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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Menudo: The Soup Not the Band

            I don't exactly recall when I first heard about menudo, but it was probably in the late 70s and it was probably from Ken Griffin, a magician for whom I worked for a few years.  Ken had been a leather craftsman making saddles and other items in Montana and elsewhere. He had gain reputable stature in the field of leather work when he decided he wanted to run away from it all and follow a childhood dream of becoming a magician.

           His wife, Roberta, had briefly been involved in the Hollywood movie scene in her younger days and as a woman with a great deal of spunk and driving ambition, she backed Ken in his dream.  They became well known in the magic field and Roberta wrote books under Ken's name about both magic and leather craft.  When I became involved with them most of their glory days were behind them and they had a lot of miles on their odometers.

           Ken had been born in Deming, New Mexico and he claimed he was part Mexican.  He certainly looked the part.  With a face as tough as the leather he crafted, he liked to take a drink or two more than once a day. An alcohol high had become a natural state for him.  When he was in prime form he would like to reminisce about past times and Roberta would fill in the places where his memory gapped.  The two of them were quite the team of storytellers.

           Somewhere in one of his story sessions he had talked about menudo and its medicinal value in curing a hangover.  I had not been too much of a drinker back then--oh every now and then, yet not too excessively--but I kept this hangover remedy in mind just in case I would ever need it.

            The date eludes me--it was probably late 70s or early 80s--and whether a hangover was even a part of the equation--I think not--but it was a few years after hearing Ken's story when I was in a small town in Texas that I saw "Menudo" advertised in the window of a small downtown cafe.  I was no longer with the Ken Griffin Show, but now married and working on another touring show.  Seeing the sign in the window that Saturday morning evoked those memories of Ken's stories and I decided this was to be the morning I would try this curative soup.

           It was a quiet, uncrowded little small town cafe that specialized in Mexican food and I don't remember much more than that.  What I do remember is that large bowl of menudo that the waitress set before me.  I breathed in the aroma of the steaming soup and nearly gagged.  It was evocative of a barnyard full of animals, not unlike the livestock area of a county fair or the odor that pervades as you drive past a large cattle feed lot.  It did not look at all appetizing.  A dirty looking broth which suspended slimy white strips of unindentifiable animal products and white globules of a white vegetable product stared back at me. 

           Since I had ordered it I was determined to eat it.  The first bite was so alien and offensive that I was not sure I would be able to finish the rest of the bowl.   I slowly continued to eat.  I recognized the vegetable globes as hominy and that part wasn't too bad other than being accompanied by the obscene broth it was in.  The meat product was a whole different matter.  They were slimy bits of rubbery fat colored substance that reminded me of octopus, which was another food that I was not a big fan of.  It had that cow taste, not like beef, but like eating a cow right there in the barnyard.  I'm pretty sure I didn't finish the entire bowl and I decided that this would be my last meal of menudo.

           This was not to be the case.  Over the next several years I would occasionally venture back into the strange world of menudo.  I discovered that menudo served properly should come with an array of condiments to help dress and flavor the concoction.  Lemon, chopped onions, cilantro, oregano, crushed red peppers, and minced jalapenos helped turn the earthy soup into a rich tasting gourmet concoction.  Shredded cabbage could also be mixed in to add a cooling crunchy texture.  It took a while but I began developing not only a taste for menudo, but a craving.

            After I moved to the Los Angeles area I began finding restaurants that had buffets that included menudo and all of the appropriate condiments.  Now, when I eat in one of these establishments I always head for the menudo first and have at least two bowls.  Zapien's La Salsa Restaurant down the street from where I live specializes in menudo.  I should probably go there more often but I don't.  They have a special giant bowl that if you finish it, you get a T-shirt and your picture on their Menudo Wall of Fame.  I like menudo now but I don't know if I could finish that big of a bowl.

         I usually keep some cans of menudo in my kitchen.  I typically buy the Juanita's brand because it looks the most appetizing and it's the one I'm used to.  It's a good quality brand.  At home I usually don't have all of the condiments and just eat the soup as it comes out of the can.  They season it very well and it tastes quite good the way it is.  Since I'm the only one in my house who will eat menudo (my wife won't even taste it), I usually eat the entire 3 serving can, unless my father-in-law is there to help me eat it.  He's 85 years old, but he likes his menudo.

             Menudo is a good example of something that I have acquired a taste for.  From the first exposure in which I was completely repulsed by the substance to the present where I look forward to my next bowl, the journey of appreciation for menudo was taken carefully.  It was a process of years and the camaraderie of other menudo lovers who encouraged me.  Maybe that first bowl really was poor quality--I really have no way to gauge it now.  When I eat menudo, it still smells kind of weird to me.  I'm still not a huge fan of the meat product, but I love the broth, the hominy, and all the fixin's that go with it.   I guess instead of the beef tripe, which is the meat product of which I speak, I'd rather have good quality fat free pork meat.  But then I guess it would not longer be menudo and  I would have pozole instead.   And that's a whole different post about a different soup.

