Almost every culture has its own version of blood sausage. The delicacy is a traditional post-slaughter meal, made at the beginning of winter as a way of using the entire animal. It has many names: morcilla (Spain), blood pudding (English and Irish), blutwurst (Germany), boudin noir (France), and soondae (Korea), to name only a few. In most cases, the animal's blood is cooked until it thickens and then fillers are added, which usually are meat (usually pork), fat, suet, bread, potato, barley, or rice. Good blood sausage has a rich flavor, similar to pâte. Bad blood sausage has a metallic flavor, reminiscent of, ahem, blood. If you can't get past the name, call it gravy sausage (after all, that's exactly what it is). Don't let nomenclature prevent you from experiencing a city filled with bloody goodness; it's not just for vampires.
Most of the ubiquitous restaurants in San Francisco serve morcilla. The Spanish version is usually made of onion, lard, salt, spices, and rice. (That's right, there's actually no meat in the sausage.)
Beginners can start at Ramblas (557 Valencia, SF. 415-565-0207, www.ramblastapas.com), where sauteed morcilla comes crumbled, like a hash, with Italian butter beans and tomatoes ($7.25). The rich morcilla flavor provides a unique undertone to the fresh beans and peas. Picaro (3120 16th St., SF. 415-431-4089, www.picarotapasrestaurant.com) and Esperpento (3295 22nd St., SF. 415-282-8867) are sister tapas restaurants with matching menus and Miro-esque graffiti. Great for groups and walk-ins, and conveniently located on two of the most bar-laden blocks in the Mission, their morcilla tapa is no-frills, hearty, and ready to share ($7). Plus, if you ask nicely, you can substitute morcilla for one of the other meat choices on the combination platter. If you want to get out of the Mission, head to lovely Belcher Street in the Financial District, an alley laden with long strands of lights and patio dining. B44 (44 Belden, SF. 415-986-6287, www.B44sf.com) is a great place for a fancy blood sausage adventure with a Spanish wine complement. Try a Rioja Temperanillo to go with the onion-based morcilla, served whole with white beans.
The French know how to make even the oddest foods taste delicious by successfully pairing ironic flavors. The Boudin Noir dish at Cafe Bastille (22 Belden, SF. 415-986-5673, www.cafebastille.com) takes blood sausage to the next level, making a variety that's liver-based and is served on a pile of mashed potatoes and caramelized apples. It's like a high-class shepherd's pie.
Taraval Street, easily accessible by the L train, is a haven for unpretentious diners and Irish pubs that serve blood pudding. (Important note: blood pudding does not resemble pudding.) A favorite is New Taraval Cafe (1054 Taraval, SF. 415-731-3816) doesn't look like much on the outside, but it serves up large portions of comfort food for a great price. The Irish breakfast comes with both black and white pudding (white is the bloodless, less tasty version of black pudding), two eggs, two pieces of Irish bacon, two Irish sausages, home fried potatoes, and toast ($8.50). The blood pudding has a consistency like that of most breakfast sausage, but less dense.
Gather a group of your beer guzzling friends and head to Suppenkuche (525 Laguna, SF. 415-252-9289, www.suppenkuche.com) for blutwurst, more of a wurst than a sausage. Varieties come with the cold meat appetizer plate (actually a cutting board) and resemble light, soft salame.