Tripe is stomach lining, usually from a cow. People do eat other animal’s stomachs, but when they do they sometimes have different names—pig’s stomach, for example is called, “paunch.” Readers might be saying (doubtful, but it’s possible), “but cows have four-chambered stomachs because they’re ruminants—which chambers are eaten?” Actually, three of the four chambers are commonly eaten. The rumen section is called “smooth tripe,” the reticulum is called, “honeycomb tripe,” and the omasum is referred to as “leaf tripe.” The fourth chamber, abomasum, or “reed tripe” is typically not eaten due to its high percentage of glandular tissue (I suppose even people who are willing to eat animal stomach draw the line at glandular tissue).
To divide this even further, there are two states of tripe—washed and unwashed. Unwashed (sorry, this is a bit revolting) is tripe which still has partially digested food in it. Since we’re talking mainly about cows, this means it’s grass, and correspondingly unwashed tripe is also called “green” (to answer the question being asked by no one—it’s apparently really a grayish-brown color). Green tripe, not surprisingly, has a pungent odor, and is not considered to be fit for human consumption. Animals, though, especially dogs, love it, and it’s an ingredient in some pet foods (evidently it contains extra nutrients from the grass that some people think is extra healthy for dogs).
As I said, humans typically only eat washed tripe, so that the stomach contents are removed. In some places, there’s a person who does this full time, called a “professional tripe dresser.” I’m guessing that IRS accountants are seeing this job description more rarely on W-2 forms these days. For sadly (I guess), tripe has passed its peak of popularity (the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and while it’s still eaten worldwide, it’s not done so as frequently.
I’ve had tripe in an Italian restaurant and from the supermarket, in canned menudo form. Both were decent. In both cases I believe I had the “honeycomb tripe,” as that pattern was discernable—the chunks of it looked like Honeycomb Cereal, only meat. It’s definitely a weird texture, but with the tomato-based sauce (Italian), or with hominy and spices (Mexican menudo) it’s good—I’ve gone back for more.
Speaking of menudo, I was curious about the awful 80’s boy band of the same name, (which at one time had a young Ricky Martin) the one that apparently kicked out members and replaced them whenever they got pubes. I was hoping that they were randomly and bizarrely named after this dish, but probably not, as menudo is apparently also slang for “thin,” “small,” “worthless,” “vulgar” and “change” (as in money change) as well as “cow stomach.” (Now that I think about it, “tripe” is also slang for many of these things.)
Also, evidently Fred Sanford, of 70’s TV show “Sanford and Son,” was a major fan of menudo.
Finally, one website listed tripe as being thought of as a good hangover cure. Which amuses me—I’m picturing shoving a plate full of tripe into a hungover friend’s face, and then jumping back to avoid the inevitable vomit splatter.
So, to sum up, I would recommend tripe to adventurous omnivores, and culinary meta fans. (And sorry for a probably more disgusting than usual post.)