Living in Dumfries, Rabbie Burns, the great Scottish poet, has been part of our lives since we were tiny. He’s buried in St Michaels churchyard after spending the last few years of his life in a house just across the street from the church. During January through to March there are Burns Supper celebrations all over the world, celebrating the great Bards works.
Years ago, the company I worked for, invited a customer from Korea to a small Burns supper, set up especially for them. The works had a place nicknamed ‘The Golden Trough’ where such events were held. It was my first time in the ‘Trough’, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I remember being introduced to the Koreans. They seemed nice people. They seemed excited about the prospect of the Burns Supper. Me?…. Well, I’d had Haggis, neeps and tatties the two previous nights, and, as a result, I wasn’t quite as excited as our Korean friends.
We were ushered through to the Golden Trough. It was nice. A bit cozy and bijou, with a lovely table decorated with candles, floral debris and obligatory tartan items.
We were seated, Scot, Korean, Scot, Korean, Scot, English 😳, Scot, Korean etc. The little Korean to my left turned round to me and said…. ‘I velly much rooking forward to tasting ra haggis’
I smiled at him and said ‘yes, It’s very nice…..’
Suddenly, the opportunity for a Scottish Korean cultural exchange was cut short by the bellowing of bagpipes from the doorway. A lone piper entered the room, followed by one of our workers, dressed in a kilt, carrying the haggis on a silver salver. Now, I love bagpipes. Especially when someone tries something new with them. However, in a tiny room, at full pelt, playing a tune you’ve heard a million times before, they are excruciating.
I nearly broke protocol and put my fingers in my ears, before realising this would not be a good tone to set for the evening. Thankfully, after 2 or 3 circumnavigations of the table, the bagpipes eventually stopped.
I’d never seen anyone ‘address the haggis’ before, so the next few minutes were an eye opener. The chap they’d chosen to do the address, was someone I worked with. He went at it with such vigour and aplomb. He was brilliant. By the time he’d slit open the haggis with a silver dirk, even I was scared stiff. As the blade slowly sliced open the membrane, the haggis oozed from the sheeps stomach like a slimy grey lava flow.
Realistically, it looked revolting. I looked round the table. The Koreans were mesmerised…………..
Address to a Haggis
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
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.
His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?
Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!
But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.
Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis
After some loud clapping, smiling and more clapping, there was a gap while the dead haggis was taken away to the mortuary to be revived, only to be returned ten minutes later as…….. ………..TINY LITTLE PORTIONS WITH EVEN TINIER PORTIONS OF NEEPS AND TATTIES…..
What had happened to it? Had it shrunk in the microwave whilst being reheated. Or, had they dropped the silver salver on the way to the kitchen. Either way, despite having had haggis on the two previous evenings, the portion was miserly? One mouthful and it would be gone. I was starving as well, as I’d expected some huge seventeen course meal with wine. After all, it was called The Golden Trough 😳
Two seconds later my plate was empty. I turned to my small Korean friend. The sight that met my eyes has lived with me ever since. The little Korean was drenched in sweat. Beads of water trickled down his face. He looked as if he’d completed a half marathon from his seat.
He noticed me staring at him…….
‘I verry solly……..I no can eat…….ra haggis’
The poor soul was so embarrassed at not being able to eat our national dish. He was one step away from a panic attack. I touched his arm, smiled. I swapped our plates. Within two seconds, I’d cleared his tiny portion as well. An instant bond was formed between us, and, since that day, neither of us have ever seen nor heard of each other.
I have no intention of visiting Korea to reciprocate his brave attempt with Korean cuisine, but, as I’m having my haggis tonight, I’ll raise a glass to my little Korean. ☺️
You can read about Robert Burns life here….
‘Burns Night And The Little Korean’ was brought to you by David Linden aka @qosfc1919 on Twitter and by Dodo Productions © 2015