Posted by jdg | Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The dog has been in a permanent diarrheal squat in the backyard for two days and it's all my fault. I just knocked a butt-gravy icicle off his tail before letting him back into the house. Seriously.

Let me back up. A few weeks ago I went out to dinner with some old college friends at a strip mall Vietnamese place out in the suburbs. The persistent vegetarians among us planned to order tofu-instead-of-meat dishes; one of the guys ordered fried rice; so of course I had to go all Anthony Bourdain and scan the menu for the most authentic-sounding dish, in this case something called Bún bò Huế (described cryptically as "vermicelli pork leg, pork blood cake, beef slices" and marked *spicy*). "Mmmmm," I said to my disgusted companions. "Pork blood cake!"

Now I will eat almost anything. Eyeballs? Depending on the species, I will eat eyeballs. Brains? Fried or stewed, either way. Ferret pancreas? Ocelot spleen? Why not! If I have paid money for something, I am going to eat it, damn the gastrointestinal consequences. So here I was, really excited for a big bowl of pork blood cake with noodles. I was the last to order, and when the no-nonsense waitress heard me, she shook her head disapprovingly. "No no no," she said. "You want #37." I looked at #37's description. All it had was beef slices. "No, I want the one with pork blood cake." The elderly waitress insisted that, in fact, I didn't know what I wanted. She knew what I wanted: #37. I asked her if she could bring me a little pork blood cake on the side, and she just rolled her eyes and grabbed my menu.

I'm not sure if she wouldn't let me order it because I'm white or because I looked like a wiseacre. Either way, we've started getting our Vietnamese takeout from a different place, where my wife usually stops on her way back from the fabric store. This past weekend, though, I placed the order and noticed "Bún bò Huế" scrawled among the other heavily-accented words on the daily special board. I ordered it quietly and slipped out of the restaurant with my pork blood cake soup. When I got home I assembled it in a bowl: steaming lemongrass-scented broth, soba noodles, pork knuckles, oxtail, sinewy beef slices, fresh onions, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

Then I saw the pork blood cakes.

They were each about a square inch in size. They jiggled on the spoon, a maroon gelatin made from congealed blood. I think the dark spots were clots. Now I am accustomed to blood-flavored food being a bit saltier, but it wasn't the taste that troubled me as much as the texture. They were very, very squishy. And cold. I ate two of them but fished the others out and threw them to the dog. Then I gave him the oxtail and pig's feet, too, because after consuming congealed-blood Jello I wasn't about to reward myself by gnawing on tail meat and pork tendons. While I slurped down broth and noodles, under the table the tail of only true gastronomical adventurer in the house batted against my feet while he crunched on bones. And somewhere up in Madison Heights that old crone was rightfully laughing her ass off.

For the last several days, though, the dog has squatted around giving me a pained look I knew all too well having spent many high school dinners at a friend's house sucking the marrow out of lamb bones and eating South Indian curries far spicier than anything my lily-white intestines had ever before encountered. As the dog turned our backyard into the world's largest shit-flavored snow cone, I thought sadly, "There but for the grace of God go I."