Travel

Haggis

 

Haggis on display in a Scottish market

Haggis on display in a Scottish market

I swore an oath to myself that if we ever visited Scotland I would try the haggis. It’s pretty much their national dish. Well, that ticket was punched a little over a week ago during our long anticipated trip. And judging by the reaction of our fellow diners, I think I’m owed some kind of medal or something.

Seriously though, the haggis didn’t taste as terrible as I had imagined. I’m not saying I’ll be whipping up a batch anytime soon (sheep stomach, sheep heart, sheep lung, and sheep heart are in short supply at our local market, gratefully), but at least I was able to keep it down while dining in polite company. It tasted of nutmeg and spices and it was silky soft. The silky soft component was a bit tougher to swallow because I knew exactly what I was eating, but I tried really hard not to think about it. I figured that if I could eat a slimy bowl of bird’s nest soup (google it on an empty stomach) during our visit to Singapore a few years ago, and survived to tell about it, haggis was a piece of cake.

We encountered many permutations of this savory “pudding” called haggis (FYI, pudding is a different animal in the UK; no pun intended): haggis bonbons (yup, you read that correctly), haggis with neeps and taties (turnips and potatoes), haggis pasties (small pies), and haggis pasta (think Bolognese). Haggis is on breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus in dining rooms across this beautiful country. We even spied a restaurant in Aviemore, Scotland, called the happy haggis.

Haggis with neeps and taties

I ate haggis with neeps and taties, which you is pictured in the photo above. I apologize for the poor image quality. The lighting in the room was terrible. Maybe they didn’t want tourists to get a good look at what they were putting in their mouths?? Just a theory.

Robert Burns is the national poet of Scotland and every year – on or around January 25th – people celebrate his birthday by holding a Burns supper (held often at Burns Clubs!) where they dine on haggis and Scotch whiskey (wise choice) is the traditional beverage to be consumed with ones haggis. During the event they recite Robert’s poetry and most importantly his “Address to a Haggis.” How could you not fall in love with a country that adores its national poet so much that they’ve created a memorial supper, with clubs, to honor him? How cool is that?

In closing, if you’re feeling ambitious and wish to terrorize your friends at an upcoming dinner party, here’s a traditional Scottish recipe for homemade haggis –

Ingredients-

1 sheep’s stomach or ox secum, cleaned and thoroughly scalded, turned inside out, and soaked overnight in cold salted water.

Heart, lungs, and liver of one lamb

450g/1 pound of beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean

2 onions, finely chopped

225g/8 oz. oatmeal

1 tbsp. salt

1 tsp. ground black pepper

1 tsp. ground dried coriander

1 tsp. mace

1 tsp. nutmeg

Water enough to cook the haggis

Stock from lungs and trimmings

Preparation-

Wash the lungs, heart, and liver. Place in a large pan of cold water with the meat trimmings and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 hours.

When cooked, strain off the stock and set the stock aside.

Mince the lungs, heart, liver, and trimmings.

Put the minced mixture in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions, oatmeal and spices. Mix well and add enough stock to moisten the mixture. It should have a crumbly consistency.

Spoon the mixture into the sheep’s stomach so it’s just over half full. Sew up the stomach with strong thread and prick a couple of times so it doesn’t explode while cooking.

Put the haggis in a pan of boiling water (enough to cover it) and cook for 3 hours without a lid. Keep adding more water to keep it covered.

To serve, cut open the haggis and spoon out the filling. Serve with neeps and tatties. Pour yourself a LARGE Scotch and may the force be with you. Oh, and if you do prepare haggis for you and yours, please let me know. I’d love to hear how it was received.

Eat more haggis!

April

“Fair and full is your honest, jolly face,

Great chieftain of the sausage race!

Above them all you take your place,

Stomach, tripe, or intestines:

Well are you worthy of a grace

As long as my arm…..” – Robert Burns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mofongo

La Pasion in Fajardo, Puerto RicoWe were in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, recently and had some killer mofongo that I’d like to tell you about. For those of you on the East Coast who travel to Puerto Rico for the only true SAD cure: abundant sunshine and a refueling of your vitamin D reservoir, I highly suggest you make note of this great eatery.

