Friday, September 19, 2008

Lunch of the Living Dead

Well, not really, but it was one of the more terrifying experiences of my life. Yesterday I was a guest speaker at the British Women's Club. It was as though I had been transported through a time warp. The sun dresses… the hats … the ambience of the Oriental Hotel … aaaaah!!!!!

One of the most interesting things to happen at this lunch, however, was that I was seated next to a Scottish lady (indeed, the entire management of the BWC seemed dominated by the Celtic Fringe in general.) One of the Oriental's epicurean delicacies was a miniature shepherd's pie-looking thingie in a cup, with chopped and spiced chicken beneath the mashed potatoes.

"I don't know what it is," said the lady, "but it tastes like haggis."

My whole life, I have been used to being proferred peculiar meats, from frogs to rattlesnakes, with the admonition to "Go ahead … don't worry … it tastes like chicken." To have someone say of chicken, that most anonymous and neutral of meats, that it "tastes like haggis" was a fascinating cultural (not to mention culinary) commentary on the entire Scottish nation.

I have always had a healthy terror of haggis — more from the legend than from the experience, since I haven't actually ever brought myself to eat it. I used haggis in my short story "Anna and the Ripper of Siam"… in it, Jack the Ripper, visiting Siam in the nineteenth century, used the "freshest ingredients" he could find to substitute for a sheep's stomach … my assumption in the story was that the very word "haggis" was enough to produce a frisson of stark terror in the average American reader of the story.

Because of this gentle lady's innocent utterance, I now know that haggis tastes like chicken. One day, I may even be brave enough to try it.

Not that I've ever eaten any of the other things that taste like chicken … iguana, cobra, et al.


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