Here's One Great Food Smuggling Story You Haven't Heard

December  8, 2016

It’s lonely out here on the haggis beat. Earlier this week, I reported on the potential lift on America’s 45-year haggis ban, prompting many of you to pen impassioned, spirited defenses of this pudding made from sheep innards. Anyway, after we tweeted this story out, Twitter denizen @glasgrowin, a self-proclaimed "food lover in Glasgow," responded with the following:


Well, as Robert Stack once said on Unsolved Mysteries, “update!” I followed up with @glasgrowin, whose real name is Lou. I was curious to know about her food smuggling story. Here is the transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity.

MAYUKH SEN: Lou! Tell me what happened.

Lou: So I'm Glaswegian born and bred, but I lived in NY for 11 years. I used to bartend and wait tables in the Ear Inn, Pencil Factory, and PJ Clarke’s for a while. I'm living back home now and training in social media management. So [in my day job in social media] I choose to showcase food, my one true love; and Glasgow, a vibrant, rough-and-ready city which is reminiscent of a New York that is gone forever.

MS: A New York gone forever? Tell me more! Where did the New York you knew go?

Lou: Hmm, a New York gone forever is the edgy New York I first visited in 1994, the one that was still there in 1998 when I moved there at the age of 25. I remember Williamsburg and Greenpoint when they were dodgy!

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Anyway, #haggisgate. So, during the period I was living in the States, I was visiting Scotland and I decided that I was going to bring a few home comforts back to New York with me. We Scots do sweets and potato chips really well, so my suitcase was full of that stuff, ready to share with the rest of the Scottish diaspora in the bar trade in NY. At the last minute, my mum gave me haggis and black pudding (the blood sausage) and I stuck them in my case, not even thinking about it. Can't remember if I knew it was banned? 

Then, when I land at JFK International Airport in New York, I start seeing all the signs for what's prohibited and what I have to declare. Obviously haggis wasn't mentioned by name, but I was starting to realize that maybe it wasn't okay to have on my person. And so relieved was I just to have a green card—that’s another story—I thought I'd just front it if challenged.

Now, I’m not sure if you're aware how intimidating Immigration can be. They are terrifying. So I'm over there sweating bullets, being scanned, going through last checks of bags, and so on when the guard hands me my passport back. He says, as an aside, "Enjoy your sausage." I swear I blushed—I realized later that he must have been Irish- or Scots-American.

MS: Hm. How long ago was this, exactly? Was this incident before or after 9/11, when the airport security came down much harder than it did before? Just so I'm clear.

Lou: Actually, it was after. I think 2004 or 2005. I know this because I didn't have a green card in 2001...shhhhh.

MS: And when did you move back home to Scotland?

Lou: I left New York in 2009 after 11 fabulous years, after my first daughter was born. I still miss my old haunts, but I'm a single mum of two now and kinda loving being back home. Glasgow is changing, and it's rough as hell at times, but I like that.

MS: Okay, back to haggis.

Lou: Anyway, later that week, a bunch of us at the bar enjoyed our illicit goods with plenty of neeps [swede/rutabaga], tatties [potatoes], and whisky cream sauce. Plus wine.

International food terrorist outs herself. Try haggis. Stuff it into a chicken for Chicken Balmoral [haggis-stuffed chicken breast wrapped in pancetta], wash it down with whatever tickles your fancy. Live a little. It can be peppery so a robust Rioja or Pinot Noir is essential.

MS: So do you know anyone else who's smuggled haggis—or any other forbidden food—through customs? Do you know anyone who's tried unsuccessfully to do so? 

Lou: Oh, I know tons of people who had sausages and stuff confiscated! We were convinced they were all having a great cooked breakfast at our expense! 

MS: Last thing—are you comfortable with us using your real name?

Lou: Use my first name! I think I'm past the statute for prosecution.

Have a food smuggling story of your own? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


kzmccaff February 1, 2017
I bought vacuum sealed pecorino Romano in Rome and... declared it when I arrived in Boston. When I did, the customs guy laughed and said "you're declaring cheese? Ha. Welcome home" hahaha.
Elizabeth December 9, 2016
I've brought in cheese and cured meat before from outside the EU. My strategy was to keep it in hand luggage wrapped up with some bread and a napkin, so I could claim it was the (very large!) lunch I had forgotten to eat before boarding the plane, if challenged at customs.
shizue December 8, 2016
I may have smuggled a Chicago deep dish pizza into Canada, in my carry-on. My "small" pizza was huge! And I didn't want it to go to waste! So I shoved it in my carry-on, waited until the cheese congealed before going through the scanner. Totally worth it.
ChefJune December 8, 2016
A good chunk of me is Scottish but Haggis...... nah It isn't chicken livers. The best part of Bobby Burns' Birthday is the neat Scotch that you drink with the Haggis... Just saying.