Craig Ferguson once told me through the television, “Talking about comedy is very tricky…It’s kind of like if you like hot dogs maybe you shouldn’t know what’s in them.”
For me, the reason I never had taken a bite of menudo is because I know what’s in it. As a child I grew up with the smell of pig feet and cow stomach in the house, because my family makes menudo from scratch for the Christmas holiday.
For those that don’t know what menudo is, it’s a Mexican soup that is relatively inexpensive to make since it’s made from the scrap body parts of farm animals that most people don’t want to eat. It’s also a meal that is quite communal for Mexicans because it takes hours to make and requires several steps, allowing time for laughs, chats, and sharing.
That smell of farm animal scrap, however, hindered me from ever wanting to put it in my stomach. I am definitely healthier than everyone else in my family for not having 26 years worth of farm animal fat lining my body. But by not partaking in the tradition of the Mexican meal it makes me an outsider within my own family once a year. I don’t help that fact, considering last Christmas I picked up a pastrami sandwich from a Jewish deli.
Year after year, members of my family try to get me to try a spoonful of menudo, but I always refuse because of that awful stench. With my yearly refusal, their chiding that I’m not a real Mexican ensues. Their joking is warranted, however, because I was judging something without actually partaking in it. So, last Saturday in an attempt to understand my family’s ways and perhaps to see if my taste buds and sense of smell are on the same page I set out to chow down on a big helping bowl of the soup.
Most restaurants don’t serve menudo unless it’s a weekend, because of the long process it takes to make it. But if you ever need a Mexican food item or want to feel like you’re in Mexico then just visit a Vallarta grocery store. It’s one of the few chain stores in Los Angeles where the employees speak to you in Spanish before they transition to English if you don’t understand. I love seeing the faces of non-Latino shoppers during the checkout process. It’s like the employees are running on one of those automated systems that make you press 1 if you want English.
I approached the restaurant section of the grocery store and checked out their selection of hand made Mexican food. At first glance, everything looked delicious, from their rice and beans to their carnitas and pollo. Then I got to the soups section of the display, and I was met by the posole, which looked delicious. Too bad I wasn’t there to indulge in that. Right next to the delectable looking posole was my arch nemesis menudo.
Sizes for the menudo came in either medium or large, which irked me, because if there’s no small then isn’t the medium size actually the small size? The medium size was also quite large and it could have pulled as the large size if it wanted to as well. Regardless, I asked for the smaller portioned container and watched as the woman behind the counter filled my fate with heart disease.
I could have eaten the soup in the Vallarta eatery, but chose against it, and took it home, because I didn’t need to subject a room full of strangers to a potential upchuck if my past 26 years of disdain for the smell hadn’t fully dissipated.
When I got home I unveiled the soup and wasn’t too thrown off by the smell. It actually wasn’t too scary just sitting in front of me. After all, it couldn’t bite me, but I could bite it.
I grabbed a nice chunk of tripe in my first bite. It wasn’t so bad for cow stomach. Minus the fact that I felt like I was chewing on bubble wrap I was able to keep it down. Score one for me. Rather than just being a probationary member, I was one step closer to becoming an official card carrying Mexican.
With the success of the first bite, I felt more adventurous, so I went for a piece of pig’s foot. I took a big juicy bite and was immediately struck with disgust. All the emotions of the past 26 years came rushing back. I’m not a vegetarian, by any means, but the texture of the meat just didn’t feel right. I stomached the piece in my mouth, however, and moved on to another bite of tripe, hoping that it would serve as a chaser.
That bite of tripe wasn’t as welcoming as the first bite, and I barely choked it down. I refused to give up after only three bites, so I took another bite out of something that was unrecognizable. It looked like some sort of alien mutation, but I choked it down and immediately felt queasy.
I had to give up after four bites. I was not feeling well. My stomach was churning. I was sweating profusely. My heart was racing… OK, maybe my heart wasn’t racing, and I wasn’t sweating profusely, but I was definitely feeling a bit anxious that I couldn’t get over the menudo mental block I developed from childhood. I sincerely gave it an honest try, but taste buds want what the taste buds want, and my taste buds don’t want menudo.
Still hungry, I cooked some frozen chicken breast and decided I shouldn’t waste all of the food I purchased from Vallarta, so I grabbed the corn tortillas, onions, and cilantro that came with the menudo and made some chicken tacos.
Since menudo is made from all the leftover parts of animals, I figured the appetizing leftover parts of the meal wouldn’t mind being made into something else as well. Mexican’s are a resourceful people, so maybe I did earn my Mexican card after all.