Our Delicacy

Today, we are having our most expensive meal of the year.

The girls have also left home. You may find it odd, but there is a connection between these two statement.

You want to know what it is?

Well, first I want to show you our kitchen.

And now, I want you to breathe in deeply through your nostrils.

You done? Did you smell the aroma?

NO?! Well, it's there. And it's strong. And this is the reason ...

...You ready for this?

Okay, you asked for it. Here's our delicacy.

....uuhhh. Hold on. 

This is his good side.

oooor, maybe not.

Anyway. This is the Guga.

And this is the story of the Guga.

Every year, around ten Ness men sail out to Sulasgeir.

This is Sulasgeir.

It's a rock situated about forty miles north of us here, at the north of the Isle of Lewis.

The men go there for the guga, the young gannets which inhabit this outpost. It's a tradition in Ness, and has been, possibly, for centuries. The annual event even has special dispensation from the European Union (I'm glad you can't see my face as I type these two words. Mmmm) to harvest 2000 birds every year.

And so they arrive back with our delicacies, and we get to cooking it.

Here's the guga this morning.

I wash each piece with hot running water and Fairy Liquid. It's the only way to get rid of the grease. I'm no kidding.

Then into the pan the pieces go. They go into cold water, and are placed on the cooker.

....when the water boils, it's drained off

and the pan is refilled with cold water.

I did this twice.... to lessen the grease and to lessen the salt.

And finally it's ready.

The taste is very difficult to describe. It really is like nothing you've ever had before.
Unless you've had the guga!
I've heard it described as a cross between kipper and steak.

I think it's simply incomparable. But it's definitely an acquired taste.

Almost nobody outside of Ness can bear the sight of it, the smell of it, and certainly not the taste.
But my friend, at No Place Like Home, loves it.
She's a Niseach at heart, that girl.
No doubt about it

I'm afraid I spoil things by using a knife and fork. Apparently the proper way to eat it is with your hands. 

The Builder and the Big Brother just looked at me and rolled their eyes when they saw the cutlery coming onto the table.

But I've just got to draw the line somewhere. Knife and fork it is.

There are some photos of the men of Ness on Sulasgeir here.

And this book has some fabulous photos of, and information on, the annual trip. 


  1. Aaaaaah - or arrrrrgh - the claws!!!! I must say it looks scary with the claws.... I have the luxury of turning up and it's made (thankfully, what will I do if these days end....Anne????)

    Oooh though, my mouth is watering at the thought, really the photos look like you wouldn't go near it, but the taste is.... ooooh nothing like you have ever tasted.

    (Oh and I also get told off for using cutlery!!)

    And did you get 2 pieces??? I'm jealous, I have always been limited to one, much to my displeasure!

  2. Oh my goodness! Is it wrong of me to say euw!!!!!!!?

    I know for a fact there can't be a single drop of Ness blood in me because I don't think I could ever stomach that!

    Glad you enjoyed your treat though. I'm assuming your girls are not fans?

  3. Only DR eats it of the kids, so we have more for ourselves!
    We had 2 gugas today - so 8 ceathramhan altogether....
    Never mind, only 1 week to go and it'll be your turn!
    A x

  4. Haha, Kirsteen! It's definitely an acquired taste.
    When we lived in Glasgow, we had it posted to us every year. One year we cooked it and took it over to friends. Let's just say, they had a similar reaction to you! When we sat at the table, hubby asked the other guy to give thanks. He just looked at the plate for a while and then said.......'Uhh - you expect me to give thanks for *this*' !!
    And you'd be right in assuming the girls are not fans. Katie actually spent the afternoon with her swimming nose clip on!!
    Love, A x

  5. I have to say, most people who say eewww haven't tasted it...but maybe that is just as well seeing they are only allowed 2000 of them ;-)

    Hmmmm...I ordered 2 this year, but apparently my order went in too late and the person who orders thought 1 was adequate...that means the kids are banned this year!!!!!

    Not sure about the acquired taste - I never had it before my 20's and I instantly liked it. But then I was brought up on the rare delicacy of salt dried meat - that's not something to everyones taste so I do wonder if they are linked!

  6. Oh, Mags asked me to ask you about this! And I forgot- big surprise. Well, uh, hmm. Can't comment further at this time.

