Europe & Britain | Food

The food you can expect to enjoy if you're travelling to Scotland for Burns Night

Scots everywhere are preparing to celebrate Burns Night with a traditional Burns Night Supper. The night celebrates the legendary Scottish poet, Robert Burns. So what do you actually do and eat at a Burns Night supper in Scotland? Read on to find out everything you need to know about this joyful Scottish celebration. 

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Why is Burns night celebrated?

The Scottish celebrate Burns Night every year on the 25th January to celebrate the life and work of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. His iconic poems like ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘Address to a Haggis’ are entwined with Scottish culture and Burns Night is all about great food, company, poetry, and a wee dram of whisky. It’s held on the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth and is celebrated with a traditional Burns Supper. 

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statue of Robert Burns
Statue of Robert Burns

What is a Burns Night supper?

The Burns Supper is the main event on Burns Night. It’s a big, merry celebration, with families gathering in their homes and communities gathering at halls, restaurants and bars. There are all kinds of traditions involved from the haggis as the main meal and reciting the famous Burns poems. Everyone has their own unique traditions and depending on where you go for your Burns Supper, you might encounter bagpipes, Highland dancers, speeches, and more.

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How did the Burns Supper begin?

The first Burns Supper was held in July 1801. Nine of Robert Burns’ close friends gathered to mark the fifth anniversary of their friend’s death. They held the supper at Burns Cottage in Alloway and ate haggis, performed Burns’ poems, and made a speech in honour of the great Rabbie Burns. They enjoyed the night so much they decided to hold it again on Robert Burns’ birthday, beginning the famous Scottish tradition.

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person wearing a Scottish kilt and bagpipes

What happens at a Burns Supper?

Every Burns Supper is unique but many traditions are the same. It usually begins with everyone saying the Selkirk Grace before tucking into the delicious feast, washed down with drams of whisky. After the starters, it’s time for the piping in of the haggis. A piper leads the haggis into the dining room, beginning the performance of Robert Burns’ iconic poem ‘Address tae a Haggis’ (Address to a Haggis). The host or a guest will plunge a knife into the haggis while everyone claps and cheers. Everyone toasts to the haggis before serving it, followed by a sweet dessert. 

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After the meal, the guests perform the first Burns recital and the Immortal Memory (the tribute speech to Burns). Then, the second Burns recital is performed, there’s a Toast to the Lassies, and a Reply Toast to the Lassies. Finally, they perform the Great Bard’s last recital. At the end of the night, everyone stands and sings Burns’ poem Auld Lang Syne, joining hands as they sing the line ‘And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!’. While this is a classic rundown of events at a Burns Supper, you can include whatever additions you like. Play some Scottish music, hold a quiz, play some board games… It doesn’t matter as long as you’re having a good time with your loved ones.

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What do you eat at a Burns Supper?

Starters

Traditional starters usually include a flavourful soup like Cock-a-Leekie (chicken, leek and rice) soup, Cullen Skink (smoked haddock chowder), or homemade Scotch broth or barley broth. 

Mains

No Burns Supper is complete without haggis. Whether you love it or loathe it, the haggis is the star of the show on Burns night. Whether you bake it or boil it, or even try a vegetarian version, you’ve got to have haggis. Robert Burns himself described it as ‘the great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race’.

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Side dishes

Neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) are the traditional side dish to the haggis. They’re usually served mashed, pairing beautifully with the oaty haggis. You don’t need anything too fancy here – just a sprinkle of seasoning and a knob of butter and you’re good to go.

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Dessert

It wouldn’t be a Burns Night supper without the famous Cranachan. This boozy Scottish trifle is a dreamy raspberry, cream, oatmeal and whisky concoction, and it’s the perfect way to end your meal. If you’re after more sweet dessert options, you can try a traditional Clootie Dumpling (steamed fruit pudding), a Selkirk Bannock (fruit loaf), Scottish shortbread biscuits, a Bramble trifle, or Scottish Tablet (like fudge but better). 

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Drinks

The drinks flow throughout the Burns Night supper and it’s usually a traditional Scottish whisky uniting the meal. It’s tradition to pour a dram over the haggis while whiskey is also mixed into the Cranachan… And it’s likely also in your drinking glass! Malt whiskey is a classic choice, but if you’re not a fan of straight spirits, you can also make cocktails. We love a classic whiskey sour cocktail made with Bourbon, egg whites and lemon juice.

And if you don’t like whiskey, a full-bodied red wine also pairs perfectly. You can also go for lager, ale, Scottish fruit wines, or punch. Slàinte!

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Have you had any Burns Night travel experiences? Let us know in the comments below!

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