a butcher always is, before supermarket packets of plastic covered meat invaded our lives. The shop is steadily busy with him and I manage to get a few minutes with him in a rare quiet moment. I ask him about the Haggis of course and he tells me that last month he said he made an astounding 500-700g kilos of Haggis a week for the Burns Suppers.[
Angus Fillet of beef
Showing us his other goodies, he shows us the Angus 300 day aged beef and whilst expensive at almost $50+ a kilo he says he stocks it because it always sells. There's black pudding (that delicious blood sausage) and also white pudding which is a sausage with oatmeal in it sans blood which he says is best deep fried to lighten it up and make the oats toasty (not surprising, after all Scotland was the country to first deep dry a Mars Bar). There are potato scones, Irish Soda Bread and Scottish pies filled with mince as well as loads of sauces and items should you be wanting to try a bit of Scotland or if you're a Scot, you miss the food. He tells us of many pensioners who come to visit on day trips to buy the food from as far as Gosford.
Black (blood) pudding
Should you be wanting some Haggis, black or white pudding his business also has a mail order service so you can order your Scottish treats online to have them delivered to you and within Sydney it's same day service with everything packed in ice and outside of Sydney everything is packed in dry ice for the trip. He has delivered all over the country, most recently up to Townsville and the Gold Coast. Prices for within Sydney are reasonable (a recent courier delivery was $10 to Dural) and he also vacuum packs everything to ensure freshness and hygeine.
I ask him how his website is doing-a bone of contention for many business who feel that websites or the internet are not worthwhile and he says firmly "It's the best thing I've ever done". He points out that the packaging has the website address displayed prominently and as he is also stocked at all David Jones Food Halls he finds that some people buy direct from him after seeing the website address on the packaging. He also ranks well for Haggis in Australia so that helps enormously. I'm sure Robbie Burns would be proud indeed.
56 Moverly Road, Maroubra, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9344 6219
Open Monday -Friday 7.30am-6pm
For an outline for a traditional Burns Supper, see Wikipedia.