Tripping on tripe soup

I’ve spent the past two weeks defending myself against a flu that has sucked the life out of me, and has left me with no desire to deal with indolent students who now care about their grades and homework. We have one week left of class, I have already given them the best fourteen weeks of my autumn, and if they haven’t learned it by now, it’s too late.pepino

When I am sick I always run towards the comfort and unconditional love of soups. I didn’t grow up in a family with culinary traditions, and I’ve always been a bit jealous of people who grew up exploring in kitchens with old relatives, learning  family secret recipes.

When physical and emotional stress catch up with me, I love getting lost in the kitchen: the process of soup making, and its aromas become part of my therapy, and I don’t have to worry about food for a couple of days.

Bean and corn soup

Bean and corn soup

One of my favorite soups is with beans and corn: it’s easy to make, it’s light and comforting, and it tastes better the next day. Another one I love is my albóndiga soup – I call it “my” because I take a lot of liberties with the recipe: I bake the meatballs in a chipotle and poblano sauce, and eat it with rice, avocados, cilantro, cotija cheese, and red cabbage. It’s better than NyQuil.

My albóndiga soup

My albóndiga soup

And of course, the mother of all soups: pozole. Making it is so involving that it’s impossible for me to worry or think about anything else in the world. One of the best things about pozole is the nixtamal, the plump, puffy, white corn.



And whenever I think of nixtamal, I always think of another flu and soup: menudo (tripe soup). The flu is an unwelcomed friend who insists in yearly visits and while suffering the punishments of her company, my friends’ mother told me that the cure was as easy as a bowl of menudo. As my stomach tightened, and my head almost exploded, I was overwhelmed by the grip of Catholic guilt –technically I am Episcopalian, but emotionally and mentally I am Catholic. As I tried to exit gracefully, I couldn’t stop all the lies pouring out of my mouth:

-I just ate, thanks!
-I’m stuffed, thanks!
-I have a dinner engagement later, thanks!
-Actually, I don’t like menudo, but thanks!
-I’m sure yours is the best, no thanks!
-To be honest, I’ve never even tasted it, thanks!

The next thing I knew everyone had disappeared from the house except for the two of us –because they knew what was coming. Doña Rosa listened to me patiently with her beautiful understanding smile.

– Sit, and you’re not leaving until you’re done.

On the dining room table she put a bowl down, and declared:

– Eat this; I’ll be in the kitchen.

I obeyed her. I sat there and rebelled (quietly): I am twenty-four years old, she’s not my mother, she can’t force me to eat something I don’t want, I’m leaving right now.

-It’s good isn’t it?
-Love it!

In Panamá we have a soup that we call mondongo that is very similar to menudo, and I have never tried it. People always said that the only mondongo they ate was the one prepared by their grandmothers or mothers, and my family doesn’t have that culinary adventurous spirit. I’ve always felt that the word “mondongo” sounded horrible and unwelcoming, it’s not an inviting word like “squash flower blossoms” or “cucumber margaritas on the rocks.”

Squash flower blossoms, Hillcrest Farmers Market

Squash flower blossoms, Hillcrest Farmers Market

Back then I was a student assistant for an anthropology professor, and I was deluding myself into wishful thinking that I too, could be a brilliant anthropologist. She always stressed the importance of not offending people, their kindness, and their customs. So, with my best pseudo-anthropologist mindset, and in my eagerness to “not offend” I formulated and carried out my plan.

First I ate the nixtamal –which I surprisingly loved, it has such a pleasant texture. Then I picked the few vegetables I found, and finished the clear broth. I tasted a piece of the meat. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day: a black sweater and jeans. I took off my sweater, tied it around my waist, I grabbed the meat and put it in my pockets.


