Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Erik's Culinary Adventures: How I Got a Friend to Eat Haggis

It’s how David must have felt after he watched Goliath topple to the ground: a feeling that he had just achieved a major milestone. A milestone whose effects would ripple through history and be spoken of by generations.

It’s how I felt at lunch one autumn afternoon. That’s because I got my friend Dave to eat haggis.

Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, which includes a sheep’s heart, lungs, and liver, mixed with some vegetables, and barley. It’s the same consistency as pâté or deviled ham. I happen to like it, although I’m in the distinct minority.

We were eating at MacNiven’s, a Scottish restaurant in Indianapolis, and I showed up a few minutes early.

“I’m meeting a friend,” I told our waitress. “He doesn’t like anything too weird or different, and it was a stretch to get him to come here. So could we get a very small sample of haggis, and a couple pieces of bread? Just bring it out when he shows up, but don’t say what it is, or he won’t eat it.”

When Dave sat down, he was greeted by another friend at a nearby table. As the two talked briefly, the haggis arrived, and I put a small shmear on a piece of bread, and set it in front of him without saying a word. When the other guy left, Dave picked up his bread, and asked, “So what am I eating?”

Dave is not known for his culinary curiosity. He’s Amish when it comes to flavors and dishes: meat, potatoes, a little salt, and that’s it. No curry, no sushi, no pickled herring. Beef or chicken, potatoes, and maybe a little pepper if he’s feeling daring.

Needles to say, it’s hard to get him to try things that come from different parts of the U.S., let alone entirely different continents. Getting him to try something made from sheep innards was going to be tough. So I waited for him to put it in his mouth before I answered.

“It’s haggis. Do you like it?” I asked

“Sort of. It’s not bad,” he said.

Our waitress showed up. “So did he like it?”

“Sort of,” I said.

Dave looked a little worried. When a waitress shows up and asks a question about what he just ate, a question he thinks he should be privy to, one tends to get a little worried.

“So what is haggis?” Dave asked, realizing he was the unwitting target of a food conspiracy.

“It’s the inside of a sheep,” our waitress said. “Liver, heart, lungs.”

Dave looked stunned, and then laughed. “That’s what I get for being late, huh? Man, the things I do for friendship.”

I explained what I had done, and he made me write it down in my Moleskine notebook, like I was confessing my guilt. He even made me call my wife to tell her what I had done, but she knows about Dave’s eating habits, and later considered this a minor victory on my part.

He left her a voice mail saying he didn’t like it, but I burned that “sort of” into my memory forever.

His public proclamation of “sort of” is my game-winning home run, my first step on the moon, my personal victory in my food competition with Dave.

It’s when my giant toppled, struck down by a little piece of haggis.

It’s also why I have to let him pick the restaurant from now on.

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  1. I've had the pleasure of eating lunch with Erik on several occasions, including at MacNiven's. His conversation is as entertaining as his columns. I look forward to dining with him again...but will be watching for his schmears and slings.

  2. Ah, the slings and schmears of outrageous fortune. I love it!

  3. I hope you talked him into the Scotch Eggs! I think MacNivens has the best.


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