Loving Spoonful: A Slow-Cooked Sunday Tradition for Chef Josef Centeno

Memories of menudo, the classic Mexican tripe stew

Story by Josef Centeno, as told to Lesley Bargar Suter

On New Year’s Eve and Christmas my family always had menudo. My grandmother on my dad’s side would start cooking it the day before in a giant pressure cooker. I remember that the house always stank of tripe. My brother and I would be outside, playing soccer, and then we’d run into the kitchen and immediately back out. We loved it, though. I didn’t really understand what tripe was—it was just kind of spongy and chewy.

My dad was a butcher, so our menudo always had the best honeycomb tripe. My dad’s dad started Centeno Market in San Antonio, where I grew up, and they were the first grocer that would get the whole beef carcass and break it down completely. I remember going into the walk-in fridge and seeing 15 carcasses in there—I wish I appreciated it then. 

In Texas it was boiling hot all the time, but then for some reason on Christmas and New Year’s Eve it was always bone-chilling cold. So it was on those days that my grandma would give us menudo and coffee with condensed milk. We weren’t allowed to have coffee, but she would sneak it to us. The soup would be served with raw onion and oregano and lime. I remember squeezing the lime and the grease sticking to the sides of the bowl—that, for me, is warmth and heartiness. At Bar Amá I serve it like that every day.

Three Menudo Musts:

➊ Chichén Itzá
3655 S. Grand Ave., downtown, 213-741-1075

➋ El Sinaloense
7601 State St., Huntington Park, 323-581-1532 

➌ Tamales Elena
Wilmington Ave. and 110th St., Watts, no phone