In Praise of Menudo

What is it about menudo?

If you’re a Chicano or Mexican, chances are you think its the cure-all for la cruda (hangover).  I’ve read that this is a folktale with no substantiated proof of its validity as a cure for the common hangover.  Still, millions of Mexicans would beg to differ and Juanita’s still sells cans and cans of the stuff.

I can see why it would work.  Dehydration is key in a hangover.  Your body is dried out from the alcohol and it makes your head pound and you’re feeling nauseous and ill.  Ok, so bring in the menudo which is essentially, a soup aka water. The water content alone would help you to start feeling better as did that shower you probably took before leaving the house in search of menudo.

But what about the rest?

There’s chili in menudo – not just the chili you cook into it, but also the red pepper flakes you shake liberally onto it and the salsa you scoop into it from the bowl on the table.  Vitamin C is in chili.  That’s gotta help.  What about the onions and garlic that went into it?  Or the freshly chopped raw onion you put on top?  The oregano which is high in antioxidants.  Hippocrates used it as an antiseptic and Mexican abuelas have used it for upset stomachs.  What about that lemon or lime you’re squeezing all over your bowl? More Vitamin C and more liquid.  No wonder you feel better.

Then there’s the fat.  That cow’s stomach that is so chewy, soft and delicious is coating your insides and settling your tummy.  So while I’m no scientist, I say menudo works.  If you don’t have a pot of menudo at home, the simple act of going out for it gives you exercise and gets your blood pumping, chasing that hangover away.

Me, I just love it for its complexity of tastes and textures.  That bitterness of the oregano, sharp bite of the raw onion, the rolled up corn tortilla I dip into it with its taste of char, the bite of the nixtamal or hominy, the chewiness of the panza, the slow burn of the chili and the citrusy freshness of the lemon all combine to make me a very happy girl.  My Uncle Adam would spend every New Year’s Eve perfecting his menudo and I was always a happy taste tester.

What Latino kid doesn’t like menudo?  We grow up picking out the stomach and asking our mothers and grandmothers to only put in the corn; nixtamal soaked over night until it blossoms then cooked into the menudo.  Little by little, the panza or stomach makes its way down our throats and we start putting more of it into our bowl, delighting in the chewiness mixed with the melty soft parts.  As kids, we might sneer and get grossed out by the pata, a pig’s foot neatly quartered by the carnicero (butcher) but menudo isn’t menudo without the pata.  We grow up demanding a piece of the previously despised pata in our bowls, sticking up proudly in a mountain of nixtamal.

At the table, you see the men sucking the bones clean with gusto.  The women are more dainty about it but all the same, they want that fatty, piggy feet goodness.  Everyone seasons their menudo differently.  Tio Nacho over there likes a LOT of oregano, Tia Fulana likes more onion than most, me; sitting on the end over there has a pile of squeezed lemons on the napkin next to me because  I like it sour.

Menudo, that peasant dish made of castoff cow and pig parts is truly el rey (the king) on Sundays in Latino houses and restaurants.  What’s your favorite part of a bowl of menudo?

*The FDA requires that I disclose that this is NOT a cure.  I am NOT prescribing menudo as a cure for a hangover. I’m just pondering…that’s all.  Menudo is food, not medicine.  Sabes? 

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