A Traditional Scottish Burns’ Night Supper

A Traditional Scottish Burns' Night Supper

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit Scotland in late January, you’ll know that Burns’ Night, celebrated on the 25th, is a very special day for the nation: bigger even than St. Andrew’s Day on 30 November, which honours the national patron saint. Burns’ Night (or Burns Night, but never, ever Burn’s Night!) marks the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns. Writing in English, Scots, and occasionally in a ‘gentle’ or ‘watered-down’ version of Scots that was accessible to English-speakers around the globe, he put Scotland on the literary map and had a far-reaching influence on arts and culture in many countries.

His poem To a Mouse is said to contain the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men (“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”), while his song A Red, Red Rose has been covered by a number of artists, and Bob Dylan has said that its lyrics were the single biggest influence on his music. Finally, Auld Lang Syne has become synonymous with New Year celebrations all over the Western Hemisphere.

You might think that one of these famous writings would feature in the traditional Burns’ Supper, but in fact the festivities are centred around a different poem, less well known outside of Scotland: Address to a Haggis. We know that Rabbie Burns was passionate about his nation, its language and culture, so it stands to reason that this would extend to Scotland’s national dish, to which Burns dedicated the eight-stanza poem in 1786. Every 25th of January, Scottish communities around the world make a toast to this meaty, savoury pudding as part of a three-course meal which also often includes the smoked fish stew cullen skink as an appetiser, mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) with whisky sauce to accompany the haggis itself, and cranachan, a cream and raspberry trifle, for dessert.

A traditional Scottish Burns' Night Supper with 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 poem begins by praising the humble but beloved haggis, building up to the third stanza, in which the haggis is ceremoniously sliced open, allowing the filling to spill out from its casing in a dramatic burst of steam and aroma.

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,
Warm-reekin, rich!

While the haggis is dished up and doused in whisky sauce to be served to the guests, the poem goes on to describe the Scottish feast that will ensue, comparing it to finer French and Italian dishes with no small amount of scorn and presenting haggis as the wholesome fuel of Scotland’s warriors.

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.

In some Burns’ Night celebrations, the food (supper) is the main attraction; however, in many, it is simply a precursor to the evening’s entertainment: a traditional Scottish cèilidh, in which a live band plays while the guests perform the scripted steps they all learned in school, dancing in pairs or sets, skipping and whirling around in a dizzying display until they might begin to regret filling their bellies quite so full of haggis, beer and whisky. Even if you’re not brave enough (or too sensible!) to visit Scotland in January, make sure you find yourself a cèilidh to go to: you won’t regret it.

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Global Food Trends in 2017

Global food trends for 2017

This month, I’ve been reading all kinds of predictions about what will be the Next Big Thing in 2017, from individual ingredients to overarching shifts in the way we purchase and consume food. Given the variation in food culture between countries, one would expect trends to vary just as widely; and while certain dishes and cooking styles are more popular in some countries than others, I was surprised to discover that many of the same tendencies do appear in French and Spanish publications as well as British and American ones. I think it’s safe to attribute this to the influence of the Internet, perhaps especially English-language content, on what is trending in other nations. Today’s post will take an overall view of the predicted food trends for 2017 that are cropping up everywhere.

  1. Conscious consumerism

While every nation has their own concerns and preoccupations, we can’t deny that many of the geopolitical issues currently facing us are global in nature: the increasing population, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources affect us all. So it’s not surprising that consumers are responding to these global issues in a similar fashion, regardless of where they are: using their purchasing power to reject practices they don’t agree with, and support those they do. Whether it’s by choosing a vegetarian, vegan or ‘flexitarian’ diet, by opting for sustainable or organic choices, or by buying local to reduce carbon footprints and support local communities, people across the world seem to be becoming more conscientious as far as their food choices are concerned, and calling for more transparency in the supply chain so that they can make more informed and responsible choices.

  1. Health and wellbeing

Being responsible doesn’t stop at our impact on the planet. 2017 is also set to see people paying more attention to their own health and well-being, with a whole-lifestyle approach rather than dieting. Veganism and vegetarianism are relevant here too, as they’re often perceived as a healthier alternative to meat-based diets; meanwhile, the popularity of organic foods continues to grow, the home-made trend expands into pickling and fermenting home-grown produce, and alcohol consumption is tending towards a ‘less but better’ model. Many millennials are cutting out alcohol completely from their diets, while others are drinking less frequently, or less in each sitting, but opting for higher quality or more expensive tipples such as craft cocktails, aged or small-batch spirits, or top-shelf wines; and the market is responding with the opening of more and more craft distilleries, a variety of sophisticated non-alcoholic beverages, and tasting menus offering non-alcoholic pairings.

