Burns Night 2019: Menu Ideas, Where to Buy Haggis, Whisky and Poems to Celebrate the Scottish Bard

Every January 25, the people of Scotland celebrate the life and work of one of their most beloved sons, poet and writer Robert Burns.

Born January 25, 1759, the Scot, also known as Rabbie Burns, the Bard of Ayrshire or the Ploughman Poet, is widely celebrated as the greatest poet Scotland has produced and was voted "The Greatest Scot" of all time by the public in a national poll conducted by television station STV in 2009.

Since 1801, five years after his death aged 37, the people of Scotland have celebrated the poet with a Burns Night Supper, serving the traditional dish of sheep's innards wrapped in an animal's stomach, alongside an evening of poetry, whisky and singing.


Unfortunately, those wanting the proper Burns Night experience will have to make do with American alternative, as imports of traditional Scottish haggis have been banned in the U.S. since 1971.

The ban by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is due to one of the key ingredients—sheep lung. No food for human consumption containing sheep's lung can be imported into the U.S. following the emergence of the fatal and degenerative disease scrapie in sheep in the early 1970s. The ban still exists despite there being no evidence of scrapie posing a risk to human health or it ever entering the food chain.

For U.S.-based companies hoping to still sell haggis, they have had to come up with an American alternative. Scottish Gourmet USA replaces the lungs with grated poached beef liver, which has a similar constituency. Others sell different versions of haggis that contain kidney.

As explained by Scottish Haggis.com, another site where you can purchase the dish in the U.S., except for sheep's lung their versions of haggis use "the same 150 year old recipe we use in Scotland, the same ingredients including Scottish oats and barley and always use lamb hearts and liver and never beef."


The most traditional Burns Night meal is of course haggis pudding, usually served with neeps and tatties (swede, yellow turnip or rutabaga and potatoes).

An alternative option to serve alongside the haggis is clapshot, a mixture of boiled potatoes, turnip, chopped chives, salt, pepper and butter. It is also traditional to accompany the meal with whisky sauce, a decadent mixture of thick cream, seasoning and whisky.

For starters, Cock a Leekie soup—a traditional dish mainly consisting of leeks and peppered chicken—is usually served although Cullen Skink, a chowder-like dish made from haddock, leeks, potatoes and onions, is also popular.

For dessert, the two main options are Clootie Dumpling, a pudding prepared in a linen cloth made with flour, breadcrumbs, spices and dried fruits and often topped with syrup, or Typsy Laird, a Scottish sherry trifle.


No Burns Night would be complete without a dram Scotland's most famous export. If there are none available in your local store (under no circumstances must you by purchase Irish whiskey or American bourbon instead,) there are dozens of outlets online that can supply bottles to your door.

These include The Whisky Shop USA, The Whisky Barrel, Love Scotch, Ace Spirits and The Whisky Exchange, to name but a few.

Poems and speeches

Before eating the main meal, those taking part in Burns Night celebrations recite the four-line stanza, "Selkirk Grace." Following this, a reading of the Burn's ode "Address to a Haggis" must be read out by one of the guests.

The eight-verse ode, which was written by Burns in 1787, a tribute to the "great chieftain of the sausage race," is performed in the Scottish dialect in which it was first written, although an English translation is also available for those who find the language difficult.

Following the meal, a tribute to Burns is made (the Immortal Memory) before the tongue-in-cheek "Toast to the Lassies," is read out paying tribute to the women at the table.

The women then get a response with a "Reply to the Toast to the Lassies," before the evening ends with a rendition of "Auld Lange Syne", the song best known for being sung after the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

Haggis for sale at Crombies butchers ahead of Burns night on January 22, 2016 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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