Nine years ago today I received my mission call to Scotland (which has been just enough time for me to learn to correctly pronounce "Edinburgh"), so it's appropriate that I've reached Burns Night in my holiday season recap.
Burns Night, commemorating the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, is technically on January 25, the day of his birth, but many hold their Burns suppers on the weekend nearest the day, so I don't feel bad about celebrating a day late this year.
The night may have slipped my mind completely this year if not for Jenny Hansen reminding me in a comment she left on an earlier blog post. Jenny (back in her Maloney days) accompanied me to a Burns supper at BYU several years ago; the year before that my friend Emily and I got into the supper for free so we could cover it for NewsNet (I can only find the preview for some reason).
Burns Suppers at BYU are pretty similar to those held all over the world, except there's no Scotch, so they're really not that similar at all. You can find a more detailed description of a traditional Burns Supper here. If you're not familiar with Burns' work, you should be, and you can remedy that here. Most people have probably heard more of his stuff than they realize--Auld Lang Syne, for example.
(Quick mission story: when I lived in Johnstone my companion and I taught a crazy middle-aged man named Michael Bonner. He claimed that his house was once the home of Robert Semple, who he claimed was the original author of Auld Lang Syne; Burns supposedly visited Semple, took his poem and changed it up a little. Michael also gave me a rock from Mt. Sinai, which I believe I still have somewhere, and he told us he once caused an earthquake by snapping a twig off of the burning bush. A real "nutter," as I would've said in Scotland, and it would've sounded funny in an American accent.)
Back to Burns Night '08...I knew I wouldn't be attending an actual Burns Supper, but I wanted to come as close as I could. I knew of a place called A Salt & Battery, an authentic English fish and chip shop; I knew they wouldn't have haggis, and some Scots would probably rather have me eat pizza on Burns Day than go to an English chippy, but I thought it might be the best I could do. I had some fish and chips, and it was great, but the highlight was dessert--this place sells battered Mars bars, which are definitely more of a Scottish (and American) thing than an English thing.
I wrote about battered Mars bars on the old LOL blog, so I'll forbear going into much detail here. Just know that they're great. Here's a picture of my friend David "enjoying" one when he was in town with his wife Marlene visiting me two weeks ago.
Marlene took one bite and described it as "a carnival gone wrong." But I still love it.
The chip shop is in Greenwich Village, an area I hadn't been in much, so I decided to walk around a little. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was in NYC's not-so-famed "wee Britain" (yes, I stole that from Arrested Development, but it's a way better name than "Little Britain"). It's not nearly as extensive as Little Italy, Chinatown, etc.--pretty much five shops in a row--but the entire Village has kind of a British feel to it.
Next door to A Salt & Battery is a little sweet shop (the doorway is actually an old British phone box, which I found cool), and I went in and bought a Galaxy bar, the finest pure chocolate bar there is (having just consumed a battered Mars bar, I saved it for later). Expecting either a "no" or directions to some super-pricey deli, I asked the clerk if he knew where I could get haggis. Surprisingly, he directed me to Myers of Keswick, a small grocery store a few blocks away.
The place had everything! Well, lots of stuff...all the chocolates and biscuits that the other place had, plus "staples" like beans, brown sauce, dilute juice, golden treacle, spotted dick, Scotch broth, Weetabix...and there, on the top shelf, for a mere $9.50, haggis in a can.
Yes, in a can. I'd never had it that way before, or paid that much for it, but it's pretty much a once-a-year food, so I didn't mind. I bought a can, plus some Penguin biscuits (one of my favorite treats on the mish, in part because there are corny jokes on the wrappers--"What do you call a penguin in the desert?" "Lost."). Biscuits are cookies, by the way.
This all happened during the day, so Burns Night technically hadn't happened yet. Fortunately, I had an event to go to that night where I could share my treasured meat by-product. Next time, I'll relive the Burns "Night of Champions" for you and let you know if anyone was brave enough to try the haggis.