poor man's oyster
words by kelly reid
My very first management - well officially anyway, not like when my bosses went away and I accidentally crashed their car doing the laundry - was at a French restaurant in a cool and hip area of Wellington, New Zealand. We served Kir’s, we played French rap music (all 4 CDs), we served Horse until the source was questioned by the equivalent of the DOH, I devoured more `crème caramels than I’ve ever—to this day—eaten and served out of the smallest service bar in the history of 100 seater restaurants.
One afternoon I walked into work and the restaurant smelled just awful, this earthy barnyard funk. It was the Tripe. Even to my still learning foodie brain, what was more exotic than the pony steaks was this pale honeycomb wobble: poetically I would call it beef waffle - from a butchers perspective it is made from the muscle wall (the interior mucosal lining is removed) of only the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach. Being something other than prime rib it was one of those cuts that the British lower class ate due to its inexpensive nature. But I imagine those fancy folks upstairs one day were like what in the world is that odor, gimme some of that and then suddenly it’s the most expensive dish on the menu.
So, at pre-shift, we all had a taste and it tasted as dramatic as it smelled.I took the smallest bite and to this day the impression it made on me still has left it’s mark. I did what I could to rid myself of the flavour by eating some expired marshmallows.
What was even more confusing was the fact that when we specialed it, I was convinced that we had a dud on our hands and imagine my surprise when we actually sold out of it. I attributed it to our continental customers and that older set that had fond memories of Tripe and Onions in postwar times.
I wonder if (like any food you tried when your palette was still adjusting to new flavours) I tried it now, might I like it again? I’ve evolved past the time when I thought oysters were gross and coffee had to have three sugars to be drinkable. Like most things, neither had been prepared properly when I first tried them. Should I give it another go? Where does one find tripe these days? I’m well overdue for a trip to France, and maybe it’s time to book a flight to see if 15 years of personal culinary advances have made it any better for me, or if—like my mothers dumplings—they’ll leave me retching...