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Chinese Cuisine

The Pig Blood Cake + The Controversy That Was (and Wasn't)

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Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge Pig Blood Cake, Old Country Café, Alhambra - JIM THURMAN
  • Jim Thurman
  • Pig Blood Cake, Old Country Café, Alhambra

Let's talk blood, specifically pigs blood. The use of pigs blood is somewhat common in Chinese and other Asian cuisines, where it usually takes the form of congealed cubes added to soups, stews and hot pots. However, the most interesting form is the pig blood cake, a street food item popular at Night Markets in Taiwan.

Made by congealing the blood with sticky rice, the concoction is steamed before being covered with a sweet soy sauce, sprinkled with peanut powder, topped with coriander and served on a stick. Think of a blood sausage without the casing. The item was also the center of controversy last year.

When newspapers and television outlets in Taiwan widely reported that the USDA had banned the sale of pig blood cake in the U.S., the outcry came swiftly. A man described as a Taiwanese "internet celebrity" made a video defending the beloved snack and terms like "cultural discrimination" were bandied about.

As it turned out, all the fuss was unwarranted. The report was traced back to a rumor overheard by a Taiwanese newspaper reporter based in Los Angeles, which was then picked up around Taiwan.

Yet, the rumor persisted. Two months after the initial report, the President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-Jieou promoted and defended the traditional snack in his weekly online video. "I like pig blood and duck blood a lot. Recently there have been reports about the sales ban of the food in the U.S. and I don't think they understand the culture in Taiwan. How could they ban such delicious food?" Ma said.

Some in Taiwan continued to report that pig blood cake was not available in any U.S. restaurants, which was quite a surprise to anyone visiting Taiwanese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley, where the snack remains easily found under a variety of English translations.

So, what's the status of using pig blood in Los Angeles County? We spoke with Terrance Powell, Bureau Director, Specialized Surveillance & Enforcement Bureau of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, who told us: "I'm not aware of any formal ban." Powell added, "our concern is that it is cooked to standards as far as temperature and under sanitary conditions. As long as those guidelines are followed, there is no issue with it."

click to enlarge Taiwanese Style Blood Sticky Rice Cake (#49), Be Be Restaurant, Rosemead - JIM THURMAN
  • Jim Thurman
  • Taiwanese Style Blood Sticky Rice Cake (#49), Be Be Restaurant, Rosemead

Interested in trying the inexpensive snack? You can find it at many Taiwanese diners and snack spots around the SGV, but we're partial to two versions. At the venerable Old Country Café in Alhambra, the Pig Blood Cake is sweet, indeed sweeter than most Chinese desserts, yet also strikes the right flavor balance and has the perfect amount of chewiness. The word umami has become overused to the point of cliché, but is perfectly apt. Then there's Be Be Restaurant in Rosemead. At Be Be, the Taiwanese Style Blood Sticky Rice Cake (#49), is earthier and more savory and comes four to an order, enough for the family.

Follow Jim Thurman on Twitter @JThur01.

Be Be Restaurant: 7637 Garvey Ave., Rosemead, (626) 280-3128.

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