We stayed on the tip of Fajardo – a little over an hour’s drive from San Juan –  at a place called the El Conquistador, which contained several restaurants; however, none could even begin to compete with the off property restaurant, Pasion pro el Fogon: a mofongo maestro.

We arrived in a cab and were greeted by a small squat building situated in a sloping parking lot that held too few parking spaces. We climbed out and approached the door.  I pulled on the handle only to discover that the door was locked. My first thought was that Pasion was closed, so I turned and looked back at our driver who was beginning to put his van in reverse and back out of the small lot. He dropped his window and instructed us to ring the buzzer on the wall to my left, so I quickly complied. A woman appeared, looked us up and down through the glass, and apparently made a snap judgement that we weren’t there to rob them blind. Sadly, Puerto Rico is suffering with over $70 million in debt and has been reduced to junk status by Standard and Poor. As a result, the island is now suffering from pervasive crime, a ridiculously high unemployment rate, decaying schools, and the mass exodus of its most educated/highly trained to find employment and a better life elsewhere. There are literally bars on every window. It’s just tragic.

Mofongo’s a Peurto Rican dish with strong ties to West Africa. Invading Spanish Conquistadors nearly wiped out the native people of Puerto Rico – the Tainos – and then they found themselves lacking a population to do all of the work; hence, the importation/enslavement of West Africans on the now American Territory and the influence of their cuisine.

African fufu is a dish that’s pounded with a mortar and pestle, just like mofongo. Fufu  might contain either plantains, yams, or other tubers. Cuba, too, has its own version of mofongo. It’s called machuquillo there and the element that ties them together is green plantains.

Chef Myrta Perez Toledo is frequently on site, but she was too busy for us to bother her on this evening. I did, however, snap a picture of a picture of Chef Myrta :).

Mofongo Maven

Mofongo maven Chef Myrta.

The mofongo menu at Pasion.

The mofongo list/menu at Pasion.

Roger and I shared fried pastelillos (very similar to empanadas) stuffed with spiced beef as an appetizer.

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Pasion mashes their mofongo plantains with garlic, olive oil, and BACON. Who can resist bacon? So when in Rome… I had to order the mofongo. I decided on the chicken with Puerto Rican sauce and Roger had the red snapper mofongo (recommended by the taxi driver). Both were decadent and delicious.

Chicken mofongo.

Chicken mofongo.

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Red snapper mofongo.

Red snapper mofongo.

I’ve searched the internet for a good mofongo recipe, but have had trouble locating one.  I did find one on this website: http://sanjuanfoodtours.com/cooking-puerto-rican-styl/

Puerto Rico has such beautiful beaches, and people. I sincerely hope that their current fiscal mess can be sorted out before the only revenue stream they currently enjoy, tourism, doesn’t dry up, too. Go visit and eat some mofongo!

Eat Well!

April

Lion City

We depart Singapore this afternoon and I’m uploading my remaining photos. This city/state is truly impressive, in every sense of the word. We were here about five years ago and we’ve been stunned at how many sparkly new skyscrapers have been erected since our last visit.

Singapore is the fourth leading financial center in the world, and has the fifth busiest port in the world. From our hotel room we can see dozens of freighter ships lined up in the harbor waiting to be liberated of their haul. Singapore’s name derives from the Malay Palembang word Singapura, which translates to Lion City. English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil are the four main languages spoken in Singapore and their population is diverse. All signs in Singapore are in English first, which makes navigating the city/state super easy. It also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and you feel safe walking the streets no matter what time of the day. The people of Singapore are uber friendly and take a genuine interest in getting to know about you and where you come from. Many questions are asked of you while you ride in the back of their taxis. It’s very sweet.

