Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chinese Burns

It is Burns Night, an all too familiar event in hospital A&E wards up and down the country, peaking on November 5th, but on this occasion a celebration from Scotland which recognises Britain's other bard - the one Jeremy Paxman refers to as 'doggerel'. Much haggis, poetry, whisky. and dancing.
It's also Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox, and the two have conjoined as twins.

Burns is 250 this year, which the Scottish Executive - those guys in Edinburgh who call themselves a 'government' - have evolved into a thing called 'homecoming' which purports to attract exiled Scots back home. In the middle of a recession. When the biggest bank bailouts have been for financial institutions whose names include the word "Scotland". No matter, the recession knows no borders really, it's just unfortunate that the Executive didn't see it coming. Like everyone else.

Anyway, we kick off credit crunch style with the bargain of the day, where your humble blogger scores a bottle of Highland Malt for £14 - at least ten British pounds (or a few Euros) under the normal price - and although it's Aberlour that's good enough for the Sassenachs who'll be drinking it. They won't know it's from the Co-op. The Burns Night is a party and those stupid enough to be drinking wine and then agreeing to a 'wee half' (they were warned) are quickly dancing in the living room while the rest of us are scoffing haggis neeps and tatties in the kitchen, MacSween's Haggis don't you know, and it goes down well with the Aberlour. Wee nips of it, not great gulps. That way lies dancing to Abba and Jimmy Shand, before curling up and falling asleep on the carpet.

In the kitchen we also have Tablet, one of Scotland's great health foods. It basically has two ingredients - sugar and condensed milk - left to mix, settle in the fridge, and then be broken into chunks and eaten. It is single handedly responsible for the rotting teeth of several generations but is irresistible. I put several people off by telling them tales of horror, thus securing more for myself. Yum.

The night descends into mayhem, with grown adults wondering why they're whirling and reeling around the living room (they have forgotten the whisky already) and hangovers starting before cabs have been entered.

Sunday is a very quiet day.

But it's not only January 25th (Rabbie's proper birthday) it's also Chinese New Year. However because of the slowness of human movement, let's just call it lethargy, we eschew London's vibrant and no doubt overcrowded Chinatown for Brighton's Good Friends where you can have normal Cantonese or enjoy jellyfish with ham hock, pigs trotters, duck tongues, and a whole variety of soups and savoury dishes which delight the palate.
And halfway through, in from the pouring rain and wild winds of Brighton's seafront, enters The Dragon, a pantomime horse with bells on, followed by a noisy band of players whose determination to play loud puts them up there with the pipers who mark the entry of the haggis at 100 decibels and the announcers on the London to Brighton commuter trains.

Last night's haggis, neeps and tatties (at least two helpings) is followed by at least four courses of astounding Chinese food. Which is why I'm relieved that my two lunch companions the following day, fresh from Beijing, don't really feel like Chinese. They want Greek.

We order the full meze, a whole tableful of plates piled with humous, prawns, chickpeas, then grilled and fried fish then kebabs, which defies all attempts at restraint by the Chinese and Scottish contingents. We hoover it up.

Sadly, I have to leave my greek coffee as I'm late for another Burns Night, where the haggis, neeps and tatties are served by maidens in mini kilts who exhort excessive consumption. They then dance the night away, having eaten nothing themselves except the ice cubes in their whiskies.

A late snack of last night's Chinese doggie bag goes down well as I remember that there are two more Burns Nights this week, more meetings with Beijing execs and no doubt celebratory dim sum lunches for, oh, anything really.

Note to self: stop eating you fat bastard.

And Happy New Ox Chinese Year and Rabbie Burns 250th Birthday Homecoming thingy.



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