  7. This is fascinating...and a bit disgusting, but still fascinating...I'm not sure we Americans eat anything...out of the ordinary. Now don't I sound thoroughly American? ;) What are some things you all think just a strange as guga? :)

  8. I love learning about and trying new things. Now tell me, why do they look so flat when you first show them.... are they stacked on top of each other? I was thinking that's what it looked like in the picture on the book...I looked at the picture link, but couldn't tell. Are they salted to preserve? In the south they have a ham that is highly salted; they call it country ham. I have tried it a few times, and it is very salty. Lets see what else do we do around here that is unusual... we are a melting pot of many countries, so I'm sure there must be more, but can't think of anything at the moment either. I love your kitchen. Its very nice. Bon appetite.
    Thoroughly enjoyed the post.
    Much love,

  9. Your kitchen looks amazingly tidy and uncluttered. How do you do it? And I definitely don't have a drop of Ness blood in me either, I wouldn't be rushing to try it.

    Actually, considering the amount of Lewis blood I have in me, I don't make a good Leosach, I can't stand herring, or especially salt herring. I could manage kippers to be polite, but I do gag at salt herring.

    Why is the guga so flat? It doesn't look like e.g. a chicken (or even a pheasant or grouse - no I don't eat those but I do watch cooking programmes!)

    Very interesting!

  10. H - I love your comment about my kitchen! The island is tidy in that photo, but I de-cluttered it for the photo! The worktop around the rest of the kitchen (in the background) is definitely NOT uncluttered!

    For some other answers! - it's flat because it's been de-boned, so all you have is the two breasts and the two 'drumsticks', held together with the blubbery skin.
    The skin is a thick layer of blubber - I can not eat it. But most folks love it with the meat. It's juicy and tasty, but I can't *do* the texture of fat of any description. And added to that - the outside of the skin in prickly. Eeewww. Even I 'eeewww' at that!

    The 'stack' on the cover of the book in the photo is the gugas all stacked on Sulasgeir, ready for sending down to the boat to transport home. Each bird, after plucking, gutting etc, is stuffed with salt and layered in a stack like this - with salt in the in-between layers.

    Rachel and Sarah - I really don't think you guys to anything this unusual. I mean - this is unusual even for the rest of Lewis! Far less for the rest of Scotland....never mind, for the rest of the UK!! Barbarians....that's what we in Ness are!!
    Love to you all
    Anne x

  11. I do get a 'hard time' from Lewis folk for liking this stuff!! Well they like to laugh! I think the poor guga gets a hard time from how weird it looks.

    I can't do the skin either, it is very very thick and fatty, and prickly as well.

    There was an interesting program on BBC iplayer showing them how they go from being 'bird' to being 'flat', there was a long production line of men, one plucked the bird, then the next chopped the head off, gut the bird, they would then 'smoke' the bird over a fire (can't remember what the purpose of this was) by holding onto the wings, and finally the wings came off; and they got stacked after this.

    But why didn't they chop the ugly claws off at the same time???

  12. So interesting. They probably keep the claws so you have something to hold on to when picking it up :). I think I would enjoy eating it if you girls enjoyed it. I do like herring, and sardines, and smoked fish of any sort, duck, wild game, beef and lamb...but now my curiosity is up, and some day when our whole family comes to visit (heehee, see now you have the threat of all these Americans coming to visit) I hope you will have some left to try. I 'll bring you some of our green chili (a dish we make here made from none other than... green chili and pork, which you can eat over burritos and enchiladas, or simply as a soup). I've been enjoying the discussions and even the bit of local controversy
    Much Love,

    P.S. Oh, and Anne, your comments on my blog cracked me up. I left you a response about the .... oh I guess I better not say over here on your blog Ha Ha.

    6 September 2010 16:13

  13. We have put some in the freezer, then once it was frozen wrapped it in cool bags and icecubes and sent it in the post to far away places (well not that far away but it has been known to be posted to Canada). So you never know maybe next year you could get an order in!!

    (Or even better taste it in its land of origin ;-) )

  14. Pam I think you would definitely like this bird. If you like fish (especially salted/smoked) and all these meats, then this sure would be a tasty treat to the palate! :-)

  15. My son is a true Niseach - I just showed him these scary pictures (hoping they would change his mind about having a bit of guga) and said "Look theres a guga, do you still want to eat it". He says "YES!!!".

  16. Oh my goodness...Your Kitchen is so Big and Beautiful...on the other thing..oh yes the GUGA...I would most deffinately have to pass....only because I saw it first..Now had I not seen it and you said would you like to try a bite..( once cooked and on the plate of course..with those delicious Potatoes..) then I would have said sure..No Problem...I think... : }

  17. It's amazing how many comments this post has had! I think only the one on my designer (cough) boots got more....
    Thanks guys.....love to chat!
    Oh,and Pam - about your visit.....I think I'd have no problem opening my home to you guys, but....giving you some of the precious guga?? ooooh - that would really test my love!
    Love, A x


Related Posts with Thumbnails