I’m posting this for Michael and Elliot, who recently had me reminiscing about my encounter with black pudding and haggis. I dug through my old flight journal to retrieve this entry, going all the way back to…
June 25, 1999
My First Time in Brighton, UK
Our crew reached the hotel at a million o’clock in the morning (Eastern Standard Time and otherwise). I had pulled a full shift on no sleep. Visions of a bed with fat pillows raged through my gray matter harder than any sweet sugarplum could. Even if the bed had stupid sheets with stupid paisley patterns in orange and purple to match the stupid curtains, I didn’t care. (There are some hotels that could benefit from the Interior Design Police.) Anything soft that allowed me to get vertical for several hours would suit me fine. It’s not like my eyes would be open long enough to vomit at the decor.
Unfortunately, our hotel wasn’t able to immediately accommodate the crew’s needs. Instead, the apologetic staff offered a three hour wait with a compensatory breakfast buffet. Great. I could eat myself into a food coma with nowhere to pass out.
As the herd of fourteen uniformed zombies gathered around the buffet trough, we half snored and half snorted at the food. I vaguely remember hearing, “Oh look! Black pudding, I’ll have to try that. Traditional English cuisine!”
Pudding can’t be bad, black or otherwise. I took a slab and placed it on my plate. A fellow zombie approached inquiring about the dark cake. Taking a small piece into my mouth, I swirled it around the full surface of my tongue. It was like soggy cardboard cooked in herbs and spices – but not. There was a hint of sweetness to it – but not. It wasn’t too rancid, but it most definitely was NOT good. It lingered over my taste buds like a thick fog. Fog? Frog. No, not frog…
Our International Service Manager appeared to my left, looked at my plate, and spouted, “You’re a brave soul.”
So I replied bravely, “I’ll try anything once.” Just then my sleepy eyes registered the many English folk around the buffet watching with anticipation. I finally asked, “Well, what IS it?”
My ISM, a fabulous prankster, whispered in my ear, “It’s deep fried cow’s blood.”
I laughed, albeit nervously. I felt a look of nearly-nauseous disbelief wash over my face. “You’re such a liar!”
His answer came in the form of a steadfast stare.
I scanned the crowd. Nods of agreement bobbed at me from every angle, reflected in the polished glass of the sneeze guard for double clarification.
“I JUST ATE DEEP FRIED COW’S BLOOD?”
Okay. So what. I didn’t die. I didn’t even puke. I was damn proud of that. I’ve eaten many a strange thing: octopus, squid, eel, oysters, a ham sandwich off a New York City sidewalk, but this was the cake topper.
As if I could prove my audience wrong, I smeared the slab with my fork. Soft, fleshy, red stuff streaked a dark, crimson smudge across my white plate. Not only was it NOT pudding, it wasn’t truly black. A fat clump of clot stuck to the fork.
Now I was ready to hurl. I recognized the residual taste, familiar, metallic, like when I last bit the inside of my cheek. I pictured eating a not-quite-hard scab. The loaf was the consistency of an hour old, coagulated, deep fried flesh wound.
My next move was to find something to mask the flavor. I moved down the buffet and pointed at another dish. I asked the nearest Brit, “What’s this?”
“Haggis.” His tone flashed a smidge of negativity.
“I can read the sign. What’s IN it?” Those nutty English. They turn out a few gems like Monty Python and Fawlty Towers and think they’re funny.
“It’s a Scottish (perhaps he said Irish) dish. It usually has lamb, oatmeal, herbs, spices.”
“Would you put it on your plate?”
I opted for the sausage, eggs, and potatoes with little appetite. No amount of replacement food could erase the horrendous taste. Once we were finally assigned rooms, shots of mouthwash didn’t work either. I couldn’t sleep. I was assaulted by thoughts of some sacrificial, virgin cow being slaughtered to make a loaf of aneurysm.
I found this description from P.G. Wodehouse on Haggis at an internet cafe today:
The fact that I am not a haggis addict is probably due to my having read Shakespeare. It is the same with many Englishmen. There is no doubt that Shakespeare has rather put us off the stuff…. You remember the passage to which I refer? Macbeth happens upon the three witches while they are preparing the evening meal. They are dropping things into the cauldron and chanting “Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog,” and so on, and he immediately recognises the recipe. “How now, you secret, black and midnight haggis,” he cries shuddering.
This has caused misunderstandings and has done an injustice to haggis. Grim as it is, it is not as bad as that– or should not be. What the dish really consists of — or should consist of — is the more intimate parts of a sheep chopped up fine and blended with salt, pepper, nutmeg, onions, oatmeal, and beef suet. But it seems to me that there is a grave danger of the cook going all whimsy and deciding not to stop there. When you reflect that the haggis is served up with a sort of mackintosh round it, concealing its contents, you will readily see that the temptation to play a practical joke on the boys must be almost irresistible. Scotsmen have their merry moods, like all of us, and the thought must occasionally cross the cook’s mind that it would be no end of a lark to shove in a lot of newts and frogs and bats and dogs and then stand in the doorway watching the poor simps wade into them….
Note to self: Never ingest anything without knowing the full goddamn history of it first.