Pouch Pies, a family-owned savory pie restaurant located in downtown Athens, is hosting their fourth annual Burns Night on Friday, Jan. 25 in celebration of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Burns Night has become a symbol of Scottish culture and is celebrated around the world on Jan. 25, the poet’s birthday.
Dave Malcher, one of the part-owners of Pouch, has celebrated Burns Night all his life, both in his birthplace of Scotland, and later living in various countries around the world, eventually leading to Athens, Georgia.
“I was born in Scotland in a little village, so I grew up knowing about Robert Burns and Scottish heritage,” Dave Malcher said. “A Burns event … it's a lot of speeches and a lot of hilarity and drinking and whatever … but it’s not going to be a traditional Burns supper, which is quite formal and sort of rigid, so hopefully it’s just relaxing and drinking.”
While Pouch pays homage to the traditional schedule of a Burns Night, their supper is more fluid than the structured meal celebrated in Scotland. In years past, the event has combined the traditions of Burns Night with a more relaxed atmosphere.
“We open our doors as a business, but what we get to take from it is, we’ve made some of our best family friends. Once you see these people attend several of our events, you realize that they start to connect.”
-- Chantelle Malcher, part-owner of Pouch
If any word sums up the atmosphere of Pouch, it’s relaxed. With a cozy ambiance and sinfully delicious comfort foods, Pouch feels like going home.
Chantelle Malcher, another part-owner and one of Dave Malcher’s daughters, has observed how Pouch’s traditions come with ready-made friendships.
“I think the making of friends is something that we’ve experienced being restaurant owners,” Chantelle Malcher said. “We open our doors as a business, but what we get to take from it is, we’ve made some of our best family friends. Once you see these people attend several of our events, you realize that they start to connect.”
Attending the event provides a window into Scottish pride in their culture. As with any group, stereotypes exist among people who have never actually experienced Scottish customs. At Pouch, the Malcher family and other people familiar with Scottish traditions rejoice in sharing the celebration of their heritage with others.
“When you just think of Robert Burns, some of the poems that he's had … ‘Auld Lang Syne’ for example, which the entire world knows and sings at New Year,” Dave Malcher said.
The Scottish people seem to appreciate Robert Burns, not only for the status of his works but also for the simple reason that he gives them an excuse to put on a party.
“Scotland likes to celebrate anything, so I think they're quite proud of Robert Burns. I think for Scotsmen, they love the opportunity to put the kilt on and have a fun occasion,” Dave Malcher said.
The cheeky poet is celebrated on his birthday by reading his poetry and giving toasts of various natures. A toast to “the Lassies” is common, as well as “the address to the Haggis” traditionally accompanied by a bagpipe.
Chantelle Malcher spoke to an interested customer who wanted to know more about the event. She encouraged him and any others who own their own kilts to use Burns Night as the chance to show off their kilt while being treated as an honored guest.
“We underestimate, I think, how many people either have heritage in Scotland or own a kilt and want to wear it out,” Chantelle Malcher said. “So I think we should definitely highlight if you have a kilt this is your chance to show it off and you'll be treated like a VIP Scot.”
Of course, kilts are in no way required to enjoy the event, nor is Scottish ancestry. All that is necessary to enjoy Burns Night is the appreciation of a good celebration — something which stretches across cultural boundaries.
While the full celebratory experience of Burns Night (complete with bagpipes, toasts and poetry reading) only comes around one day a year, Pouch is celebrating Scottish week Jan. 21-26 by offering special Scottish menu items.
“I think the food is a big draw, too, because we only feature these menu items for the week of Scottish week,” Chantelle Malcher said. “And that has sort of a novelty appeal to come out and try something new.”
The special menu items include Scottish tablet (fudge), sausage rolls, Forfar bridies (Scottish meat pastry) and steak and haggis pies served on mashed potatoes with a whiskey sauce gravy. Haggis, the epitome of Scottish food and the traditional Scottish dish is a type of sausage made from sheep’s pluck.
“I think making it into a pie is the fusion of these traditional ways of celebrating, but we're still using our concept and what we do here,” Chantelle Malcher said. “If someone’s never tried haggis before, this would be a good way for them to try it for the first time … It draws quite a crowd of, if not the curious, then the adventurous.”
Feedback on the pies has been very positive so far, both for people who have never tried haggis, and those who grew up on it.
However, even if guests are not adventurous enough to try haggis, Burns Night still offers plenty of new experiences in the Scottish tradition.
“You know, the Scots are famous for having fun, celebrating and letting their hair down,” Dave Malcher said with an open invitation for Jan. 25 to be the day anyone can become an honorary Scot.