Ode to a Haggis: The History of Scotland’s National Dish




” Perhaps more than any other food, haggis has an exceptionally bad reputation. This Scottish national dish—a mix of sheep’s innards, oatmeal and spices, all wrapped up in a sheep stomach—has been the butt of jokes for years. It’s a dish that people love to hate, even if some of those critics haven’t had a chance to taste it in over 40 years. That’s because importing real Scottish haggis to the United States has been illegal since 1971, thanks to a ban on foods containing sheep’s lungs.

But while the dish’s exact provenance remains in doubt, food historians agree that it was a peasant food. Encasing hard-to-cook cuts like lungs and intestines along with undesirable muscle meats like liver and kidneys into a convenient stomach packaging would have been a wonderful way to feed a group—while making sure no meat went to waste.

Haggis languished uncelebrated until 1787, when poet Robert Burns penned his great ode “Address to a Haggis.” In his poem, Burns declares his love for the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race” and glorifies what was a poor man’s food into a dish greater than any French ragout or fricassee.”