Every city in China is famous for at least one signature dish. In Beijing, it’s roasted duck. In Shanghai, it’s 小笼包 xiǎolóngbāo (soup dumplings). Hangzhou is famous for West Lake vinegar fish and Longjing tea. And Nanjing? The local specialty here is 鸭血粉丝汤 yāxuě fěnsī tāng: duck blood vermicelli soup. Clearly I picked the right city.

When my coworker Cathy suggested we get yāxuě fěnsī tāng for lunch, I was actually pretty excited. If I’m going to live in Nanjing, after all, I might as well eat as the locals do. We met up with some of Cathy’s old guy friends from middle school, and we went to a little place near the office called 鸭得堡 (Ya De Bao), known for its nutritious broth. As we walked through the door, Cathy asked me worriedly whether I was okay with eating内脏nèizàng (internal organs). The thing is, unlike some Americans who have never encountered such things before, I am very okay with eating nèizàng. My family has always loved organs. We put turkey hearts in soup, drool over cow tongue sandwiches, and spread chopped liver on endives every Thanksgiving. At this very moment, in fact, several of my male relatives are gathering in Colorado for their yearly ritual of eating organ meats and drinking whiskey in the mountains.

In the U.S., my acceptance of edible organs makes me sort of weird; in China, it is completely normal. The boundaries we draw between what is edible and what is not are often arbitrary, wasteful, and extremely irrational. Why should we ship blood and organs off to the glue factory—or worse, the landfill—when they are not only perfectly edible, but also extremely nutritious and tasty? I am excited to be living in a country where the entire animal is considered worthy of consumption, and not just a few choice cuts of muscle.

I asked Cathy what kind of soup I should get, and she helped me order what in the U.S. would probably have been described as “the works”: duck blood vermicelli soup rounded out with duck liver, duck tripe, and god knows what other bits of mysterious animal parts.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t like the liver. It was dry, pasty, and reminded me vividly and unpleasantly of dog breath. The duck blood, however, was another story. For some reason I had been picturing liquid blood incorporated into the soup, making some kind of a red, irony broth. In fact, the blood was congealed and sliced into cubes. The texture was smooth and silky, and the taste was surprisingly mild. If I ignored the dark, red-brown color, I could almost imagine that I was eating tofu.

yaxue tang

Duck and other animal blood is not only high in iron, but also in protein, salt, and electrolytes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, animal blood is “cold,” and can help relieve conditions of the blood (以血补血).

The very next day, my roommate and I went out to dinner together. She suggested we get duck blood soup, and I happily accepted—although this time instead of fěnsī (vermicelli noodles), I ordered the soup with doughy little wontons instead. I was thrilled when my soup arrived full of duck blood, but thankfully liver-free.

In conclusion, this may sound just a wee bit…well, psychopathic…but I’ll say it anyway: I like eating blood!

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