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A Lesson in Tripe

March 1, 2011
by Sarah Winman

“Tripe strikes fear in people”

If there is one dish with the reputation to send someone rushing to the bathroom before trying it, then it has to be tripe. In its raw state, I’ve always thought it looks like coral, but that is as far as my musings go. It is edible offal from the stomachs of various animals, and no amount of imagination or similes can ultimately disguise that grisly fact. Tripe has quite a following away from these shores and is part of an everyday dining tradition in France, Spain and Italy. In the Mercato Centrale in Florence, there is even a “tripperie” – a fast food outlet serving those busy people of Tuscany who simply can’t get enough of the stuff.

“One tripe burger, please and hold the mayo!” – It just seems so wrong.

In Britain we tend to use beef tripe the most, the variants thereof sporting names like leaf, bible, carpet, blanket, plain, reed, honeycomb – gentle, innocuous names masking the unfamiliar terrain beneath. Plain comes from the first stomach of the cow, honeycomb the second and bible, or leaf, the third. The fourth stomach, I read, apart from the extraction of rennet, seems to be used less frequently “due to its glandular tissue….” Oh dear.

Having attempted to walk this life with an open mind, I soon realized that I had tripe prejudice simmering on a low heat in my heart. In order to advance my knowledge of this murky, intestinal world, I needed to procure the help of a master – nay, the King of Tripe! – who else but the inestimable, hugely affable, ridiculously talented Mr Fergus Henderson of St John Restaurant.

“Tripe stirs fear in people,” says Mr Henderson rather knowingly. There is a long pause, in which I feel the said fear. “Most people shut down and close their hearts to tripe. But people who come to the restaurant for tripe, really love tripe. They are tripe fiends.

There is no particular season for tripe. It is a forever dish: any time, any place, an anywhere dish. It’s tummy, so it doesn’t really change. Of course, jellied tripe is a more summery dish – it is an initiate’s dish one might say, and it tends to win over a lot of people. I like to serve it with cornichons. Accompanied by a jolly rosé – that to me would be perfect.

Could I tell the difference between honeycomb tripe and carpet tripe and leaf tripe?” – Another pause – “Well, if I wiggled my tongue and got the texture, then yes, probably.

Tripe and onions actually shows tripe at its best. Use unbleached tripe – it needs a good rinse in salted water as it is a little brown by nature – and then you soften the onions in milk, add the tripe and simmer for up to an hour. I would call this an enthusiast’s dish.

The great thing about tripe is that it achieves a great culinary combination, both steadying and uplifting at the same time. It rescues one from life. It is a white food and needs mashed potato – something to “anchor” it to the “*!*!*!” (Please note: At this point Mr Henderson makes a long slurping sound that completely enhances one’s understanding of the dish). Accompanied, of course,” he continues, “by a red burgundy.

Deep fried tripe is like a grown-up Quaver. Use unbleached tripe again. After cooking for eight hours season and flour and then throw in the deep fat fryer. It fans out – expansive gesture – and it’s wonderfully crispy. Eat with salt and vinegar. Accompanied, of course…”

“With a red sparkling wine,” interjects Mr Trevor Gulliver joyously. “A Portuguese or a Shiraz.”

“Or a red burgundy,” says Mr Henderson, with emphasis.

There is a moment to reflect. The simmering has stopped, and my heart is opening. I feel like an acolyte in an airless vault. In the presence of a Master. I refill my water glass, my head buzzing, my understanding clearer. We continue.

“Tripe needs enough chew,” continues Mr Henderson. “It shouldn’t yield straight away – maybe not until the third chew, and then it starts to give way, then it becomes submissive.”

My hand is suddenly in the air, waving.

“Yes?” says Mr Henderson.

“I read somewhere that tripe can increase libido. Four fold.”

There is a very long pause in which Mr Gulliver raises his eyebrows.

“Well,” says Mr Henderson, “It’s heady stuff, tripe. Uplifting.”

“Can you eat it as a dessert?” asks the photographer.

“You’d be very foolish,” says Mr Henderson.

“What you need to understand,” says Mr Henderson, “is that food is mood-led. You wake up and think…Ahhh, tripe and onions. One needs to test the perception of beauty. Tripe is a beautiful thing. It brings you back from the edge when you think there’s no hope… But then you remember there’s tripe and onions – it’s pretty impressive.” Mr Henderson sits back against the wall and exhales deeply. “First initiation into tripe,’ he says ‘I think we’ve had a good stab at it.”

Here Endeth the Lesson.

“Jellied tripe – an initiate’s dish. “

“If I wiggled my tongue and got the texture…”

“It shouldn’t yield straight away…”

“It fans out…”

“Can tripe increase libido?”

“It rescues one from life.”

Edmund Martin Ld, Tripe Dresser in Lindsey St, Smithfield, demolished last year.

