For Strong Stomachs Only

There really is no end to the infinite wonders of the world, and anyone cynical enough to believe that they’ve seen it all have very little imagination indeed.  Here’s one for you:

My local butcher Sandro, while grinding up some beef for Erica‘s enviable ragù sauce, tried to get me interested in the plateful of tripe that he had in his display case.  After admitting my reticence for all animal parts that come from the stomach or below, and blaming it on the fact that you simply don’t grow up with much tripe on your plate in America, he heaved a sigh.

“Ahh,” he said, “No one eats it here anymore either.  40 years ago I used to sell 100 pounds of liver a week, pig’s feet by the dozens, and countless mounds of tripe.  Now I hardly can get rid of a single liver, and it’s only a few old folks who ever take the tripe.  And just think, there used to be 150 tripe houses in Genoa alone.”

Excuse me?

It turns out that not only in Genoa, but all up and down the Ligurian coast, tripe houses (tripperia in Italian) were once all the rage, as was  the specialized job of the trippaio.  They cleaned, washed, boiled, stewed, and sold tripe, and only tripe.  But that’s not all.  One of their specialities, which has disappeared with the development of our ever-more-finicky palates, was tripe broth: the water in which the tripe was cooked.  According to Sandro, tripe broth was particularly popular with the stevedores, who would get a mugful of it as they headed out to the docks, and with drunks.  Nothing like a couple of cups of tripe broth to soothe the stomach after a real bender.

Now there are only a handful of tripe houses left, and though I have not investigated any of them personally, I doubt if any of the survive strictly on tripe alone.  It’s sad, in a way, that in the space of a generation, we have lost such a major culinary habit … it says much about the supermarket mentality we have internalized about food and food preparation.

And so I promised Sandro that I’d build up my courage and get some tripe the next time my brother-in-law (who goes wild for the stuff, along with raw sausages and other dubious pork products) was in town … but I’m going to need a lot of courage.