Monday, August 10, 2009

Robbie Burns, eat your sheep's heart out!

SlĂ inte! (Eating Scotland.)

The New York Times tale, 36 Hours in Glasgow, recently reminded me that Giant Sous Chef had toured me 'round his homeland and I still haven't blogged bout it. Glasgow, on top of having the most genuine, friendly locals east of Lake Michigan, has several tasty finds. The Ubiquitous Chip, off a cobblestone lane in the West End serves a warm, huggy cockaleekie soup. The chicken and leek soup with barley, cleverly named by a people that truly relished their gift for gab, was perfect for the city's rainy, clammy climate. (barley freaks like chef sleeping draco will love it)

I don't agree with the Times' assessment that Ubiquitous Chip's "something of a Scottish Chez Panisse." Having eaten at both, UC cannot touch the level of technique and organic integrity maintained at CP. And, Watters would never serve leaden sauces like the greenish, grainy one that came with my salmon. Fortunately or not, UC was certainly the best dining experience I had in Glasgow. The organic Orkney salmon was tender with good, clean flavor. If you find yourself on that side of the Atlantic, you MUST indulge in the local seafood. Geoduck, anyone?

During this British food excursion, I discovered my love (cue the pipers, please) for Haggis. Anywhere, anytime, I am down. I especially love the spices. And, that you can make it veggie. UC's vegetarian haggis, served with mashed turnip and carrot, was reminiscent of Jamaican jerk sans heat and a dash of American Thanksgiving. Add nubbly, boiled Scottish oats and earthy lentils or nuts (for veggie version). Or, iron-rich organ meats (with a nod to conscious, whole animal eating) for haggis carnivorous. N.B.: The haggis on the Glasgow Grosvenor Hilton's brunch buffet was also tops.

...the Bad and the Ugly.
I would be lying if I didn't say I had a few straight-up whack food encounters in Scotland. First off, definitely question anything and everything sold as edible at the Glasgow airport. Edible does not always mean consumable. What if I told you I witnessed a man order "bruschetta" and in return he received pre-sliced baguette (pre-frozen, too?!) topped with rubbery shards of "melted" cheddar cheese? How about a full-on declaration: DO NOT ORDER A SALAD IN THE GLASGOW METRO AREA! Unless you want your baby lettuces tossed with greasy, flavorless pesto. Or, a platter of whitish romaine crowned with a full half of browned avocado? Yes, people, BROWN SALAD. Is an inverse culinary logic at work in Scotland that transforms sheep's blood oatmeal to an incredibly appealing and tasty dish?!!? Play it safe, stick with sausage-y and/or fried things and heavy, buttered carbs.

But, nearly all of the gustatory missteps are made-up when you stop for petrol. Enter left, drive up, park right--Marks and Spencer's Simply Food...Britain's culinary BINGO! The British equivalent of the WAWA Grill. 7 Eleven gone to culinary heaven. Someone at M&S corporate thought, Mmm... if you're going to get petrol why not get more than a pack of crisps and the odd litre of milk? Why not raw breakfast meat? Why not fresh prawn sandwiches? At a BP station between Blantyre and East Kilbride, they had three types of take-away haggis, four shelves dedicated to meat sausages...a line of fancy, fresh sandwiches ready-packed and handy, racks of wine and boxed & ribboned chocolates. It was like a Madison Avenue micro-grocery!

Post-Script: At the Chippy in Stirling. Here's the deep fried haggis Giant Sous Chef smothered in brown sauce. We ate this with battered cod, deep-fried black pudding, smoked sausage and malt vinegar doused chips sitting inside his mate's Mercedes while watching and listening to that soft Scottish rain pelt the windshield like poetry.