The annals of Rhianna as Picky Eater start when I was old enough to say I did not want something, whether that be because I was afraid to eat it or had curiously decided I no longer liked it. From there on in, my little “no” was observed. For example, I did not willfully eat eggs from ages three to 23. Good behavior and excellent marks enabled me to wrest way more authority over my decision-making from my parents than I probably should have had, especially when it came to eating. And as someone who was/is fiercely independent and a bit of a know-it-all, no amount of shaming or prodding from family or friends worked to get me to try anything unless I wanted to do so. I knew what was best for me and what was worth trying or not.
That is not to say that I did not eat anything, but I was picky and had my comfort zone as a child and a teenager. Notable exceptions from my diet around age six inclusws pizza, soup, and eggs. (The 80s were not great for ethnic exploration in Edmonton, so the fact that I did not eat sushi or Thai curries was perfectly normal.)
I have always enjoyed eating out at restaurants, and with everyone getting to choose what they want, I did not feel “picky” when dining out. Despite my comfort zone, dining out gave me a curiosity about food and cooking from an early age, even if I was not eating or making that which I was learning about. The cooking shows of PBS and the CBC were the best precursors to the education onslaught that would occur when Food Network showed up in our cable line up.
It has taken a long time for my palate’s readiness to my match my brain’s curiosity in all things food, but I have come a long way. Hey, I eat eggs now. Often! The key is usually my level of trust. If I feel like the person doing the cooking is skilled enough, I’ll eat anything they give me. But offal is still something I am getting comfortable with. Sweetbreads, love. Chicken livers, fine. Hearts, too, if need be. Tripe, no. Kidneys, I do not think so. A few months ago, I certainly would have said, no blood. Ever.
Life is different on vacation though. I feel less (more?) myself. I always say that I am never going to see any of these people again, so who cares what does or does not happen. Be adventurous, I say. This would lead you to the expectation that I will tell you stories of meeting incredible people and having amazing foreign love affairs. Keep expecting. My adventures are always of the culinary sort.
This spring, I was faced with two little round discs of blood on vacation. Blood pudding, black pudding, blood sausage: All terms for something I was afraid to eat. Just the thought of congealed blood wrinkles my nose and gets my head shaking. But there I was, at this fantastic French brasserie in West Berlin, Lamazère, that came highly recommended by The Wednesday Chef, and I had an inkling that was blood accompanying my pork. I had to ask just to be sure. Afraid of both the texture and the taste (would it remind me of a paper cut?), I worked my way around them a bit before I had the courage to cut a little strip. I trusted Louisa who trusted the chef. Thus, I trusted the chef. Thus, I decided to be adventurous.
I do not need to delve any deeper because if you read the title of the post, then you know my resulting feelings. Rich, spicy, and a little bit crumbly, but not mushy. I wished there had been three discs. Or four. What I had never thought about was that blood sausage is all about what the maker puts into it. Just like regular sausage. Duh, Rhianna. (Except there is also congealed blood.) So, if they are talented in the spice and seasoning department, then the bloody link will be tasty. Rational set, fear tamed, palate matured.
What I did not know at the time was that those two discs would set me off into wanting blood sausage whenever I could get it. Of course, given the whole blood thing, it is not something you see on menus as often as fries or kale salad. But when I was back in Europe this fall, I was extremely excited to see a boudin noir mille feuille appetizer on the menu of La Fleur au Fusil, an unexpected find some friends and I came across while we were in France. Layered with apples and crispy pastry, the mille feuille was flavourful enough to rev the appetite but not so rich that I could not get into our other appetizers and then also finish off a main (and dessert).
A few days later, while in Lisbon, I was presented with a large coil of sausage at the small plates restaurant La Taberna da Ruas das Flores. I am not a big fan of small plates dining when alone because of portion and price issues, and I knew I might be presented with too much blood, but I went with it given my vampire-like hunger. It was a lot of blood. But it was delicious, especially paired with apples again, their acidity nicely cutting through the sausage’s depth.
Now back at home, my eyes dart and ears prick up every time I read or hear about dishes with blood. I headed out to Jackson Heights to try gyuma at Phayul, a Tibetan restaurant. A little bit too spongey and not overly interesting with respect to seasoning, this bowl of blood was the least exciting I’ve had. And then there was pizza! GG’s is a relatively new restaurant in the East Village that is getting lots of love. Based on what is on Instagram, you would think that their grandma pie is the only thing on offer. I eschewed the hype and went directly for the Ebony & Ivory pizza with housemade blood sausage. While I loved that the sausage was paired with creamy ricotta, I did feel a little bit let down because it tasted like your typical Italian sausage. All fine and good, and I enjoyed the pizza, but I was hoping for something a bit more left-of-centre in terms of taste. I can get Italian sausage anywhere.
I think, ultimately, I was hoping for something a bit more like a paper cut.