East is east and west is west, but Afghan haggis stands the test

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SHEEP'S innards and porridge oats are easy to find in Kabul's sprawling bazaars, but there's nowhere that sells haggis.

So diplomats, expats and aid workers eager to celebrate Burns Night with Scotland's national dish turned to a broadcaster-cum-supercook to brave the city's butchers and make a haggis from scratch.

While dozens of westerners are confined to their compounds for security reasons, foreign correspondent Rachel Reid spent Wednesday finding and buying the finest mutton stomachs in the city.

Armed with the Afghan words for lungs, liver and heart – shush, jigar and kalp – she trawled the capital's main market for everything one needs to catch a haggis in the Hindu Kush.

"Afghans like a good laugh. I think they were entertained to see a foreign woman shopping for sheep guts," Rachel, 35, said. The radio journalist claims Scottish descent through her father who grew up in the Hebrides.

"I can't believe anyone in my family has cooked a haggis from scratch for many, many decades," she added.

The bustling downtown bazaar, on the banks of the Kabul's squalid river, is lined with stalls. Men and young boys sell cows' heads and hooves out of red plastic buckets, while others yell the price of fruits and exotic spices, spread out on rugs on the road.

Fat-tailed sheep are Afghanistan's staple meat. They are often slaughtered inside people's homes, or in the street outside butchers. Their blood runs into open sewers. A stomach, complete with its last meal, costs just 75p.

"Scraping the stomach was possibly the most disgusting culinary task I have ever taken on. You couldn't breathe through your nose," Reid said.

Potatoes and turnips are also Afghan staples at this time of year, and readily available from the downtown bazaar.

Copying a recipe off the internet, the rest of the meat was chopped and boiled for two hours, yesterday, before being minced and mixed with toasted oats, herbs and spices.

"There was a power cut when I was trying to hand-mince the offal," she said. "But I think I managed to retrieve my thumb nail."

Scots in Afghanistan have more reasons than most to celebrate Burns Night. A relative of Robert Burns – Sir Alex Burnes, the illustrious Scottish spy and political agent – was killed in Kabul in 1841.

Alex "Bokhara" Burnes, from Montrose, came from the same family as the poet, despite spelling his name differently. He was murdered during an insurrection in the midst of the first Anglo-Afghan War, but his name is still well known among Afghans today.

The other crucial ingredient, whisky, is similarly hard to find in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, where alcohol is illegal.

But the same country which manages to smuggle most of the world's opium across it's borders also manages to bring the odd bit of contraband back in.

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