We once took a poll amongst our readers called “Mondongo: Yucky or Yummy?”, which sparked in me some reflection. My money was on a landslide victory for the Yuckies. I admit it, I voted more than once, in order to better register my enormous dislike.
The Yuckies lost. By a lot.
For those innocently unaware, “mondongo” is a cute name for cow or pig intestines, a supposed delicacy, usually boiled and then served in a tomato sauce on rice. Although in my opinion of little esteem it resembles a smooth mass of rotini-shaped viscera in form, and a worn rubber bicycle tire in texture, it remains a savoury delight to many others. Unfortunately, my own intestines cringe at the thought of processing their own kind. They go tense at the pervasive and instantly recognizable smell of cooking mondongo.
Mondongo is not unique to the DR – my British Dad calls it “tripe” – and although it is by far the most popular edible innard, it is not the only one. Butifarra, bofe, and pico y pala are some other beloved names designed to mask a food’s dubious origins. (You can see that much more thought and wit go into naming these foods than those that are plainly called exactly what they are.)
But don’t get me wrong: I am not a vegetarian. I will enjoy a juicy steak, devour a pica pollo, and during pregnancy even craved liver. My diet is diverse and colourful, which is why it rankles me to be cast in the role of “picky eater”. While it’s only a small group of issues that dictates what I will not or cannot eat, they have occasionally caused my husband’s Dominican family to mock me and view me as delicada (read:weird).
My refusal to eat certain items has also left me excluded from many a late night cocina’o or celebratory meal. The finicky outcast.
My mother-in-law was a commanding figure and a fearless eater; nothing off-limits and no understanding of squeamishness whatsoever. One day, I observed my little son nibbling on something in her company, something foreign and suspicious-looking. I asked what it was. “Nervios de vaca, mi hija.” Cow nerves. My instinct was to tear it from his little hands and throw it into the gutter. Alas, I didn’t have the guts.
So I do not like foods that too closely resemble a recent past in which living and breathing were involved. I do not hunger for meat that I have to gnaw down to a bone, nor do I like to discern shapes that belie a previous function; a chicken’s wing or a pig’s foot on a plate is, to me, unnerving. My critics will say, “If you can eat one part of an animal, then why not the rest?” I know – it’s a quirk, but I do recycle my bottles and cans.
Jill, a member of our original team (where we knew her as Aunt Jane), and contributor to our book, is Canadian, mom to two Canadian-Dominican boys and resided in the Dominican Republic for several years.
- 2 lbs [0.9 kg] of pork or beef tripe, clean and stripped of fat.
- ½ gallon [2 lt] of water
- 4 limes
- 3 cilantro sprigs
- A pinch of pepper
- 2 tablespoons of oil (corn, peanut or canola)
- 2 red onions chopped into small cubes
- ½ teaspoon of mashed garlic
- ½ cup of chopped celery
- 4 green bell peppers, cut into small pieces
- 6 plum tomatoes cut into 4 quarters
- Add 6 cups of water (may not need it all)
- 3 large potatoes cut into cubes
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 1 cup of tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon of hot sauce or agrio de naranja (may be omitted)
- A pinch of oregano
- Boil the tripe in the water until tender, adding the juice of two limes, cilantro, a teaspoon of salt and a pinch of pepper to the water.
- Cool to room temperature, remove from the water and cut into small pieces.
- In a pot heat the oil add the onions, and garlic.
- Cook and stir until the onions become transparent.
- Add celery, peppers and tomatoes. Cook covered over low heat for a minute.
- Add the tomato sauce and oregano and stir.
- Add the tripe.
- Cook over medium heat for five minutes.
- Add 3 cups of water, potatoes and carrots.
- Simmer covered over low heat until the potatoes and carrots are cooked.
- Season with salt to taste.
- Serve hot with arroz blanco. Garnish with the remaining limes cut into wedges and serve with hot sauce .