After many years, I think I've finally overcome my fascination with menudo, and the thrall in which it held me.
Let's face it. To eat menudo is a test of machismo. To eat it, without quivering or without echarme las tripas (puke my guts) would mean I was ready to experience the fabled " Real Mexico". On my first meeting with menudo, I failed the test. It took place in a small, Mexican cafe, near the railroad tracks, in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on a Sunday morning, about 7:30 a.m., sometime in the 1980s.
Menudo, a sort of restorative soup, is tripe and sometimes other innards, cooked with onions, garllc and chiles. In El Norte, it often contains maíz pozolero as well. In the North, it's cooked blanco, sin chile; en El Sur , se cuece con chiles y lo sale rojo, sin maíz.
Sunday mornings, I knew, were prime menudo time, because the vatos locos borrachos de la noche pasada needed the curative powers of menudo para curar La Cruda. La Cruda (note the feminine ending) is a hangover of mythic proportions, scaled to how much machismo you possess. (I'd read The People's Guide to Mexico cover to cover, so I knew this stuff.)
When they brought the bowl to our table, I immediately and instinctively knew I wouldn't be able to eat it.
There was A Smell.
I applied as much crumbled orégano, chile piquín, y cebolla picada and limón as possible to mask the odor of somewhat aging viscera.
Not only was there a smell, but it was visually repulsive; a slightly viscid broth with unidentifiable fragments of innards rising to the surface to greet me.
I cautiously took a spoonful.
Not only did it smell funky, and look repulsive, but it was tepid. Brrrrr.
My brave wife took charge, called over the owner/waiter, and asked if it could could be heated more en la microonda.
Soon it returned, steaming hot and smelling as bad as before, but palatable for Susan, who cleaned the bowl.
As for me, I slunk out of Lordsburg, covered in shame. Me avergonzé.
Years went by, and in 1991, we traveled deeper into México, specifically to the fabled Silver City of Zacatecas. Our train arrived at dusk, and our taxi drove us down cobbled streets illuminated by the soft glow of wrought iron faroles de dragones lanterns. We were immediately enchanted.
The next morning, as I took a walk in the frosty air, I chanced upon the Plazuela Genaro Codina, with the statue of the eponymous Prof. Genaro Codina, playing his harp.
This charming little plaza became the center of my world in Zacatecas. Its two principal culinary attractions are side by side: La Panadería La Flor de México and Menudería La Güera.
(There is also the Mercado El Laberinto, hidden away inside, and slightly hard to find.)
The Menudería opens very early. The front opens to the plazuela, doors wide open. Its walls are of polished gray stone with swirls of white. In the front of the shop, two señoras stand at the gas range, maintaining the large pots of menudo. It is a spotless eating place.
Theirs is a superior menudo. The pieces of tripas are larger and not iggy-squiggly. The caldo is boiling hot, and stoutly seasoned with aromatics and red chiles. The large size comes with a portion of meat on the bone. No pozole corn, just meat and chiles and herbs. The tortillas are hot. You can drink coffee (Nescafé) or orange juice.
I liked it. No; I loved it. It fortified me against the freezing cold, rarefied air of the 8000 feet a.s.l. of Zacatecas. After a bowl or two of that Menudo La Güera, I could climb the steep hills without gasping (much).
Years later, we moved to Michoacán. It's a different, and in my opinion, generally inferior version. The tripe is cooked apart from the caldo. The tripe is bland, white and squiggly. It's cut up into serving pieces, placed in your bowl and a ladle or two of caldo is poured over it. To me, it's like eating a bowl of tasteless, gelatinous wigglies in a relatively insipid chile broth.
Last week, here in Las Cuevas, they were cooking a menudo de olla for the early morning workers and cooks outside the church while preparing for the Día de La Virgen de Guadalupe. That menudo was bubbling nicely in a large clay olla over a charcoal fire. Everything in one pot; the broth, the seasoning and the víscera. It looked...umm... interesting. But we were on our way to a breakfast elsewhere, so we couldn't try it.
Yesterday, our neighbors killed a large beef animal for the wedding today of Sr. Jesús O. and his bride, Sra. Praxedes. I observed some of the butchering, which employed an ax as the principal tool, as the skinned head of the animal gazed sightlessly over its own dismemberment. It gave me pause. (I will probably recover my my brief spell of queasiness in time for dinner.)
Besides the obligatory, considerably simplified local version of barbacoa a la penca para la comida; menudo will be served for breakfast. Gracias, muy amable. Yo me quedo con mi pan tostado y huevos revueltos.
(Please. Let's not talk about eggs.)