Blood Bath. Various Restaurants. Los Angeles County.
German Blood Tongue. Van Nuys German Deli. Van Nuys, CA.
“For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof: therefore I said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall eat the blood of no manner of flesh: for the life of all flesh is the blood thereof: whosoever eateth it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 17:14)
“He hath forbidden you only carrion, and blood, and swineflesh, and that which hath been immolated to (the name of) any other than Allah. But he who is driven by necessity, neither craving nor transgressing, it is no sin for him. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (The Holy Qu'ran: Chapter 2: Verse 173)
“But flesh with the life thereof, the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.” (Genesis 9:4)
“The blood is the life!” Dracula by Bram Stoker
I don’t know what to tell you, my dear readers, but it seems my epicurean ennui has led me down yet another dark path of Deep End Dining delicacies. This particular path is paved with plasma and its ultimate destination is a bloody banquet. Aside from the occasional razor blade wound and the resulting crimson drips into the sink, I don’t have a problem with blood. After all, blood is necessary. It is basic. It is common. But make no mistake, there is nothing simple about it, for blood is the very essence of life. It is also a symbol of death. It is barbaric. Attila and his Huns drank the blood of their steeds in order to sustain themselves while traveling as light as possible when conquering territories. It is controversial. There are many rules regarding the handling of it. There are religious laws about consuming or, rather, not consuming it. And the more I learned about blood and its forbidden status as a food among the world’s major religious faiths, the more uneasy I became when it came time to eat blood.
But of course none of this deterred me from launching my moveable feast…of blood. And not since Carrie has so much animal blood been unleashed on an unsuspecting public. In any event, I hope you like your meat very, very rare.
My bloody tour begins in the city of Van Nuys at the Van Nuys German Deli. Directly across the street from the Van Nuys Airport and huddled in a ubiquitous San Fernando Valley strip mall is a humble microcosm dedicated to the world of German meats and select European staples. At the rear of the deli, past the cooler filled with Club-Malz, Fanta and Mezzomix beverages, and beyond the aisle of Gundelsheim pickles and Hengstenberg kraut is the meat case filled with a dizzying selection of meats, sausages and loafs. The varieties of meats all seemed strange to me and thereby, I thought, authentic. The lady behind the meat case spoke with a German accent which made her, I believed, authentic as well. I asked for the blood sausage or blutwurst, assuming that this was a simple request. She pointed out several types of blood sausages available, however none of them were cooked or ready to eat. She suggested that I order off of the deli’s menu board. Listed on the board, and with my name practically written on it, was the German Blood Tongue Sandwich.
German blood tongue is not a death metal band. German blood tongue or blut zungenwurst is a loaf similar to headcheese. Cow blood and tongue are cooked along with gelatin and an assortment of spices. The batch is then cooled, molded and finally sliced paper thin for sandwiches. Blood tongue has sort of a meat mosaic appearance with an almost transparent cross-section of tongue locked in position within the canvas of coagulated blood punctuated by chunks of gelatin. Served on delightfully crusty and chewy pretzel bread, the German blood tongue sandwich has a mild flavor with the most noticeable spice being star anise which lends a peppery and cinnamony punch. The blood tongue has no distinct blood flavor but does offer the faint gamy taste that beef tongue typically has. The sweetness and spiciness of the blood tongue combined with the duality in its texture of the mealy blood and the fibrous tongue makes this a unique and ambrosial sandwich. I give it two bloody and dismembered thumbs way up.
From the porn capital city of Van Nuys I make my way to the beach capital city of Santa Monica, California. Ye Olde King’s Head British Pub and Restaurant, jammed between the Third Street Promenade and a shimmering Pacific coastline, is a home away from home for British expats jonesing for a properly poured pint and a televised cricket match. It’s also a place where Tony Blair or Hugh Grant can sop up their runny eggs with real black pudding.
Black Pudding. Ye Olde King's Head. Santa Monica, CA.
