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January 04, 2008


Rachel Laudan

Where does one get a cleaned sheep's rumen?

There was an interesting discussion of haggis on the list serve of the Association for the Study of Food and Society a while back though not as historically informed as yours, Adam. But the net result was that a very wide range of European societies, not surprisingly, had something like a haggis. And as the discussion was going on, I went to an old fashioned Lebanese restaurant in Mexico City that proudly served a stuffed sheep's stomach dish that was first cousin to haggis--chopped meat, spices and grain (barley or wheat in this case I think). I need to go again and take a photograph.

So why did it become so closely associated with Scotland? I'm still not clear about this.

Rachel Laudan

Just found my posting on my computer. It's out of context but at least it lets me correct the grain.

Yesterday I had lunch in one of Mexico City's classic Lebanese restaurants founded in 1930. And guess what. One of the specialties was "panza de carnero relleno" stuffed sheep's stomach. Not surprisingly the fillers were rice and chick peas. It was good. There was also stuffed intestine. And as Darra says of the Russian version, this was clearly not the food of the poor. It has always been an upmarket restaurant and still is with rows of nannies and chauffeurs waiting outside.

The Lebanese dish is called "Ghammeh", Anissa Helou gives an excellent version of it in "The Fifth Quarter" (her wonderful offal cookbook). Not surprisingly then, I bought the stomach from a Lebanese butcher!

One point that I would like to make clear is that "haggis" isn't just something stuffed into a stomach, it is specifically the name of the rumen. People often refer to a medieval porpoise haggis recipe, but actually if you look at the recipe it is very specifically not refered to as a haggis, but as a pudding, even though there is a sheep haggis recipe given in the same collection. Also, in some recipes the rumen is minced and stuffed into sausage casings and this is still refered to as a haggis pudding, due to the main ingredient, not because you stuff it into a stomach.

So while there are many stuffed stomach recipes (I have seen a 19th century Mexican recipe for instance), there are relatively few recipes for stuffed rumen (Homer mentions one for instance). Once you make this distinction, a lot of these other "haggis" are seen for what they really are, another type of sausage, not nessarily a haggis. I think that this has come about as most people are unfamiliar with offal etc, so when they hear of a stuffed stomach they automatically refer it to the most famous version in their experience - the haggis.

Why haggis became such a Scottish icon is pretty complicated. From what I can tell, by the early modern period the various haggis had really become a Northern English and Scottish dish. In Scotland it remained a relatively common dish, in England it became a feast day dish (and also made from calf stomach). In the mid-18th century is became associated with Scottish Jacobites and by the end of the century, the Scots in general. The huge popularity of Burns, his poem, and celebrating his like ensured that it became an icon. There are other factors like the relative consumption of mutton in Scotland v England, but I haven't looked into this.

Rachel Laudan

Thanks for the clarification Adam. So if you are right, almost nothing that today is eaten as haggis is in fact haggis in the sense of stuffed rumen. Rumen sounds a bit overwhelming.

And does it make a big difference if it is another part of the alimentary canal?

Depends on how fussy you are I guess. The rumen does have a distinctive aroma/flavor (which depends on how much you clean it), which for many people would have been one of the primary flavors of a haggis. But having tasted a broad range I would say that it doesn't matter too much. More important to me is the flavour balance and texture.

Malar Gandhi

Hello there,

Its a nice post. I never knew one could make such great recipe with rumen. Actually some people in India do prepare 'goat's rumen'. I hard hard time to prepare that recipe for my friends(cleaning and know). This recipe looks yummy! Great work!


Adam, I've secured all of the necessary offal, but am wondering to the procedure of cleaning the stomach. As it's full of grass at slaughter time, this needs to be removed, but the openings are pretty tight. Is there a trick to this? We don't want to cut the stomach, or can it be stitched up?

Adam Balic

Good on you Keith, what a impressive project.

You need to really clean the stomach out well, which involves turning inside out and scrubbing it under running water. In some cases people also rub salt in as they are scrubbing it, which further cleans it. It is a lot of work.

I just stiched and openings up with butchers tine and a large needle (butchers needle). Blanket stitch is good as it is strong and counter acts the tendencey of the thread to tear the stomach as it softens during cooking.

Remember not to overfill it and to poke it with a needle initially to let air out.

Best regards,


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