Eating guts

My father raised his own beef cattle, on a small scale. He’d buy one or two calves at a time, raise them to maturity, then have them slaughtered and butchered. We knew a butcher who’d take care of the whole operation – slaughtering, cutting up, grinding, wrapping – in return for a quarter of the entire animal. A small cow yields at least a couple of hundred pounds of meat (usually more), so there was plenty to go around, and our basement freezer was always full of steaks and roasts and hamburger.


Once, the butcher left a bucket on the back steps after the deed was done: liver, kidneys, oxtail, heart, et cetera. The tongue was lying on top, and there is nothing bigger or slimier-looking than a raw cow’s tongue. “The neighbors can have ’em,” my mother said. “We don’t eat guts.”


Well, times change. I discovered in adulthood that I have a taste for liver: it’s rich and interesting. Partner, who does not share my enthusiasm, refers to it as “the cow’s carburetor,” and reminds me from time to time that it’s just a big meaty filter. That may well be. It’s still pretty tasty.


A British friend in Morocco prepared kidneys for me more than once, and they’re pretty savory too, though (after all) they’re just filters too. I love the flavor of tongue, but the texture is a little gelatinous. (There used to be a restaurant in Tunis that did tongue in aspic as an appetizer; it was very pleasant, and I never had to worry about sharing it with anyone, once I explained what it was.) Oxtail’s good, though gluey. Heart has a nice flavor, but I can’t help noticing all those little veins. In Tunisia, I often ordered an egg-and-hot-peppers dish called ojja; I never really asked what was in it, so it wasn’t until much later that I realized brains are a main ingredient.



And then there are all the other organs.


Once, in a restaurant in the Tunis medina, I was having lunch with my friend Ahmed, who was moaning as usual about his job, his love life, etc. He ordered fish, I ordered kamounia. Kamounia is a stew usually incorporating liver, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, etc.


But it doesn’t have to be liver.


The waiter brought our dishes to the table. Ahmed kept talking while dissecting his fish (which was, as always, served whole). I glanced down at my plate and saw – well, a large whitish sphere.


Now what organ could that be?


Ahmed didn’t notice. He just kept talking and sawing away at his fish. I thought about it for a long time. I’d always wondered what the organ in question tasted like.


So what the hell? I ate it.



Flavor: nothing special. Texture: a little spongy.


Just in case you were wondering.





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