Singapore gained its independence from the UK in August of 1963 and they have prospered beyond everyone’s wildest imagination. They will be celebrating their nation’s 48th birthday (independence) on August 31st and we’ve been witnessing (daily!!!) their rehearsals for the upcoming festivities. The stadium where the big event will occur is directly across from out hotel. Last evening we had dinner at Ku De Ta (www.kudeta.com.sg) in the Marina Bay Sands Tower 3 on the 57th floor and we watched the “rehearsal” fireworks during our meal. It’s clear that no expense will be spared to ensure a flawless ceremony!

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We have enjoyed some AMAZING meals! The last time we were here we couldn’t get into Iggy’s so we were  psyched that we were able to get reservations. We went with friends and ordered off on of their three tasting menus. It was both imaginative and yummy. Here are a few photos of the dishes we were served-

Nicoise: tuna, butter bean, quail egg, and anchovy.

“Nicoise:” tuna, butter bean, quail egg, and anchovy.

"Chlorophyll:" Sea and soil.

“Chlorophyll:” Sea and soil.

The small caper-looking balls are called sea grapes. This pretty seaweed is made up of tiny balls. It grows on rocks and coral rubble in small clumps.Very intriguing!

The small caper-looking balls are called sea grapes. This pretty seaweed is made up of tiny balls and it grows on rocks and coral rubble in small clumps.Very intriguing!

"Fava:" fava and truffle risotto

“Fava:” fava and truffle risotto

"Salmon:" salmon, lily bulb, rhubard, and clam stock.

“Salmon:” salmon, lily bulb, rhubard, and clam stock.

"Peanut:" peanut, orange, and celery. The white crumbs are the peanut flavored chunks that have been frozen with nitrogen.

“Peanut:” peanut, orange, and celery. The white crumbs are chunks of whipped cream that have been frozen with liquid nitrogen.

It was an amazing experience.

If you’re ever in Singapore, you should take a ride on the cable cars, visit the aquarium, go to the botanical gardens, visit Chinatown, and hit one of their very cool Hawker Centers. Hawker Centers contain a melting pot of different cuisines: Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, etc., etc. We happened to visit Lau Pa Sat: http://www.laupasat.biz/home.html. Frankly, Roger and I wandered around for about an hour before we could finally decide where to get some food. We were short on time so we went in the late morning before the crowds arrived. There were MANY exotic dishes being offered!

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IMG_1981IMG_1980IMG_1962IMG_1965I’m going to wrap this post up with our unbelievable experience driving to the airport (I’m in the airport typing this now) today. So, we (Roger and me) were the lucky recipients of another smiling, friendly, and elderly taxi driver. Our luggage was packed into the car and we climbed in the back taking a last look around as we were drove away from our hotel. About 10 minutes into the drive we were on the freeway heading to Changi airport. I knew something was wrong when I noticed our car driving slower and slower and beginning to swerve into the other lane. I looked forward at our driver, who had been asking us a million questions two minutes prior, and I noticed that he had his Samsung smartphone out and he was typing on it….while trying to read from a piece of paper! Needless to say, we began to get very concerned. I leaned forward and asked what he was doing; he informed me that he was setting up a FB ACCOUNT! NO JOKE! On the FREEWAY! We have had some crazy taxi experiences in our lives (India and Hanoi stand out the most), but this one took the cake. He saw me leaning forward with a look of concern so he passed me the phone and instructed me (in heavily accented English) to fill in the blanks for his new FB account. We made up a password for him and began to fill in the other empty spaces when I just handed the phone to Roger. Roger showed much more patience than I and had entered all of his necessary information when we realized that he supplied us with his home phone number rather than his mobile phone number, therefore, there was no way to reply to the text FB would send confirming his new account. I kid you not. You can’t make this s**t up.

WTF?

WTF?

Bye bye crazy cabbie!

Bye bye crazy cabbie!

So, the cabbie drops us off and we walk into the terminal to check into our flight. Imagine our surprise (NOT) when we discover our cab driver took us to the WRONG terminal. Unbelievable. Anyway, all’s well that ends well. We’re about to walk down to our gate and climb on board our plane. What an experience. We would like to give our cab driver, Mr. Chin, a shout out for the laughs and the interesting experience.

Eat well!

April