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Can Americans Learn to Love Scottish Food?

The Scottish government has declared this year to be Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, but there's just one problem: the country suffers from bad PR when it comes to food where the general public is concerned.

by Alex Swerdloff
Jun 10 2015, 7:41pm

Photo via Flickr user Chris Brown

What's the first image that comes to mind when you hear the phrase: "The Scottish Year of Food and Drink"?

Some sort of 21st century William Wallace, complete with a deep-fried kilt and a CamelBak filled to the brim with Irn-Bru? How about a freakishly lifelike, talking haggis mascot with a serious penchant for reciting Robert Burns-style soliloquies and shooting heroin a la Trainspotting?

Or is it just me?

Anyway, in what may very well be the single greatest example of culinary bravado since Denny's unveiled the hell spawn that is the Potacho, the Scottish government has declared this year to be Scotland's Year of Food and Drink.

WATCH: MUNCHIES Guide to Scotland

The problem? Even in the proverbial frying pan that is America, Scottish cuisine has a less-than-stellar food reputation: it is largely seen as the consummate trifecta that is haggis, fried Mars bars, and black pudding.

Things in Scotland, however, are changing. Those in the know cite Ben Reade, native Scotsman and former head of research and development for the Nordic Food Lab. He, along with chef David Crabtree-Logan, took over a small dining room in Edinburgh's New Town restaurant and for four months offered a pop-up dining experience of a stature previously unknown in Scotland before.

And how about the less-than-700-square-mile Isle of Skye, located at the most northerly point of the Inner Hebrides? It's a Scottish foodie paradise with two Michelin-starred-restaurants and a long history of culinary renown. Just to put this into perspective, there are only four Michelin-starred-restaurants in the city of Birmingham, England, which has more than ten times the population of Skye.

Still, Scotland suffers from bad PR when it comes to food, so far as the general public is concerned.

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To remedy this problem,Alastair Nisbet—who spends the majority of his time running The Scottish Arms, his St. Louis, Missouri gastropub, which serves traditional Scottish fare—has been engaged to create a series of videos that sets out to prove that Scottish food is more than mere offal alone.

So what's the deal? Can they possibly succeed at rehabilitating Scottish food's bad rep?

First, let's start off with the big kahuna: haggis.

For those of you unfortunate enough never to have been a pallbearer at a Glasgow funeral with a proper snack spread, haggis is a savory pudding recognized worldwide as the poster boy and perpetual punching bag of Scottish cuisine.

Sounds OK so far, right? Only this savory pudding is stuffed with oats, spices... and sheep's rumen, lungs, heart, and liver.

Don't know what rumen is? Well, neither did I. As it turns out, sheep are ruminant animals, meaning they have four-chambered stomachs. According to the experts, "the rumen serves as a large fermentation vat in which bacteria and other microorganisms reside." Still with me?

All I can say to the Scottish is that if that's your national dish, you're going to need to hire some seriously Don Draper style ad-men to get this endeavor off its feet.

But, wait! Scotland also makes Scottish salmon and whisky. Even that aunt and uncle of yours—who subside almost entirely on Velveeta and plain, unboiled potatoes—can unabashedly enjoy both foodstuffs. Hell, Scottish salmon and whisky have a combined annual export value exceeding two billion dollars.

But haggis is largely reviled in the US and is often considered to be synonymous with Scottish food. What's more, we can't legally eat haggis. Why? Because we live in what some call a nanny state, where cultures and cuisines are free to be watered down and bastardized with the gusto that only a Daisy Duke-clad soccer mom can provide.

Since 1971, sheep lung has been banned in America. And, since, 1989—when a particularly foul outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease occurred—British lamb in general has also been banned here. So the next time a shadowy line cook offers you a plate full of the aforementioned offal, think twice.

Last year, Scotland, called for traditional Scottish haggis to be let back into America, opening up a market worth millions to producers. But don't get too nervous. They didn't succeed. You'll have to take British Air to get the real, sheepy thing.

Now, you must be thinking, certainly haggis alone can't be the reason I'm unable to name a single Scottish restaurant in my hometown. And it can't be the black pudding, because blood sausages are considered high dining in many quarters nowadays.

The real problem may be in the fryer.

Scotland is known for its chippie shops, which fry pretty much everything that can possibly be fried, and more. Deep-fried pizza, known as pizza crunch, is served covered with brown gravy, and with the ultimate in overdo: chips on the side. Your pizza can be fried with or without batter. Fried Mars Bars are the standard dessert.

Sick of fried Mars Bars? How about a Braveheart Butter Bomb, a.k.a a deep-fried ball of butter?

But hold on a minute. Not everyone in Scotland can be eating this way—right?

For years, Scotland lagged behind England as far as life expectancies go. A recent study, though, says that life expectancy in Scotland is on the rise, suggesting that the bad image of the typical Scottish diet may, in fact, be largely exaggerated.

And maybe Scottish food does have a future in the US. After all, haggis might find steadfast fans among the snout-to-tail, no-waste-allowed food aficionados.

And you can't tell me that America, the nation that ought to have a deep-fat fryer as its national symbol, wouldn't get behind some fatty entrails or a deep-fried candy bars.

In fact, you might want to bust out your Braveheart cosplay, because Scottish food very well could be the next cuisine du jour. You'll just need to write your Congressman to demand the sheep lung and stomach chamber you so desire.

How about throwing caution to the wind like the culinary scofflaws you are and learn how to make your own underground haggis with our how-to video? Just remember, close your kitchen blinds and make sure to claim diplomatic immunity in the case of your detention, America.

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