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Bloody Good Food!
Animal blood needn't be confined to Western and Far Eastern kitchens alone. Many Indian communities too pay rich obeisance to the scarlet-hued ingredient
It's confession time. How many of us have squirmed in our seat, scrunched up our faces and looked up in horror at the television screen when the 'Oligarchs of Offal' who also go by the names of Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and Gord Martin appear to get all misty-eyed and tongue-tied at the sight of blood on their plates? The trio's respective food shows, No Reservations, Bizarre Foods and The Delinquent Gourmet, anathema to most of us - who barely go beyond the organ meat realm of an occasional Liver Pepper Fry or a bi-monthly serving of Bheja Masala - with their rather culinarily risquê content that most often than not comes with an indemnifying disclaimer ticking at the bottom of the screen.
Yet, the concept of animal blood as an ingredient and dare-I-say a delicacy is firmly etched into the culinary lexicon of most countries' food cultures for centuries. If the British extol the virtues of a generous slab of pig's blood sausage called Black Pudding under runny eggs for their morning tea, then the French sing ballads of love to their version of the adored pig's blood sausage they call Boudin. The Chinese speak reverentially of what they know as congealed pig or duck's blood tofu called Xie D?ufu that is the star ingredient of any self-respecting Hot Pot. And for the Maasai people of Kenya's Maasai Mara region, no celebratory meal can be complete without a cocktail of bull's blood, freshly siphoned off the beast's jugular vein, quickly mixed with cow's milk to avoid curdling and served warm out of a hollowed bull's horn. The Scandinavians go one step further and use pig's blood to make pancakes called Blodpl?ttar in Swedish and Veriohukainen in Finnish. When mixed with raw minced pork and spices, pig's blood salad takes on the name of Laap which is popular in Laos and in northeast Thailand.
But we'd be doing grave injustice to our very own richly layered tapestry of Indian cuisine to ignore and discount the widespread - if ill-documented - prevalence of animal blood as a food ingredient, here at home. From the northeast to the south of the country and other regions in between, animal blood can be seen giving that unmistakable iron-y flavour to a stir fry, some muchneeded heft to a thin curry or simply bestowing that rich, hemoglobic, scarlet depth of colour on to a stew.
Case in point, the Goan, East Indian and Mangalorean 'shared' Portuguese-influenced pork dish of Sorpotel. As if the Kashmiri chilly, redolent of colour wasn't enough, fresh pig's blood is added towards the end of the dish's cooking to impart a bright red blush to this thick, unctuous stew that is made up of tiny bits of fatty pork and pig's liver swimming in a vinegar-spiked gravy served with steamed rice or crusty brun bread.
Another blood-based Goan dish that you won't find on any Goan restaurant's menu card (not even in Goa!) is the very family-style Pork Cabidela. This traditional Portuguese blood curry is made very differently from Sorpotel. The blood of a butchered pig is collected in a metallic vessel to which palm vinegar is added immediately. This is done so that it does not coagulate. Spices like ginger, garlic, turmeric and red chilly powder are then rubbed onto the pork pieces that are left to braise in the blood over a slow wood fire. No water is used at all in the cooking process. The result is a super-thick, dark, flavourful curry that is redolent of the nostalgia of a bygone era.
Moving a little southeast in the peninsula, both the Madurai and Kongu Nadu regions of Tamil Nadu share another blood-centric dish called Aattu Ratha Poriyal. This stir fry uses the congealed blood of a goat which most butchers in the region sell in smallish earthen pots that are believed to help the blood coagulate faster. The cake-like blood mass is then washed, steamed and cut into small bits that resemble pieces of chopped liver. The pieces are added to spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, chilly powder, mustard and stir fried in oil with onions and fresh coconut scrapings with plenty of curry leaves thrown in for good measure. More of a side dish than a main, Aattu Ratha Poriyal is considered everyday fare and best mopped up with a dosai.
However, the sacred dish of Amin is anything but pedestrian for the Galo tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh. Made from the blood of a sacrificial mithun also known as Gaur or bor frontalis, on the fourth (and last) day of the Mopin Festival of fertility, celebrated from the 5th to the 8th of April ever year, Amin is made by grinding rice with ginger, meat and the said blood. The mixture is then stuffed into hollow bamboo cylinders and steamed till it is set and comes out resembling a long sausage-like cake, not dissimilar to Black Pudding from good ol' Blyty!
India's indigenous Nepali community who are found in considerable numbers in Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Darjeeling, too have a ritualistic blood dish called Rakti that is had during the Hindu festival of Dashain (Dussehra). To prepare Rakti, a goat is slaughtered at home, without the help of any professional butcher and the meat is shared with neighbours and friends. The blood of the animal is, however, collected and cooked fresh in mustard oil over a slow fire. Spices like cumin, coriander and loads of nutmeg are added along with fried onion and garlic paste. Once done, the intensely dark and rich Rakti is garnished with a sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves and a squirt of lime juice. It is then eaten on its own, quite akin to thick bisque.
Still in the northeast, the Khasis from the Cherrapunjee area of Meghalaya also known as Sohra, have a version of the popular Khasi pork pulao called Ja-Doh (Ja means rice and Doh, meat in the local Khasi language) that uses pig and sometimes chicken's blood. Ja-Doh is typically eaten at breakfast during traditional Khasi festivals and is cooked using small bits of pork with spicy rice;blood is added mid-way during the cooking process. The resulting dish looks like a northeastern biryani doppelganger, but the flavour couldn't be more different with that distinctly metallic taste of blood giving it a certain mysterious je ne sais quoi.
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