I got up, I said goodbye, and I drove home with my legs dripping with the juice of the squishy meat. That wasn’t the worst part: I confessed to my friends, I can’t go to confession, because I am not Catholic! Although their parish priest was a very nice Spaniard with a great sense of humor, and I think we could have worked something out. This was twenty-two years ago, they still make fun of me, but at least they never told their mom –as far as I know.

Due to this trauma that still haunts me today, last week I decided to alleviate my flu with a bowl of menudo.  I found a place that served it, and even though it was a sad, drizzly, gray Thursday, I was excited and ready to prove how much I had grown up since my last experience. I was going to have the last laugh.

Red menudo, Súper Cocina Restaurant, San Diego

Red menudo, Súper Cocina Restaurant, San Diego

Unlike my first one, this menudo was red, had no nixtamal and it came with tortillas. The broth had a more aggressive taste than the one that lived in my memory. When I tasted the meat, I was immediately transported to Doña Rosa’s dining room. I put the meat in the tortilla, but it didn’t make anything better.

And as proof that today I am more mature, and I am an adult, I discreetly covered the meat with my napkin, I left with my jeans clean, and I had squash flower blossom quesadillas and a cucumber margarita on the rocks for dinner.

Squash flower blossom quesadillas, Ranas México City Cuisine Restaurant, San Diego

Squash flower blossom quesadillas, Ranas México City Cuisine Restaurant, San Diego

About Gugui Naters Amador

Amo a México, inspirada por San Pascual Bailón, pseudo-fotógrafa/poeta, pobresora rodeada de libros, traductora, runner, Eagle warrior
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10 Responses to Tripping on tripe soup

  1. F. Naters Gamarra says:

    Sorry to hear about your bout wuth the flu! Hope you are getting better! I like how you use your culinary skills to treat yourself! The albondiga soup looks and sounds great!! Thanks for the photos, they made me wish i could try tose dishes. Be well and do get better. You are such a chef!

  2. Jennifer Beal says:

    Gugui, This is a truly amazing sequence of story and photo and recipe and memory. I am so, so glad that you write. Reading of no culinary tradition that you grew up with was painful. Every child deserves to have that. Tis good that you are making your own 🙂 I’m glad that Katalina will get to visit with you when she comes in early January. Hooray for you 🙂

    • Gugui Naters Amador says:

      ¡Thanks Jennifer! As you can see I’m starting my own culinary traditions -in sickness and in health!

  3. Jennifer Beal says:

    About Mondongo: It was on Friday night, New Year’s Eve 1993 that I tried my first tripe soup. I did get a few mouthfuls down, and then politely declined to finish my bowl. I am convinced that it was the tripe that finally got the child in my belly to begin her journey out! Contractions began about seven hours after that mondongo. Gugui, you were in Boston that New Year’s Eve! Happy memories!

  4. Gugui Naters Amador says:

    ¡Ay dios mío! Katalina has an awesome mondongo story! I have promised to give menudo another try when I go back to México.

  5. Amy Wallwork says:

    Hello dear Gugui – I’m sorry to hear you’re under the weather! But I love this story. I’m afraid I’ve never tried tripe in any form, and more afraid that now I’ve admitted this, I might have to…by the way, did you know I’ve been on a special food quest too? Since 1991, I’ve tried in vain to find (and eat!) empanadas that come close to the homemade ones served at a workplace gathering by a Puerto Rican-born lady.
    Get well soon – xoxo, Amy

    • Gugui Naters Amador says:

      Gracias Amy: The fairest of them all! Puerto Rican empanadas, sounds like a worthy project! Don’t give up, ¡ánimo!

  6. Krihste says:

    I have never made a soup in my life.. and I have never been inspired to try until now!! This is my next mission. Thank you for the motivation and the always incredible mix of story, personality, photos, and deliciousness. Another masterpiece!

    • Gugui Naters Amador says:

      ¡Mi Quetzalli! Another project for your culinary bucket list: juice, bacalao, soup… thanks for leaving a comment. ¡Caprichosa! Mil abrazos, gugui

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