Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Trouble With Tripe

When you write stories for magazines, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable.

I learned this when I decided that I probably needed to taste a traditional Mexican food to help flesh out the story I was working on about international grocery stores in Augusta. And it couldn't be beef tacos or cheese sauce; it had to be something really scary to most people.

My destination was San Jose Super Mercado. I considered the jars on the meat counter filled with greyish-white strips of pig skin, pig ears and tripe that the owner assured me were delicious when dressed with lime, salt and pico de gallo. But there are some tastes that even a Chinese girl can't face.

But something brown and cooked on the grill...that would probably work. So I steeled myself and got in line to order a tripe taco. I offered a couple folks behind me to take my place--anything to delay the moment for a while. In the meantime, I stared at the garish illustrated menu featuring miscellaneous curled bits of brown meat atop a flat corn tortilla. Looked pretty normal, but how would it taste?

The tripe taco came all too soon. Some of the meat was brown and crisp, almost bacon-like, while other bits resembled browned tubes with an unidentifiable greyish matter inside. This I quickly doused with some pico de gallo and guacamole sauce. Then took a breath and my first bite.

The group of Hispanic men next to me who were happily slurping their beef and avocado soup likely had an enjoyable moment watching this petite, well-suited Asian girl struggling to bite through a particularly chewy portion of pig innards. But my mouthful was warm and brown and, surprisingly, good. The corn tortilla was thick and soft and sweet with corn flavor; the meat was soft and almost creamy (why it was creamy I didn't want to think about), with some chewiness and crispness. The taste was familiar and I pegged it on my second bite--it tasted like liver, which I happen to like.

With every bite, I still had to struggle with my brain, which was screaming, "Tripe! You're eating tripe!", but the taste was so rich and good that I finished every bite, leaving no room for the pork taco which I had purchased for a backup lunch in case I couldn't eat the tripe.

It was a perfect meal, and quite affordable, with each taco costing a buck seventy-five. How can you beat that? And my mom has always told me that eating various animal parts has complementary benefits for your body--all I can say is, after my meal of tripe, I've enjoyed perfect digestion--and some bragging rights.