The first time I saw bone marrow as an item on a restaurant menu I was a bit shocked. But I was in San Francisco at a Michelin-rated restaurant (called Range) and was used to seeing unfamiliar items on menus. So of course we ordered it. It arrived much more bluntly than expected: a large, warm bone with a goo-filled center, accompanied by toasted bread. I dug the warm marrow out of the center of the bone and slapped it on the bread–it was delicious!
When I later told people that I ate bone marrow, many people were disgusted. One friend was actually outraged because he said bone marrow is not food. (In his defense, he’s in med school and sees bone marrow in a much different context!) But that’s one of the amazing aspects of food: anything can be categorized as “food” depending on the culture (or the circumstances, like if one is starving to death). Many things are edible but only certain ones are qualified as “food” based on the way we think about them. As for bone marrow, anthropologists believe that early humans sucked the marrow out of bone for extra protein, liking it for its high fat and calorie content, which means that bone marrow is a more familiar food to humans than french fries. And not to ruin your lunch, but bone marrow is in several dishes you may be fond of, like Vietnamese pho and Italian ossobuco.
Food distinguishes–and divides–cultures and connects people in their shared appreciation of tastes. (Think about groups of people that eat certain animals and others that refuse to do so.) Bone marrow is one of those dividers, especially among my friends. One foodie friend refuses to let me order it when I’m with her, while another specifically wanted to try it, so last time we went to dinner we picked Copper Onion just so he could do so. Copper Onion serves their bone marrow appetizer with toasted baguette and a parsley/caper/fennel salad that is a perfect blend of salty and savory. (These pictures are from that dinner, and yes, I sent them to my anti-bone marrow friends to tease them.)
Sometimes the idea of a certain food is more intimidating than its taste or texture, but usually that uneasiness is based on culture. In the end, there is no right or wrong definition of food; everyone is entitled to their own preferences. So what food makes me cringe? I think my foodie veto will be kept for blood sausage.