The place smells of blood, but looks like heaven. Eager diners of all shapes and sizes, colours and creeds, religions and vices huddle over beading pint-glasses of beer or bottles of red and white wine. Buxom Cape waitresses skirt around the cavernous and brightly coloured eatery bearing plates piled with hearty fare. The noise is one part late-night whore-house, one part Ukrainian political debate. Yes, it is Tripe Friday at Dias Tavern.
Dias Tavern has been purveying the good stuff for 25 years, but none as good as the tripe cooked-up regularly on Fridays. There is something just right about digging into a plate of braised cow stomach in this unpretentious, poseur-deprived and no-frills eatery where plastic outshines wood and linen 85-2.
But in the pursuit of objective, non-rose-glassed writing I do confess that I have a partiality to eating the body parts responsible for the inner-workings of an animal. Liver and kidneys. Sweet-breads and brain. Heart, stomach and gut. Wrench it from the just-slaughtered beast, bring it to the kitchen and smell it cooking, a pot of steaming, life-affirming goodness.
Some cheffy wanking claims the eating of tripe to be the right thing to do as “it shows respect to the beast that has offered its life for our wanton, selfish culinary pleasure”. Bring on the old Stradivarius and pluck my bow, just eat the tripe because it is good.
There are more ways of cooking tripe than there are Village People numbers at a gay wedding. Stewed in Calvados, as they do in Normandy. Simmered with tomato, basil and butter as in Italian style. Curried with aromatic Cape Malay spices.
Dias style is as it is done in northern Portugal. Cut into cubes. Cooked with carrots and stock, with a couple of pearly white beans added towards the end of the process to offer an extra hearty touch.
A good plate of tripe – unctuous and replenishing – makes the world a better place. No other meat dish combines taste, texture and aroma as does a heap of steaming tripe. It is best eaten in silence, homage to the art of striving towards a life well-lived.
Of course, something liquid is needed to wash this stuff down, and the right wine makes the enjoyment of tripe and offal that much more sensational.
You might be thinking red wine, and you might be right. Just remember that during the tripe-eating process a layer of rich, artery-jamming fat develops on your palate which if the tripe is good, will have to be removed with an angle-grinder. The robust and primal flavours of the animal innards require a wine with a bit of balls to stand up to it.
Past experience has proven Chardonnay to be the perfect choice for tripe. The acidic thrust freshens the fattened palate, gracefully carving through the greasy layer. After that the Chardonnay fruit takes over, wafting through the mouth like a floral spring breeze and cleaning things up before the next pile of cow stomach enters the fray.
During a recent Dias Tripe Friday I hauled along a bottle of Goudini Unwooded Chardonnay. Cheap co-operative Chardonnay from the Breedekloof, but as most of this area’s wines do, this punches far above its weight.
The wine is stuffed with real primary Chardonnay flavours of citrus, custard apple and dried sage-leaves. A rush of vibrant acidity makes the wine alive, adding zest and charm to the food and reviving the palate from the visceral onslaught of gutty deliciousness.
With a plate of tripe in front of them, two persons polish off a bottle of wine in the time it takes a stunned cow to drop to the floor. The empty bottle of Goudini was replaced with a flask of Casal Garcia and the freshness of the vinho verde is no mean slouch when it comes to complementing slabs of cow innards. And you can rinse your fingers in the wine-glass to get rid of the extra fat.
Yes, it’s not always pretty, but all of us have a right to have Friday on our minds.
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