When traveling (or just eating out, actually), I like to order the weirdest item on the menu, which sometimes puts me in equally weird situations. Just recently I was in Nicaragua, where protein sometimes takes the form of armadillo and iguana, and which offered plenty of opportunities for weird eating. For example, while in Puerto Cabezas on the Caribbean coast, I happened on a dish called ‘moronga,’ which my phrasebook informed me was tripe soup.
On the rare occasions when I am not feeling the slightest hungover or otherwise queasy I’ve been known to enjoy menudo, a bracing Mexican tripe soup, and so, since I might never return to Nicaragua, I ordered the moronga. Our waiter (who probably owned the restaurant/ thatched roof where we were eating) gave me the thumbs up. He mimed to me it was spicy. Great, I mimed back, I like spicy tripe soup and I am not afraid.
When it arrived, moronga resembled five scorched hockey pucks lying on top of the ubiquitous fried plantains.
“This is not tripe soup,” I said.
We rechecked the phrasebook. It seemed I had made a mistake. Moronga was actually pig’s blood sausage, also known as morcilla. Blood sausage has a long and noble history in Ireland, Iceland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Estonia, Italy, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, China, Tibet, Uruguay, and many other countries where they don’t pretend meat comes from a supermarket. I think we in the industrialized West have a rather dopey taboo against eating blood, which is, after all, the natural byproduct of killing an animal. Perhaps horror movies are to blame for our aversion, but why waste a food source? Blood is loaded with iron and very likely other good things too. If you’re an omnivore, to sneer at eating blood seems a little deluded. The same folks who happily chomp down sushi feel ill at the thought of a slice of black pudding. Why?
The basic recipe for blood sausage is to fry up some onions, spices, rice, and chile peppers, and then add blood which you boil until it congeals. Coagulation, a trait blood possesses which helps you not bleed to death from a paper cut, is also handy for cooking. It is hard to make a good raspberry jam, for example, because raspberries don’t have enough pectin to get satisfyingly gloopy when you stew them. Blood is the ultimate thickener.
It tastes good too. I was a touch disappointed my pig’s blood sausage didn’t taste more of, well, blood, but it mostly resembled barbecued rice. Tasty, salty, meaty barbecued rice. Can’t complain.