Go to any Mexican restaurant in Tucson and look over the menu. Breakfast and sweets aside, you’d be hard put to find many dishes that don’t include beef or wheat. It’s the same in Sonoran home cooking too, and it’s been that way ever since March of 1687, when Kino came into this region with his wheat seeds and beef cattle.
Let’s take a look, starting with beef.
Of course the regular bits of the cow get used — grilled as carne asada, chopped up in a red chile sauce as carne de chile colorado, and on. In fact, Sonora is supposed to have been described by a Mexico City politicianas “el lugar donde empieza la carne asada y termina le civilización” (“The place where carne asada begins and civilization ends”).
Thin strips of beef get dried and become carne seca or jerky, or shredded and dried into machaca which can then be cooked up with bits of tomato, chili, onions and garlic.
But it can honestly be said that in Sonora they cook just about every part of the cow except for the moo. Beef cheeks — cabezas — are a popular taco filling, available in a couple of places on our southwest side of Tucson.
Tripas de leche or marrow guts are a favorite picnic food for grilling. To do it right takes a long time over a slow fire. When done you chop them into small pieces, just as one does with carne asada, and eat them with a flour tortilla and some salsa.
And then there are the wonderful Sonoran soups or caldos, many of which begin with beef stock. Caldo de queso has potatoes, tomatoes, green chiles, onion, garlic and melted cheese. Cazuela has many of the same vegetables, with carne seca. There’s cocido, with oxtail, beef skirt, the usual veggies, and garbanzos and bits of corn cob. Albóndigas are meatballs in broth. And then there’s menudo.
Menudo is tripe soup with hominy and cow’s knuckles. It is a rich stew, and many restaurants only offer it on weekends, when families can get together for breakfast. It comes in a rich broth and is usually served with garnishes of chiltepín peppers, lemon quarters, chopped green onion, and cilantro. Many restaurants also serve it with the Mexican rolls called pan birrote.
But that’s not all about menudo. It is said to be an excellent hangover recipe (on the principal of putting more stomach in your stomach?) and is one of the foods about which one can joke. When asked about menudo by a curious tourist, one of my friends replied “Why, Ma’am, it’s just cow guts and popcorn.”