Before moving to China, I spent a lot of time rationally thinking about where to look for a job. Eventually, I settled on Nanjing. While my recruiter contacted potential colleges and universities, I decided to do a little research on the culture of the city. And that’s when I discovered duck blood soup 鸭血粉丝汤.
At the time, it sounded absolutely revolting, even though most websites were calling it a delicacy and were heaping emotive adjectives on weird ingredients — “Sumptuous duck intestines,” for example. To the average American, the ingredients really do sound disgusting. The vermicelli noodles are made from from sweet potato flour. There is a form of fried tofu in here to. That’s well and fine, but lets get to the fun parts!
I guess starting with the blood should suffice. Blood in general is a standard part of Chinese cuisine. In my time in the middle kingdom, I’ve eaten duck, pig, sheep, and goose blood. Typically, it’s shaped into cubes and it looks like a brown form of tofu, and it tastes that way too, albeit a bit coppery and metallic. Blood pretty much tastes the same — just some, like duck, have stronger flavors that others, like pig. So, the blood is not the stock that makes up the broth at all; it’s a solid.
As for the other ingredients, there is no rest for the squeamish. This soup literally has most of a duck’s organs floating in it. That includes livers, lungs, intestines, gizzards, and more. There may be some variations, but rest assured that there will always be organ meat in this soup. And before somebody screams Barbaric! Keep this in mind: many Americans in the south enjoy eating chicken gizzards and hearts. Liver and onions is a pretty standard dish. Pork rinds are deep fried pig skin, and so on and so forth.
I once told my father I would never eat something this repulsive. The funny thing is this: the list of foods I said I would never eat in China keeps getting shorter and shorter. I have a rule: never insult Chinese hospitality. If I am having dinner with a Chinese friend, and they are paying the bill, I will at least try what they order. After all, dishes are communal when dining out. And that’s how a mischievous friend tricked me into trying this.
We were at some food street near Cultural Square 文化宫 in downtown Changzhou. He set the bowl down and simply said, “Try this. If you like it, then I will tell you what it is.” I already knew what it was, just by seeing the brown slabs floating in it. So, I gave it a try. Once I could see beyond my own cultural and culinary prejudices, I realized something. It wasn’t that bad at all.