Taurine, the energy-drink ingredient purported to increase stamina and athletic performance, was first isolated in beef bile — hence the brand name Red Bull. Today, the taurine in sodas and supplements is synthetic, but South Area Market, one of Sacramento’s longest-standing Lao restaurants, serves the real thing.
Order thom keuang nai, roughly translated “intestines soup” on the whiteboard menu, and the server behind the counter will ask how bitter it should be. A scant spoonful of bile tossed over the bowl yields a subtle sting, like a still-green banana, that slices through the unctuousness of the offal. A larger dose works like the chorus pedal on a guitar, the bitterness of each bite echoing into the next. Bile also anoints the bitter beef laab, meat and tripe chopped with herbs, onions, chiles and nutty toasted rice powder — a play between crunch and chew, verdancy and richness, pleasure and pain. (There are many chiles.)