Many claim that there is a soup that has the ability to “raise the dead” and rid one of the dreadful hangovers following parties and late night outings.
This concoction has several names in the Hispanic world, including menudo, mondongo, pancita and guatita.
This kind of elixir, with its origins in the old Spanish cookbooks, transformed the classic tripe soup of Madrid into a very spicy soup that is based on the cow’s stomach.
Its legacy goes back to the end of the 16th century, when Diego Granado, author of the “Book of the Art of Cooking,” talked about a recipe book of dishes including portions of cow stomach. That broth from yesteryear is much like today’s miraculous potion, but containing spices from Latin America.
Some insist that this dish is to be enjoyed only at roadside restaurants, but this popular stew requires the rigor of haute cuisine. As the Venezuelan chef Armando Scannone said, “the beauty of the dish is in the palate.” Chef Mercedes Oropeza said in an article in the Mexican newspaper El Universal in May 2007 that this soup is not “an ordinary meal,” but one of “quality and sublime delicacy.”
For Manuel Romero, a cook located in an eastside restaurant, Mexican menudo is like tortillas: “it has to be part of the meal.” However, it is more common as part of Saturday meals. “I have been preparing menudo on weekend for eight years,” he said as he carefully and without hurrying thoroughly cleaned the stomach using a knife to scrape the inside. “This takes time. Menudo either ends up cooked well or not; that’s why you have to clean it very well.”
Romero cooks the stomach in boiling water with a few unmeasured additions of lemon, baking soda and vinegar.
Various Mexican regions claim to have created menudo. Some say it was born in the north of Mexico, appearing there as a typical food among country folk who used the offal of butchered cattle, including internal organs, tail, feet and tongue. Others say it originated in the central part of the country.
Red menudo is a version that is a symbol of the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, and in the northern state of Chihuahua. White menudo is common in Culiacan, Sinaloa, served with chile tepín. For Romero, a native of Zacatecas, “all are very similar, since they have the same base,” he said. “The stomach and the feet.”
Romero said the feet should be scraped under warm water, removing any skin that might remain. “And then they are left soaking in lemon juice.”
The flavor arises courtesy of onion and garlic, which are cooked until tender. Then one adds leek, green onion, paprika, chilies, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Romero also adds carrot slices, corn and potatoes.
Once cooked, the Zacatecas menudo “should be served nice and hot,” said the cook. “And if we have an ice cold beer to go with it, so much the better.”
Patasca is what Peruvians call the their version, which is very common in the Tarma Valley region. Besides the key component, other ingredients include pig meat, corn, celery and salt. The preparation is especially done at night, when corn and meat are placed into a large pot to boil. To decide when it is ready, one should verify that the broth has taken on a white color. The broth is served first, then the pieces of stomach and meat. It is garnished with chopped parsley.
In Ecuador, this stew is known as guatita, which is very thick and has a base of peanut, tomato and chunks of stomach. In Ecuador it is well known because eating it reduces the effects of the holiday indulgences. That is why there are restaurants that specialize in preparing this meal on the weekends. It is served with rice.
Venezuelans call it mondongo. It is basically a soup whose main ingredient is stomach, which has been cleaned and cut into small squares that are then cooked in a deep pot with ingredients such as potatoes, cassava, carrots and cornmeal dumplings. Often ripe plantains are added. The cooking process requires considerable time, yielding a thick soup that is colorful and somewhat sweet. Sometimes pork feet, sliced or chopped, are added.
Be it fact or popular legend, menudo remains a highlight of the Saturday menu as a cure for cruel hangovers. Even if they are not curative, at least they make diners forget for a while as they enjoy a soup bearing flavor and history.