27 January 2010

Haggis, anyone?

Just when I thought that I was going to run out of interesting topics to write about, a conversion of multi-cultural experiences converged on one day.

Yesterday, I was signed up to attend formal hall at Sommerville College. When I signed up for it, the day of the week (Tuesday) and the week of term (2) were all that was listed, so my mental alarms didn't go off that I had other things that I should be doing on that particular day. But, I had already paid for the meal, so somewhat grudgingly, I went along. You should also know that any time you attend these dinners, you always have the option to request a vegetarian meal. I have reached a point in my life where this declaration is a real dilemma. I do eat meat-less meals a fair bit of the time, and the vegetarian cuisine is often much better than the traditional dish. However, there are a few things that make this a challenging decision. First, I am not a real vegetarian, so I feel like I am lying (or being opportunistic) by laying claim to the term in this setting. Secondly, while the vegetarian cuisine is often much better than the meat-lovers dish, when it is worse, it is much worse. So, this is a moral and pragmatic dilemma.

About mid-way through the "meet and mingle" time at the Sommerville MCR, I discovered that on this particular evening, Sommerville was celebrating Burn's Day. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burns_supper). Initially, I was confused because I had heard about Burns Suppers on Saturday (at Balliol) and Sunday (at Magdalen), so I was sure that this guy's birthday had come and passed. However, after the confusion had settled, dread set in.

You see, on Burns Day, they serve haggis.

"Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver, lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours....Haggis is a kind of sausage, or savoury pudding cooked in a casing of sheep's intestine, as sausages are."

But, I shouldn't have been that worried, because "Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather thanan actual stomach." What a relief. Ironically, just a few days before I stumbled into my own Burns Supper, I had been talking to a friend and declaring that haggis is one thing that I did not think I would ever try. And now, I got the opportunity to eat my words. (Unfortunately, in this setting, I wish it had only been my words that I was eating.)

In addition to this fine cuisine, Burns Supper is complete with kilts, bagpipes, and the reading of a poem in Scottish (which is supposed to be a dialect of English, but definitely sounded like its own language). If you are wondering how the haggis was, it really didn't taste that bad, but the mental awareness of what was in it prevented me from finishing it. (I imagine it would be kind of like eating a hot dog as someone read off a list of ingredients of what was actually inside the hot dog.)

As if this wasn't enough culture for one evening, this event also coincided with Australia Day (their version of the fourth of July). It was truly a melting pot experience (though I don't want to think about what was actually melting together...).

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