Black pudding is legendary. Poetically referenced in Homer’s Odyssey, black pudding is more related to cornbread than to the creamy, sweet goop that Bill Cosby wackily scrunches his face to hawk for Jell-O. Then why is it called pudding? Well, the sweet-sticky pudding is a derivative of the savory-bloody stuff. Pudding refers more to the mish mash of odds and ends in the casing rather than the form it takes. (Puddings can be baked, boiled, steamed, squeezed into casings or formed by molds.) Black pudding is also known as blood sausage in England, but it’s not at all like the blood sausages in Germany for example. Blood sausage in England is more like baked cake than a meat item. The black pudding at Ye Olde King’s Head is prepared with oatmeal, bread, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, other spices and cow’s blood. The lot is then put into a tin and popped into an oven.
The flavor of black pudding is benign and pleasant. Nothing funky. Again, like the German blood tongue, not the slightest hint of blood in its character. The wonderfully vibrant tastes come from the rosemary, thyme and pepper. Slightly crispy on the exterior and nicely porous but firm inside, it’s the perfect mate for a slab of bacon in a traditional English breakfast. Black pudding is near perfection when used as a sponge for egg yolk. Saturated with yolk, it's a decadent way to clean off your breakfast plate without licking it and breaking proper British form. Three bloody Michelin stars - if there was such a rating.
Pork Red Cake. Happy Garden. San Gabriel, CA.
With a bit of jolly and bloody old England in my gut, I cheerily, or should I say, happily cruised directly east on Interstate 10 to the Happy Garden in San Gabriel. The Happy Garden restaurant on Valley Boulevard is one of many Chinese establishments where you will find Pig Blood Cubes or Pork Blood Jello or, as the Filipinos call it, Chocolate Pork. But, at a restaurant with such an adorable, snuggy-huggy name like Happy Garden, where you would expect to see on the walls cutesy, disproportioned, Hello Kitty-like representations of the animal you are about to devour, pig blood cubes have a very special pet name. At Happy Garden it's called Pork Red Cake. Hello Piggy!
Pig blood cube is a very versatile culinary component found in many Chinese dishes from congee to dim sum. I ordered Happy Garden’s “Pork Red Cake with Chitterling.” If you put Happy Garden’s description through the Babel fish translator, the result is, uneuphemistically, “Pig blood cubes with large intestines.” This item is a clay pot dish and arrives to the table with the clay pot elevated while heated underneath by a Sterno. As a consequence this dish is a roiling, raging, blood-red brew of chunky leeks, fiery red chilis, pungent garlic, creamy tofu, and the two bobbing centerpieces of pig blood cubes and segments of large intestines. (FYI, those tantalizing bobbing blocks that look like dreamy bricks of chocolate fudge are in actuality pig blood cubes. Eat up, me hearties!)
The heat in Pork Red Cake with Chitterling is a double blow to the senses. It scalds you with its searing, molten temperature and then it stings you with the bite of the red chilis. Strategically, this may be in your favor because essentially your senses of taste and smell have been effectively disabled. This is a good time to put the large intestine in your mouth. Large intestine is pretty much the organ opposite your mouth, if you get my meaning. It is probably something you shouldn’t be putting into your mouth but, hey, I’m not your mom. (My mom is the one responsible for introducing animal parts like large intestine to my dining repertoire to begin with.) The large intestine in this dish is not for amateurs. It is a pinch less pungent, skunky and gamy than week old roadkill. It’s a lot like pig ears in texture, slightly daintier but not by much. However, in reality, the chilis and garlic win the flavor rumble and the large intestine most likely will give you a smack in the form of aftertaste. Still, it’s a potent smack.
Of all the blood dishes reviewed here, pig blood cubes is the only one that actually tastes like what it is – blood. It’s a subtle taste tango between iron and saline. And it’s a bit spicy because of the chilis. Pork blood cubes is literally a hot blooded meal.
Blood, as with so many of life's temptations, has reasons to be forbidden by the major faiths. For one, it is bloody good. So it must be bad. Like premarital sex, it’s even luscious. And like adultery, it may even be something you want to try but don’t want anyone to know about. Or it’s something you already enjoy in private...by yourself. To quote Woody Allen from Annie Hall: “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.” And don’t knock blood foods. It’s just another part of the whole beast. Waste not, want not. Plus, it's so very infidel-icious.
But, really though, between you and me, don’t you want to try blood simply because you’re told not to?
You know you want to.