         Look at this!  Here I 'm supposed to be posting shorter blog bits and today I've gone so long that I can't post what was the truth out of the lies that I posted Saturday and Monday.  Okay--I promise you that on Friday I will reveal which was true and which were lies.  Oh brother!  Did I lie when I said my blog posts would be shorter?


  1. I'm not complaining how long your post are, these are excellent,
    I was searching for the answer to that truth or lies that you posted. Never mind a few more days won't hurt.

    I see your post have taken a food theme does that bear any significance?


  2. I really liked how you weaved the story of Ken in the beginning of the post. And menudo itself - sounds rather disgusting, but people here in Serbia also like to cook some dishes with pork and beef tripe. I'm lucky I've never tasted it :)

  3. Lee, thank you so much. I loved the story of Ken and Roberta but, omgoodness, when I got to "and almost gagged" I literally laughed out loud and kept laughing until I finished the post. THANK YOU! I needed that!

    BTW, I lived in SoCal for eleven years and never could bring myself to eat menudo. You are a brave man.

    ~that rebel with a blog

  4. I've never heard of Menudo soup before - definitely sounds like an acquired taste!

  5. Still don't like menudo :)
    You need all those condiments to cover up the taste and smell of what you're really eating.

  6. Yo! r-LEE-b ~
    My old friend MousieMarc left a good comment for ya on my latest at F-FFF. Just thought I'd point it out so ya don't miss it.

    Yak Later, Bro.
    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

  7. Oh, 100% an acquired taste! My husband's grandmother makes it any time we come to visit. I used to be a vegetarian, so the thought of eating tripe just makes my esophagus squeeze shut, but sometimes I'll eat it without the meat in the bowl. The other fixin's are great, though. I'm pretty sure without a heavy dose of lime, I wouldn't be able to eat it at all. :)

  8. Well I can't say that I have ever tried this soup or that I would even like it. But I will pretty much try anything once so if I ever come across it here in the Midwest I may just give it a try!
    Love Di ♥

  9. I don't care for menudo but my wife likes it. If you have a recipe for menudo, please stop by I LOVE SOUP! on facebook and leave it. Thanks.

    Stephen Tremp

  10. You lied!
    Tried menudo once - that was enough.

  11. Yvonne -- Let's see...maybe I haven't been getting enough to eat lately. No. Maybe I've been eating too much. Probably.

    Gregg- Thank you!

    Dezmond -- I looked up tripe on Wikipedia and they have a long list of all of the different tripe dishes people make throughout the world. I people have to do something with it.

    Olivia -- I don't know how much bravery has to do with eating menudo. Glad you got a laugh.

    Jemi -- Menudo is probably not very common in your neck of the woods.

    Carol-- The condiments are my favorite part.

    StMc-- Mousie made some good points. I'll try to respond later.

    RosieC -- When I get the menudo at the buffet I try to just scoop out broth and mostly hominy. I can deal with a few bites of the tripe, but not too much.

    Diana -- I'm sure you can probably find it in your area if there is any kind of Mexican population. If you're really curious check out the ethnic foods dept. of your local supermaket--they probably have the canned menudo.

    Stephen Tremp -- no recipes from me, I just get the canned stuff. I was reading about it yesterday and it's apparently pretty labor intensive and time consuming to make and I don't do that.

  12. Alex -- Sorry. I guess eating menudo might have distorted my thinking. I got so carried away with that story I just went overboard. Remember-- you can't try menudo just once, you have to acquire a taste for it and have all of the right condiments.

  13. Have you considered going on Master Chef or a Jamie Oliver show. I think you would outshine those anyday.


  14. Menudo has not appealed to me. Tried it once though, made by a friend who loves it. It is one of those things that if you grow up with it, you like it.

    I grew uo with head cheese, and blood sausage. Not that I like them, or even ate it recently, I do appreciate the fact that some love what I do not care for.

    But the spices in Menudo are great...just leave out the tripe!


  15. Yvonne -- Well thanks, but I really don't think I know that much about food other than just eating it.

    Sig -- I didn't grow up with menudo by any means. The perfect menudo would be tripeless, I agree.

  16. good weaved story like a quilt...I never heard of funny

  17. Id love to hear more about you time with the Griffins. Did they have a daughter who worked with them? Connie?

  18. Dear Anonymous
    I worked with them from 1975 to 1978. By that time their children were all grown and I never met any of them. But now that you mention it, I'm pretty sure they had a daughter named Connie.
    I would be happy to provide you more information either through another blog post in the future or directly by email if you like.

    Those years hold many fond memories for me. I eventually moved to California in the 90s after Ken had died and visited with Roberta a few times. I was distressed that I was not able to go to her funeral when she died, but I was not able to get away from work at the time.

    Did you know the Griffins? I'd love to hear from you and if there is anything specific that you'd like to know please feel free to email me at jacksonlee51(at)aol(dot)com


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