It can be all too easy to stick to your culinary comfort zone in Shanghai, be it KFC or gōngbǎo jīdīng. As a challenge to break these habits and avoid the rut, every few weeks Shanghaiist will explore one of the more intriguing options out of China’s endless array of curious cookery. Although bizarre to most Western palates, these oft-avoided edibles usually boast unique medicinal properties, nutritional benefits, and intriguing culinary histories. We’ll explore for you where they came from and where you can sample these rare eats for yourselves.
BLOOD (血, xuè)
Regions of use: Worldwide
Tasted at: Fu Chun (富春) // 650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu (愚园路650号, 近镇宁路). Closest metro stop: Jiangsu Road (江苏路) Line 2/11
I first tasted blood when I was a toddler. My dad had bought some blocks of congealed pig blood in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was stirring them into a crimson soup. When my Mom came home that night and asked what dinner was, I answered in the direst tone I could muster at the time “we’re having blood.”
It’s a silly story, but like most people before trying an official blood dish, my experiences eating blood had all been negative; usually occurring after I’d busted by nose on the monkey bars and decided to lap that coppery-tasting smear from my upper lip. That and countless vampire stories colored my childhood idea of blood consumption.
Blood consumption as practiced by most cultures worldwide is far more fulfilling. Many European and Asian countries enjoy black pudding or blood sausage made from dried blood (usually pig’s), onions, and other ingredients (the most interesting kind I tried was dog blood sausage in Saigon), while the Inuit of the Arctic drink fresh seal blood to restore circulation and warmth amidst their frigid climate. Maybe you’ve seen that video of Anthony Bourdain feasting on raw seal with an Inuit family in Quebec.
Cobra blood consumption in Vietnam probably matches movie portrayals most closely as it involves ripping out a live cobra’s heart, placing it still beating in a shot-glass and downing it so you feel the heart pumping all the way down your gullet.
However, blood in Asia is most commonly sold as the aforementioned gelatinous cubes, which form when blood from a freshly-killed animal drips into a metal tub and coagulates. The Chinese eat these jello-like chunks on skewers, in soups, or over congee, and believe that they enrich your blood and increase yin. Blood is a proven source of protein, iron, and Vitamin D.
Bloody good soup
Our go-to dish when the blood-lust wells up is Fu Chun’s chicken and duck blood soup (4RMB), which couldn’t be farther from most people’s vision of a “blood meal.” It entails clear chicken broth bobbing with drab-brown cubes that don’t harbor a trace of that metallic blood flavor. Dump this in the middle of a feeding frenzy and the sharks wouldn’t even notice.
The cubes instead have a faint livery, salty tinge and wobble on your tongue like a combo of jello and tofu. After sucking down the last clotted cube, you feel a spark of energy, and warmth flooding your chest as if someone laid a hot towel on it.
Fresh cobra blood
If you’re looking for an Indiana Jones-style adventure with beating hearts, blood-fountaining throats, and guttural guzzling noises, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you just need to get your blood moving during the winter, you can do worse than Fu Chun’s blood soup.
Last time on Off the Beaten Palate: Chicken feet
See a complete list of our Off the Beaten Palate series here.
Benjamin Cost is Shanghaiist’s Food Editor. Email tips, recommendations, and news updates on Shanghai’s dining scene to [email protected].