Posted on April 19th, 2012
Around the time I came of legal drinking age I had acquired a very eclectic group of friends a handful of years of older than me. One of them waited tables at a very stylish “Irish Pub” in our pseudo-urban New England capitol. It was a dimly lit venue that always seemed a little hazy despite the lack of indoor smoking. The decor was big and dark: high ceilings; dark wood finishes; an antiqued mirror behind the bar. The proprietors did an excellent job of creating an atmosphere; however genuine I don’t know, because I have yet to go to an actual Irish-Pub-in-Ireland. But, at twenty-one in suburban New England, this seemed like a step above local college bars and dance clubs filled with the gratuitous drinking of cheap beer and well drinks, and was a fine place to frequent. Not to say people weren’t getting drunk – some certainly were – it just seemed a bit classier; people drinking black and tans and wines in actual wine glasses! It was here that I learned about Irish whiskeys other than my mother’s family standard (Jameson). Bushmills was good, but then there was Powers.
Not only was Powers whiskey a fine and delicious spirit, but it naturally lends itself to the world of pun humor: Drinking Powers, Drunk on Powers, Sharing Powers, Withholding Powers, Destroying the Powers that be, etc. I have always been and will always be a fan of puns, much to my husband’s chagrin. Puns, in fact, exacted their own special Power at this time and place when I was already drunk on my own self-perceived sophistication: puns brought me right back around to my true slightly-less than sophisticated self; at least momentarily. I would soon discover that puns weren’t the only thing that could undo my false sense of worldliness.
The menu followed the standard approach for a themed restaurant and was a mix of traditional Irish dishes – shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, lamb stew – and good-but-standard items – the portobello sandwich, chicken tenders and Caesar salad. It provided Something Specifically Irish for those who sought it, and something undeniably familiar for those less inclined to culinary adventure. I am a mid-grade culinary adventurer: an enthusiastic eater of things I am familiar with as food, even if put together in ways I could never have guessed, but certainly not a fearless eater of any critter and all of its bits. With that said, I was in no way prepared for what was about to happen.
I was sitting at the bar with two other young lady friends of mine waiting for our friend’s shift to end so he could join us. There was a band playing so it was particularly loud and, as mentioned before, it was dark and a bit hazy in the bar. I was at the end of the bar and my two friends were at the next two consecutive seats. We were enjoying the music, the atmosphere, the drinks, and our own sophistication and ‘grown-up-ness’ quite nicely. Our friend came out of the kitchen eating something and holding three small pieces of what looked like a very dark chocolate brownie of some kind. Without a word he walked up to us and starting with me put a piece of the chocolate into each of our mouths. There was no time to protest, and why would I? I could only assume he was eating and enjoying the same victual, on top of the fact that I was not only a sophisticated lady, but also a known culinary adventurer among my companions. My mouth closed around it and it crackled under my teeth; it was a texture quite unfamiliar to me. The crisp shell that had parted under pressure was now stuck to the back of my teeth and the soft congealed mass under it was flooding my mouth with an earthy and metallic taste. I rolled it over my tongue and tried to gracefully scrape the film from the backsides of my front teeth. By now our friend had whisked off to some other restaurant task. I looked at my companions who looked as bamboozled as I felt. At the very least we all knew it wasn’t chocolate. I sipped my Harp lager and swallowed the lot. I took in the attempted Irish atmosphere and it all came together as I glanced around the room with new eyes to locate the “generous” giver of this gift. It was black pudding! – otherwise known as blood sausage, which is exactly what it sounds like: entrails stuffed with blood and filler.
The gift-giver returned and confirmed my conclusion; he had charmingly just fed three unassuming lasses blood without warning or explanation. We came a little undone–at least our sophistication did: we made a few faces, sipped our beverages furiously, and scolded our friend for trickery. But ultimately we were about as miffed as we could be in that time and place, with such a handsome friend; which is to say were much less angry than we were banally grossed out, and even that disappeared when he bought us a round of Powers.
So I discovered for certain something I would have always guessed: I don’t like black pudding. I don’t know if thinking I was going to be eating chocolate detracted from the experience, though I am sure that eating black pudding you think is chocolate and knowingly eating black pudding are probably different experiences. As a mid-grade culinary adventurer there are plenty of items that I am personally wary of while understanding that people eat and enjoy them–most organs fall into this category. Blood, however, does not. While I can appreciate the concept of using ALL the parts, which surfaces in many cultures, I really can’t understand the desire to eat blood. In fact, after doing so by accident I have an even greater appreciation for Kosher and Halal meat guidelines. Draining all the blood out of an animal before dissecting it for consumption seems like a fine idea to me. Blood seems to lack the qualities that define food: it certainly doesn’t taste very good, and its low-cal nutritional value is limited to iron, which is available from plenty of other sources.
Not tasty; not really nutritious–so what’s the draw? I can’t tell you because as far as I am concerned it stands to reason that vampires are still really creepy, no matter how mysterious or intriguing or even sexed-up they are, singularly because they eat blood. Gross.