Last night I went as far out of my food comfort zone as I have ever been.
Since being in Vietnam, I’ve eaten boiled squid, barbecued quail (including heads with little beaks attached), and a hotpot made of chicken’s feet. But until tonight nothing has really tested the boundaries of my comfort zone.
But last night the meal you see below, this innocent looking soup, it nearly had me running out of the restaurant.
What is this seemingly innocuous broth?
Try to guess.
Gone on, try.
Its duck blood curds (or tiết canh).
You heard me right.
My boyfriend ordered this soup at the recommendation of the shop owner, who brought it steaming to the table for us to ladle into our little bowls and scoop up with our chop sticks.
The first bite made me tense.
“What is this?” I whispered out of earshot of the owner.
My boyfriend shrugged, eating, and not looking up at me.
I took another bite. I couldn’t place the taste. I took another bite. It was bitter and strongly metallic-flavored.
“I… I think this is blood,” I said.
My boyfriend looked up at me. “Oh it’s definitely blood,” he said sheepishly. Later he told me that he figured it out after the first bite but didn’t tell me so I wouldn’t freak out.
That was probably a good call because it was an effort not to drop my chopsticks.
I finished my small bowl of broth, with minimal outward emotion, then calmly set the chopsticks down. I am still inordinately proud of how little fuss I made. I know that to many people blood makes a regular and welcome appearance on the menu, but this was a first for me. My boyfriend quite enjoyed his soup and had two more little bowls, but finishing my one was accomplishment enough for me.
As shocking as the blood curd was, it didn’t occur to me yet how far I was outside of my comfort zone.
Then our main course arrived. The actual duck was brought out for us to eat.
This duck was far more rustic than the usual fowl I’ve eaten at the dinner table. Having been hacked up with a huge knife, it had broken bones, tendons, and marrow spilling out everywhere. If I looked closely I could see bits of broken feathers in the barbecued skin. That was when it hit me. I had never been so far out of my comfort zone with food before. As a girl who used to spit out cartilage if she found some in her chicken nuggets at home, this was something entirely new. If you had given this meal to me four years ago, I would have stared at you in abject horror.
But you know what? It was absolutely delicious.
So while I may not be returning for the blood curd soup, the duck meat will have me coming back for more. I’ve left my comfort zone in the dust somewhere back in Indiana. I can’t wait to try a bit more mystery street food in the upcoming year. And I can’t wait to be happily surprised again and again.
Bring it on Hanoi.