Let’s go back in time to 1995. I’m at Pilar’s house, hanging out with her, her brother Roberto (my best friend), her other two siblings, and her mom Conchy. It’s the middle of the day, we’re all hungry, and Conchy decides to start cooking. Thank God, I think to myself, because I was a starving teenager.
Conchy decides to make soup, and while I am not a big soup aficionado, I am there and I’m a guest, so I go with the flow. All of a sudden, however, I smell the worst smell I have ever smelt emanating from a kitchen.
“So uh, what are you cooking?” I ask Conchy, in Spanish. Back then, I still referred to her as Sra. (Last name) and used Usted. We would later switch to the familiar form vos (not tú, mind you, because we are Central Americans…more on vos in another post).
“Tripe soup,” she replies.
“Cow intestine. Didn’t you know that?”
Four hours later, the tripe stops cooking, and we are called to the table to eat. In front of me is a disgusting-looking piece of solid white meat, with a little square pattern reminiscent of a waffle, floating amongst various nondescript vegetables. The Salvadorans tear into it. The Gringo prepares himself.
I bite into the tripe…and damn if it ain’t good! I mean, it really was tasty. Chewy, certainly, but full of flavor. Okay, I’ve eaten cow intestine now. Cool.
Fast forward 18 years. After things went south with our respective other spouses, Pilar and I got back together. We’re sitting around the dinner table one day, a Friday, eating shrimp. I never really enjoyed eating shrimp, but due to my Orthodox Christian faith, we fast a lot, and sometimes all we can eat are vegetables and shellfish. I got used to them, but never really enjoyed them. Shrimp had to be sanitized to eat: no shell, no veins, no tail, no head.
Sitting in front of me now? The full shrimp. Its eyes are staring at me.
Pilar senses my apprehension. “The kids don’t like to eat the whole thing either. So I made some with the head, and some without.”
“Alright. I’ll try it,” I say, most agreeably. I mean, I have eaten a lot of different foods in my life—have you eaten squirrel?—but it did look rather disgusting.
“You have to suck on the head. That’s where the flavor is,” Pilar responds, at which point she gives that shrimp a big ol’ kiss and sucks away.
I follow suit and discover that well, the head of a shrimp is pretty much where all the flavor is.
I still haven’t tied cow tongue, but I realize now that we Gringos have been cheated out of flavor. Well, actually, our rural Gringo relatives still eat this stuff, but the urban-dwelling Gringos born after 1975 have been underexposed to these things. It’s time to go out of your comfort zone, fellow Caucasians, and try some cow intestine and shrimp head. You won’t regret it.