Not The Chinese Food You Think You Know: Blood
I have eaten lamb's blood, and I know that sounds a bit Satanic, but in local food in China this is normal. Notice, that I wrote that I ate blood and didn't drink it. There is a big difference. Typically, animal's blood is congealed into slippery cubes that looks like a reddish version of the semi-soft tofu Americans can buy in plastic tubs of brine. In this way, blood has the exact same bland consistency as soft bean curd, only it tastes more metallic. It also depends on the animal. Duck blood -- often a popular ingredient in communal hot pot meal -- is perhaps the strongest and most distinctive in flavor. Pig blood I found to be the most mild. If I am keeping track of these things, you can say I have tried lamb, duck, pig, and goose blood in my two and a half years of living here. This has always been in soups, by the way.
And, let's be honest about something. Some people may be reading this and wondering, "Why in the hell are you evening eating this stuff?" I don't -- not that often, at least. Yet, I do have a rule I cling to: When in China, respect Chinese hospitality. So, if a Chinese friend is taking me out to dinner and orders something I think is weird, I will refuse to act disgusted, and I wall make myself at least try at least one bite. This means if my friend is chowing down on duck tongues, that I will at least sample those duck tongues (honestly: a bit chewy), I will even try to act as disinterested as I can. If the flavor truly disgusts me, then I am being honest and not letting my own knee-jerk cultural reactions dictate things.
This gets into one other topic, however. Before I even moved to China, I did a lot of cultural research on the region I was going to work in, and I ran across a delicacy called "Nanjing Duck Blood Soup." I read the recipe, winced, and said to myself, "Hell no, I'm not eating that. Blood, and all the insides of the duck? With very thin pasta floating around? Um, no. No. No!" Yet, I followed my hospitality rule, and it turned out to be very delicious. Chinese people eat pretty much anything. I even often joke, "All animals and ALL animal parts from A to Z." By respecting Chinese hospitality, the amount of things I said I would never eat, like cubes of Satanic-sounding lamb's blood, gets shorter and shorter. Honestly, that's an adventure worth having. That also leads me to my almost primal rule now: "Don't move to China if you hate living outside your comfort zone."
(Image credits: Me)
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