Sunday, September 25, 2005

Menudo for the Uninitiated

Last week we discussed the custom of eating barbacoa on Sunday mornings. There is another traditional Mexican food that can be eaten Sunday mornings, although not exclusively. As the title says, Menudo is such a dish. In case you are new to the Rio Grande Valley and have never experienced the delight of eating menudo, let me explain what it is.

Menudo is a spicy soup. The spiciness varies from family to family. The menudo contains beef tripe, hominy, and menudo mix. Menudo mix is simply a blend of spices that gives the menudo its spicy flavor. In appearance, menudo is a reddish orange. Some families add pig feet to the menudo to add something on which to gnaw. When you think about it, menudo sounds disgusting. Beef guts and pig feet are hardly commonly eaten parts of the animals. Comedian Paul Rodriguez jokes that menudo contains parts of the pig the pig doesn't want back. In fact, a buddy of mine who went to Minnesota on an internship tells me that slaughterhouses up there throw away the beef tripes and heads. People up there don't eat these. Well, we do.

You eat menudo with chopped onion, chopped peppers, rolled up tortillas, and you add lemon juice to your taste. You can also garnish with cilantro. So, when you order menudo at a local restaurant or are served at somebody's home, you will see a bowl with onions and peppers, a stack of tortillas, and cilantro and lemon halves. You add these to taste. If there are pig feet in the menudo, eat these last. Pig feet are slippery and will ultimately slip out of your grasp and splash you if your bowl is not empty. Menudo stains. If you must eat the pig feet first, get another dish to catch whatever falls. The hominy is generally soft and easy to chew. The tripe varies in toughness. Sometimes the tripe is so soft that it dissolves easily; other times it is tough to chew and leaves stringy pieces between your teeth. It's all good. I generally eat all of it, except the pieces with fat. I cut off the fat with my spoon and eat the meat. By the way, menudo is like most Mexican foods, high in fat and cholesterol. That's another reason you should only eat it once a week.

It is common and customary to eat menudo on Sundays after church, although not exlusively. Menudo can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner any day of the week. Due to the amount of time it takes to cook menudo, it is not eaten so often except in restaurants where it may be served every day. Generally, mom will set it to cook overnight. It takes anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to soften the meat. Menudo is also served the day after a big wedding or other celebration because of its magic in helping with hangovers. Speaking from experience, it somehow manages to stay down. You'll see us Mexicans eating menudo with pounding headache, upset stomach, and insatiable thirst. It helps somehow.

There is a variation of menudo known as pozole. Pozole is also a spicy soup, but it does not have tripe. There is more hominy in pozole; and, if there is meat, it's shredded pork or beef. You also eat pozole with onion, peppers, lemon, and tortillas. Some people garnish with lettuce or cabbage. Cilantro is also acceptable as garnish. Pozole is not as popular in the Rio Grande Valley as menudo.
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