We Scots are not best known for our food. But there are one or two things which are special to me. Like tablet, bridies and haggis.
Tablet is a kind of fudge. With added sugar. It has to stick to your teeth. When you buy a bag of tablet, it doesn’t last long. Maybe five minutes. It is addictive.
I was brought up in the bridie triangle of Dundee, Forfar and Arbroath. In this small area, the cooked mince and pastry bridie has shortcrust pastry. Elsewhere in Scotland it has flaky pastry. In Dundee, flaky pastry is not considered proper. By co-incidence this triangle is also known for Aberdeen-Angus cattle. On my first visit to Siberia I was introduced to cheburek, which is clearly a cousin of the bridie.
Haggis is associated with Burns night which celebrates Scotland’s bard – Robert Burns. But in our home, we had it maybe once a week. It is a kind of sausage, big and round in a sheep’s stomach. It has a lot of the cheap parts of the inside of sheep, and a simple salt and pepper seasoning. You boil it for around 40 minutes and eat it with mashed potatoes and turnips (though the English call turnips Swedes). A turnip is orange, not yellow. I have not come across anything quite like it.
Whisky – There are many. Only drink single malt, not blended. I prefer island malts which are peaty and smoky. Like Talisker from Skye, then the Isla malts like Lagavullin and Ardbeg. One or two nips (shots) are enough for me. The taste sensation is highly concentrated.
Beer – The best Scottish beer for me is Dark Island from Orkney. Dark beer like it used to be. Malty. Then from the Czech Republic which gave us pilsner, Urquell. And Belgium – there are so many fine beers here. I love Westmalle dubbel, Hoegaarden Grand Cru and many others. The Belgian beers are full of character. Use the Westmalle to make carbonnade of beef, then drink it with the meal.
Vodka – The almost creaminess of Moskovskaya, and the sharp chilli taste of Altai pertsovka stand out.
The first mountain I ever climbed was Ben Lawers 3984 feet above Loch Tay in Scotland. Then nearby is the village of Killin and the falls of Dochart. And of course looking over the tenements of Dundee from the Law – a volcanic plug in the middle of the city – over to Fife, and out to sea is always a splendid sensation.
I feel so fortunate to have visited Lake Baikal four times, including a camping trip to Olkhon island. But the first trip was especially memorable. Some local musicians took us out for a picnic. The lake was still frozen with a metre of ice and we did the vodka ceremony – toasting, while standing on the ice. The lake was deserted and the feeling was open, with an overlay of the spiritual.
Stone circles, kurgans and ancient holy sites. Whether it is stone circles in Scotland, or ritual sites in Tuva, Siberia, there is always something tangible I get from being there. My teacher Kungaa-Buu took us to several places like that in Tuva, perhaps the most remarkable being the hidden site of Kayzhege near to the Mongolian border..