GLASGOW, SCOTLAND — Covering United Nations climate talks requires walking. Lots of it. Enough to work up a major appetite.
The best fuel, of course, would be local Scottish specialties. Not brown sauce or deep-fried Mars bars (though that actually sounds great right about now). No, this much walking requires a stick to your ribs type of meal: haggis.
But this being a climate conference, any type of haggis would not do. Raising sheep is one of the most carbon-intensive forms of animal agriculture in the world. Like cows, sheep are ruminants that belch methane in addition to carbon dioxide emissions tied with producing feed, raising them, and transporting them to market.
It’s great that haggis involves using, shall we say, the less desirable parts of the animal. (Though as Molly noted in preparing to write this piece, she “loves to eat animal innards.”) For the uninitiated, haggis is made with suet, a fat that Wikipedia notes is found “around the loins and kidneys.” That suet is then mixed with cooked organ meats, onions, and oats to form a sort of crumbly meat porridge, which is served inside a sheep stomach (whoa) or sausage casing.
But to truly be good denizens of the world’s biggest climate talks, we knew we had to walk the walk and eat veggie haggis. Given the presence of oats and the unique texture, haggis should be easier to create a vegan version than many other meaty foods, but would the absence of the traditional sheep elements make veggie versions too boring? We charted out a walking tour across the Glaswegian streets to sample the vegan haggis three ways.
Molly’s first impression: “Fuck!”
The digs: The Glasvegan is a popular stop in the city for vegan food, so we figured if anyone knew how to do veggie haggis well, it’d be these folks. The tiny cafe was packed with other customers and delicious sights and smells (including incredible-looking vegan cake slices). On this menu, haggis comes as fillings to bigger dishes, like sandwiches and crepes. The very nice staff person gently urged us to try a sandwich with vegan haggis, granny smith apples, vegan cheese and caramelized onions, but we insisted on getting our haggis sandwich dry and loose, on toasted sourdough, with no accoutrements or sauces. We were determined to keep our taste test pure. Also, it was our first stop. We were hungry and tired. There was no time to spare waiting for delicious caramelized onions.
How it tasted: Frankly, really good. The crumbly consistency was almost reminiscent of ground turkey, with a hearty backbone from the oats and barley we spotted in the mix. The warm haggis had incredible savory flavors. We tasted some white pepper and a touch of cloves that hung out long after the first chew of haggis. The toasted sourdough was a crunchy accompaniment. It would have probably been wise to add a sauce or cheese to give the whole sandwich a little moisture, but just going on taste of the haggis alone, this was a fantastic start. We would rate this “good before a Rangers FC match” to soak up the beer you’d inevitably consume in the stands and something that “wouldn’t make you feel sick after eating a shit ton of it.”
Molly’s first impression: “Interesting.”
The digs: The restaurant’s website describes Stravaigin as “a trusted local sanctuary where great food and a friendly pint go hand in hand.” Who could say not a classically prepared haggis in a sanctuary? The restaurant portion was full so we nabbed seats at the cozy bar, where we ordered a plate of veggie haggis—served with the iconic Scottish neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) accompaniment—and some pints.
How it tasted: This haggis had the same stick-to-your-ribs consistency as the Glasvegan’s and some of the same flavor, but the preparation left something to be desired. Traditional haggis is often boiled to heat it up before serving, and it seemed as if that was the preparation favored here. While it was moister than what we got at the Glasvegan, it was also less flavorful, and more closely resembled freshly-cooked barley with some carrots than anything else. Fake meat may be an acquired taste for some, but watery fake meat is an acquired taste for many. The texture and the flavor felt dialed down to a 4 compared to the Glasvegan’s vegan sheep’s offal, which was at 11. It also managed to be at once soggy and crunchy. We could see why haggis is served with the neeps and tatties—on this cold night, it definitely warmed us up.
Molly’s first impression: “Oh, ho, ho.”
The digs: Our final stop was at a bit of an unexpected location—a takeout (or “takeaway,” in UK-speak) joint serving primarily fish and chips. Brian embarrassingly referred to it as a “choppy,” though frankly not loud enough to be chased out of town by locals. Surprisingly, this location had a huge vegan fast food menu, from vegan fish to vegan meatballs to a vegan burger. Our vegan haggis was served to us deep-fried, on a bed of hefty fries (chips, or chops to Brian), topped with vinegar and a generous serving of salt, then wrapped in paper for us to enjoy at the one picnic table outside. (Molly also ordered vegan black pudding out of morbid curiosity, as well as a separate order of regular haggis and black pudding, all of which were also deep-fried, because she is a masochist.)
How it tasted: Incredibly, this haggis was a close second to the Glasvegan version. It was bursting with flavor and delightfully filling. We spotted seeds—perhaps pepitas?—in this haggis, which was a first for all three tastings. There also appeared to be millet, another unique addition. The fried exterior actually helped to hold the haggis together, making it easier to eat the crumbly, warm interior, and the salt and vinegar added a terrific zing. We took home leftovers—we sensed that we may need some hearty calories in the days to come at a conference that’s notorious for running into overtime—and have been happily eating leftover veggie haggis sandwiches (with hummus and cucumber) since. It was also much better than the meat version on offer, with Molly declaring the non-vegan one “is going to make me ill” due to the heaviness. (The vegan blood pudding was also great. Would order again!)