Portraits of Fergus Henderson copyright © Patricia Niven

Tripe photograph in “Nose to Tail Eating” by Jason Lowe

Photograph of Edmund Martin Ltd by the Gentle Author

You may also like to read these other St John stories

Fergus Henderson, Bookworm

James Lowe, St John Bread & Wine

Night in the Bakery at St John

Hot Cross Buns from St John

The First Mince Pies of the Season

Justin Piers Gellatly, Baker & Pastry Chef

Go Nuts for Doughnuts!

The Tart with the Heart of Custard

The Daily Loaf

16 Responses leave one →
  1. March 1, 2011

    Oddly enough, I was brought up on tripe. When just a stained nappie, we, I took my parents, lived in Libya – how current is that – and Sulhien [I am sure I have misspelt his name, so apologies to anyone who knows better] who had a son my age fed me on tripe on a daily basis. I still love it.

  2. Malcolm permalink
    March 1, 2011

    When I was nine or ten years old my mother went to the abattoir and brought back two bin bags full of tripe for our alsations. The experience of transferring the sloppy cuttings from the bags to the containers has stayed with me.

    That said, I’ve tried Tripe Soup, a popular dish in central / eastern Europe, and found it delicious.

  3. March 1, 2011

    Tripe has never appealed to me, but on reading this… my goodness, I feel hungry!

  4. JohnB permalink
    March 1, 2011

    Great article. Yes, eat tripe instead of cod roe please, far more sustainable! I’ve eaten a lot of it in various Chinese huo guo (hot pot), it’s very nutricious and also enjoyable once you are used to it .

    I’ve know Trevor Gulliver for many years, part owner of the St. John chain and lovely man (you mentioned him but didn’t introduce him…).

  5. March 1, 2011

    I enjoyed reading this – but not quite sure if you actually ate the tripe or not?

  6. Aubrey Silkoff permalink
    March 1, 2011

    I laughed out when I read the piece. Brilliant description and very funny.

  7. March 1, 2011

    Wonderful writing. I’m almost converted.


  8. March 1, 2011

    “Having attempted to walk this life with an open mind, I soon realized that I had tripe prejudice simmering on a low heat in my heart. ”

    I have kept an open mind too, and always try some, whenever anyone orders it, when I’m present… I figure I might find a dish in which it works for me. But it’s texture is simply not one I enjoy and the taste seems too mild to help me overcome the texture.

    Most recently, I was invited onto Market Kitchen (they’ve been getting a long list of bloggers to join the panel) and tripe was one of the dishes. I tried it, of course, but still didn’t like it…

    The thought of it certainly doesn’t make me feel sick, as it seems to do for some people!!

    Great interview!

  9. Leo permalink
    March 1, 2011

    We have a horrifying soup in Greece called patsas that has this in it (along with intestines). I would describe the texture like eating a rubber towel. Whenever my grandma made it, the house smelled like a bowel movement.

  10. March 1, 2011

    I think as long as you do not prepare the dish yourself, it is probably much more appealing. During preparation most of the smell and taste are masked, and are mostly faded by the time you manage a bite…

    But just try to prepare it; the smells and texture will remain with you forever. See, I was raised in a house that consumed Tripe only during special occasions (which I dreaded for that reason), and I have always hated Tripe with a passion. I still remember my grandmother scraping the glands off with a very sharp knife… the horror…! 🙂

  11. Anne Forster permalink
    March 1, 2011

    No , sorry, just can’t go there! My mother used to eat it though. Can’t think of anything worse.

  12. Chris F permalink
    March 1, 2011

    My gran used to eat Chitterlings (I think that’s how it’s spelt) Utterly ghastly stuff, I want to balk just thinking about it. The stuff stank awful even when she doused it in vinegar. I’m sure it is part of the tripe family (Possibly from pigs?) I tried it and it was like chewing on a rubber bathing cap, but to her it was pure caviar.

  13. March 2, 2011

    In Lisbon and also in Oporto we cook tripe in a wonderful manner, either with white beans or chickpeas (garbanzo beans?). It’s tender, soft, a divine experience 🙂
    I see that not only Portuguese people enjoy it…
    Your blog is so good. Thanks.

  14. Jonny James permalink
    June 6, 2011

    I had tripe and noodle soup for breakfast this morning from a small local restaurant here in Bangkok, set me up and cured my hangover.

  15. Sally permalink
    March 27, 2013

    Edmund Martin was my mother’s Uncle Ted. His father and some of his brothers were also in the offal business. My grandmother (Ted’s sister) always carved the roasts, and my mother fed us a lot of offal.

  16. Andrew permalink
    January 2, 2014

    Reply to Sally ; my family had at their peak! ( in 1900) 9 Tripe Shops across north London. What they were like has fascinated me. I have a description from a distant relative who lived above one, until the 1950s. I always wondered if we were connected to the Martin business. The Tripe families married! other Tripe Butchers / Dressers ..mine go back to early 1700s.

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