27 January 2013

Kimchi-flavoured haggis?

The first Korean meal I had was in New York City in 1968 or 1969 when, as a young priest, I was studying music near there. My host was an Irish Columban based in NYC at the time who had spent his early years as a priest in Korea. I wouldn't swear in court that I tried kimchi on that occasion, but I probably did. I have eaten it many times since, on three visits to Korea and on occasion here in the Philippines.

Until last year I thought kimchi was exclusive to Korea but discovered that it's also popular in Vietnam, and with the same name. I was giving a weekly class to aspirants of the Capuchin Tertiary Sisters of the Holy Family here in Bacolod and used to have lunch with the group afterwards. Some were Vietnamese and I was surprised when they produced kimchi one day. When the realised that I liked it they had some almost every week.

I tried haggis, a very Scottish dish, also for the first time in New York in 1970-71, with a Finnish-American friend who was my mentor in the public elementary school where I was practice-teaching for a few months. A few weeks after starting in the school I moved into the parish as a resident priest. But that's another story. 

I was rather disappointed. All I can I remember is the mashed turnip or Swede, not my favourite vegetable, that is usually served along with mashed potatoes and the haggis (below).

However, during the five months I was based in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2002 I had the chance to eat haggis again when the priest in a rural parish where I was doing a mission appeal for the Columbans took me out for lunch. I decided to give haggis another chance - and enjoyed it. some time later I drove some Filipino friends to Edinburgh and suggested to them that we try haggis for lunch. We all loved it - and the price was very reasonable in the pub where we had it. I learned that it was the poor person's meal in times past.

The texture of haggis reminds me of that of a Filipino dish, sisig, though the two are made from different ingredients. But there is for me another connection between haggis and the Philippines. Haggis in the past was made from the leftover parts of the sheep. In the Visayan languages of the central and southern Philippines the word for breakfast is pamahaw, the root word being bahaw, leftovers. Part of this is often fried rice, which is rice that had been boiled the day before but not all eaten.

Robert Burns. Painting by Alexander Nasmyth.

Many Scottish people at home and around the world celebrate Burns Night on or around 25 January, the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 - 1786). Haggis is so central to the Burns Night supper that it is piped in and then addressed with a poem that Burns wrote.

I have heard that the definition of a Scottish gentleman is a man who can play the bagpipes - but doesn't. I have also heard that the Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke - and the Scots haven't seen the joke yet! But to many of us from Ireland and Scotland, or of Irish or Scottish heritage - and the Latin word Scotus originally meant 'Irish', there is something special about the bagpipes.

Where does the kimchi fit in? One of Burns' most popular poems/songs is My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. While doing research for today's Sunday Reflections I came across a video of a Korean choir singing it (video at the top).

Here are the words of the song:

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang [go] dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

Here is the song sung by the late Scottish tenor, Kenneth McKellar. It's not his original recording but one made when he was 67.

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