Menudo is magic in a bowl — a very particular alchemical assemblage. Sporting tripe, a deeply spiced broth and the choice of many different seasonings, this Mexican soup is a gift at the beginning of a slow morning, or the end of a too-long night. Whatever the scenario, menudo can mean community, and menudo can mean tradition, and menudo can mean family, in any iteration of that word that feels right for you. But no matter the context: Menudo is simply delicious. It’s a ritual and a history and a balm inside your bowl.
The soup, which is also known, among other names, as pancita, is amenable to many variations. But most of them follow a similar blueprint: Tripe is simmered in broth until it reaches a silky completion. The meat sits nestled in a heavily seasoned base, which can be as spicy or soothing as your tolerance and preference allow. On the side, lime, oregano and onions are among the common accouterments. Hominy can be a hearty addition to the bowl, complementing the textures that have been stacked atop one another.
While some historians believe that menudo’s origins are in central Mexico, others trace its beginnings to the north. Consequently, in regions across the country, the dish’s preparation can vary. While menudo rojo, with its red broth, is the more common variety, menudo blanco, with its pale broth, is popular in the coastal states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Nayarit and Jalisco. Because of its long preparation time, menudo is often served only on weekends; sometimes, it might not even grace a restaurant’s menu at all, with an understanding among regulars that it’s simply a part of the week’s denouement.
It’s a meal to be lingered over; and likewise, in the midst of cooking, it’s hardly a dish to be rushed.
But across locales, the dish is underlined by the presence of community; it’s a chance to come together in support of deliciousness, whether with blood family, found family or the other assortments of people we hold dear. And when I asked Mely Martínez, the author of “The Mexican Home Kitchen” — whose blog, Mexico in My Kitchen, celebrates and chronicles the variousness of Mexican cuisine — about what menudo means to her, she described in an email the human ties responsible for bringing the dish together. “Menudo soup means Sunday-morning family gatherings, since this is a dish that many families enjoy during the weekends for brunch.” She was introduced to the dish as a young age, she said, adding, “I remember my mother placing a large pot filled with water and tripe (cut into bite-size pieces) to slowly cook overnight over a gentle simmering heat.” She added, “I would go at 6 a.m. and sneak a piece.”
My own first bowls of menudo came by way of Louisiana. In New Orleans, just off North Carrollton Avenue, I’d nurse a bowl alongside tortillas at Taqueria Guerrero, while a graying television blasted soccer reruns overhead and a stereo whispered ’90s hits from the restaurant’s opposite end. The dish became a salve for long weeks, and I watched as that lifeline was shared among a wide cast. On Sunday mornings, the tables stood crowded with Mexican mothers and their daughters after church, queer folks convening after Saturday nights spent cartwheeling through the Quarter’s outer limits and a group of Black women writers arranging their laptops around their bowls, poring over drafts while squeezing limes over their broth.
Cooking menudo is a trust exercise in itself; Martínez’s recipe is a delicious one, both inviting and accessible at every stage. It’s a meal to be lingered over; and likewise, in the midst of cooking, it’s hardly a dish to be rushed. The simplicity of the ingredients is amplified by their freshness. Speaking on its preparation, Martínez notes, “Buy the tripe from a place where you can trust that it is well cleaned. When it comes to cutting the tripe into squares, keep in mind that it will shrink in size when it’s cooked.” The dish’s aromatics will permeate the kitchen the closer it inches to completion. “Add cow’s feet or marrow bones to the pot to enhance the flavor and texture of the broth,” she says.
Lately, I’ve gotten most of my menudo from Soliz Casa de Tacos in Stafford, Texas, tucked a few miles outside Houston, just off the highway. Naturally, the dish is only served on Fridays and Saturdays. And there’s no indoor dining — the space largely consists of a lobby, a counter and a kitchen. But that doesn’t stop the line from circling around itself in the mornings. The crowd’s makeup is varied — it’s still Houston. On a recent visit, the patrons included Latinx teenagers, Black fathers with children and a group of Asian clubbers texting in shades and last night’s sequin jackets — but we were united in the anticipatory walk back to our cars with our wares. In the pursuit of deliciousness, menudo unified us all.
And menudo is, in so many ways, a dish that underlines the importance of coming together, in whatever alignment brings you most comfort. Tradition is malleable. We can shift it to encompass the arrangements we need in our lives. And after spending hours on the stove, simmering gently in the company of loved ones — or simply oneself — it brings the warmth we all seek. A broth suffused with garlic. And the golden hue of a sopping tortilla trying to hold it all, the broth dripping from the fingers you use to spoon in another bite.
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