  1. Changing consumption methods

Dining has always been a social phenomenon, but the word ‘social’ has acquired a new meaning in recent years. More and more people are prioritising convenience: dining out more, ordering in more, or subscribing to meal kits delivered to their door. At the same time, the social aspect of eating is no longer restricted to those we share our meals with: there is no sign that the #instafood trend will slow down in 2017, and restaurants and bars are even beginning to adapt to the younger generation’s obsession with the instaworthiness of their meals: tweaking their lighting and interiors, amping up the garnishes and even releasing new products with ‘viral’ potential.

  1. New technologies

With the growing interest in convenience comes an onslaught of new technologies ready to oblige. Technology is intervening more and more in all aspects of our lives, and food is no exception. It’s there in our homes, automating our kitchen routines to reduce our hands-on time or allowing us to prepare more elaborate dishes that were once only possible in a commercial kitchen. It’s there in restaurants and supermarkets, making ordering and paying a smoother and interaction-free experience. It’s there in our delivery services, with research underway into self-driving cars and delivery by drone. It’s even there behind the scenes, allowing the people who produce, process and package our food to do so more hygienically or efficiently.

All of these trends are happening internationally: they may express themselves differently depending on the country, local demand and national regulations, but they reveal a fundamental shift in the way that humans are interacting with food. It’s an exciting time for food, and I’m excited to see how these trends evolve throughout the year.

What Spain is drinking this festive season

Christmas in Spain is a month-long affair, comprising several small celebrations each with their own traditions. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, the 25th of December itself is a relatively laid-back day, with the main Christmas feast taking place on Christmas Eve or Nochebuena, and the exchange of gifts on the Epiphany or Día de los Reyes Magos on 6 January. The traditions also vary widely by region, with seafood understandably being more popular in coastal areas than in Madrid. In this post, we will take a quick look at some of the mainstays of the Spanish Christmas dinner table, and some of the wines that go best with them.

The Nochebuena dinner typically begins with a high-quality jamón and some cheeses. In fact, many Spanish organisations reward their employees each Christmas with a juicy ham to serve at the family table. The elevated salt and fat content of the cured meat calls for an acidic, tannic red; but preferably a fruity, light-bodied one with a hint of sweetness to avoid overpowering the subtle flavours of the ham. Sommelier Massimo Leonori recommends a young pinot noir, while jamón aficionado Oriol Balgaguer acknowledges that many reservas can also hold their own, the flavours of both delicacies elevating each other for a rich tasting experience.

Other traditional options include oysters (see previous post for pairings) and angulas, baby European eels that are very popular in Spain but highly scarce, a supply/demand ratio that has earned them a price tag of a whopping €1,000 per kilo: that’s more than a kilo of truffles and a kilo of caviar put together! Unsurprisingly, then, I’ve never actually tasted an angula, nor could I find a single site that would recommend a wine worthy of them; the best I could do was Maridaje y Vino‘s list of wines tagged ‘angulas‘, which consists of two 100% albariños from Rias Baixas: this one from Pepa A Loba, with sharp, citrusy notes underpinned by a mineral hint of seafoam, and this other one from Paco y Lola, which has a more savoury, herbaceous character with pear and apple aromas. Both of these are very affordable (€9-€12 RRP in Spain), which is just as well since you’ll just have emptied your bank account for the angulas themselves!

The course where Spain truly stands out, though, is in its desserts, the most classic of which is no doubt turrón. This mixture of almonds, honey and egg whites is similar to nougat, and Spain produces two versions: the smooth, chewy variety that originated in Jijona/Xixona, and its crunchier counterpart from Alicante. Both towns are located in the province of Alicante in the Comunitat Valenciana, a major almond-growing region. And while both turrones tend to be enjoyed alongside either cava or brandy, Cata del Vino suggests a unique alternative: fondillón, a sweet red wine produced exclusively in Alicante from mouvèdre grapes, or as they are known locally, monastrell. The grapes are left on the vine until over-ripe, then dried in the sun to concentrate the sugars and madeirised in oak casks exposed to sunlight to accelerate oxidation. Comer Sin Milongas is less enthusiastic about the pairing, saying it is inferior to the sum of its parts; but if you subscribe to the old sommelier motto, “If it grows together, it goes together”, you’ll have no choice but to pair turrón with fondillón and see for yourself!

ICYMI, I posted last week about wine pairings for a French Christmas dinner; and I’ll be back soon with a similar post focusing on Italy. ¡Hasta entonces!