I’ve eaten a lot of pretty weird things in my life — cow feet, goat brains and jelly fish, just to name a few. As weird as they may sound, they’re commonplace for me now that I’ve eaten them many times. This time, I had the opportunity to add cow’s stomach to my list.
This episode I cooked and tried menudo, a popular Mexican breakfast soup, with my fellow Mercury staff member Dulce Espinoza. Menudo was a widely consumed dish just before the Mexican Revolution among poorer populations who only had access to leftover parts of animals such as stomach, kidneys and feet. It evolved into a dish made in bulk and was served among families in Mexico. It’s also considered an effective hangover cure. Menudo is made with hominy, a type of dried maize, cow’s feet and tripe, which is cow’s stomach. The ingredients are cooked together for hours with deliciously spicy chilies and herbs, resulting in a thick, hearty soup eaten with bread on the side.
Dulce and I cooked the soup at her apartment. Though preparing the dish was intimidating, it ended up being a lot simpler than I thought. Cow feet and stomach in particular have to be boiled for hours so they can be soft and easy to consume. Dulce prepared a pot of boiling water and put in the feet first, with the tripe to be added a couple of hours later. While the feet boiled, Dulce and I cut up the tripe into small cubes. Cutting up the tripe was quite possibly the strangest experience of my life. It was like cutting up a cold, wet towel that smelled slightly rancid. Of course, the tripe had been completely rinsed out and devoid of any stomach juices or other liquids, but the smell still lingered. While I cut up the tripe, I thought about how weird it was that my own stomach was about to digest another stomach. It was a unique experience, truly.
We added the cubed tripe into the pot and let it boil for another couple of hours and then added the hominy. Dulce had a can of hominy as big as my head and instructed me to pour three quarters of the can’s contents into the pot. Seeing as how it was the only other ingredient besides the feet and tripe, I wasn’t surprised that there was supposed to be this much corn in the soup.
We finally sat down to try the menudo, which was thick and viscous after cooking for five hours. The feet had boiled down to become soft, gelatinous chunks stretched over large bones. The tripe cubes were heavily coated in the thick soup and looked chewy and flavorful. Dulce and I sprinkled a little lime all over for taste before we ate.
At first bite, menudo tastes like a spicy beef stew, but I found myself chewing on the little tripe pieces for longer than I thought. They felt similar to calamari in texture and were a little rubbery, but with every bite, I got a burst of the delicious spicy, meaty goodness coming from the soup. I was used to how the feet tasted, since my family makes a very similar Pakistani dish called paya, which is boiled cow’s feet soup. The hominy tasted nothing like how yellow corn usually tastes, because they were puffy and harder in texture. In one word, I would describe menudo as comforting. I can easily see myself eating a bowl when I’m feeling sick or tired.
Sometimes it takes eating something similar to what you normally eat to get yourself to try things that are out of your comfort zone. Menudo is just a soup filled with meat and corn, but it’s the stomach and feet that make it sound intimidating. Once you get past the unconventional ingredients, it’s actually pretty awesome.