At my father's request, Cau cau!
Cau cau with white rice
My father's birthday is New Year's Day. While many people party on New Year's Eve, for many years now I have stayed in and prepared food for his birthday party with much joy and anticipation. We have a lot of winter birthdays and celebrations in my family, so it can sometimes be hard to come up with different and intriguing menu items so late in the holiday season. This year my dad surprised me and requested something he was craving that I had never made nor tasted; Cau cau, Peruvian beef tripe soup. Was it intriguing? To be honest, it was daunting for more than one reason but I was determined to make him something special.
I did not grow up eating tripe, or mondongo, and have always had a hard time with the smell and texture. When I lived in Peru, I would often get anticuchos, or beef heart kebabs, from street vendors all over the city. Some vendors would also sell, alongside them, pancita. Pancita, or rachi, is grilled tripe (beef stomach). One of my last weeks living in Lima, I decided to be adventurous and buy anticuchos with pancita. I was surprised by the layers of spices that lingered on my tongue and most surprised by the pleasant texture as I chewed each little piece. I knew then that I had gotten over the texture issue with it being grilled. But when my dad said he wanted this soup, I thought, "Oh man, I'm not sure if I can deal with the smell when I boil it."
Cau cau is believed to have been created in the city of Arequipa, in the south of Peru, with both Indigenous and African influences. It a soup made with beef tripe, mondongo in Spanish, and seasoned with aji amarillo, garlic and hierbabuena (peppermint or mint) and spiced with turmeric and cumin. The tripe can also be swapped out for chicken or seafood nowadays. While there are different historical accounts of this dish, it is most strongly believed that it was enslaved African cooks who created this dish, not letting the leftover cuts of unwanted innards go to waste. It's name is also under debate as it may have come from the Quechua "acacau," which means "hot," or it could have had Chinese influence where the combination of the words together, caucau, indicates the small cut pieces of the both the tripe and potato in this soup.
Birthday party guests around the dinner table
Today, this dish finds its place on dinner tables at home as well as in typical restaurants throughout Peru. You do not, however, find this dish on any Peruvian restaurant menus here in the Boston-area. Since I had no previous knowledge of how this dish was supposed to taste I had to rely on my own embodied knowledge of Peruvian flavors, spices, and do some research. Based on the many recipes I encountered and the ingredients I had access to, I made this recipe for my daddy's birthday celebration. All the Peruvians at the party who were of my dad's generation went crazy when they saw it on the table and took any leftovers home. There was not one drop left. Not even for me dad! While I did not grow up eating tripe, I appreciate a cuisine that does not let any part of the animal go to waste. And this soup is pretty dang tasty. I have yet to meet a Peruvian soup that isn't! Buen provecho, amig@s!
Happy 75th to my Daddy!
Cau Cau - 10-12 Servings
2 pounds tripe (beef stomach), cleaned
2 pounds gold potato, peeled and cubed
1/3 cup milk
2 bay leaves
2 large red onions, diced small
1 tablespoon garlic paste or finely chopped garlic
1-2 tablespoons aji amarillo (to taste and to heat level preference)
2 sprigs spearmint or mint, leaves and stalks separated
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 limes, juiced
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into rounds (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, place tripe and cover with water. Add milk, bay leaves, and the stalks of the mint sprigs. Boil for an hour or until tender.
Strain, reserving liquid and allowing tripe to cool. Discard mint sprigs.
Once cool, chop tripe into small cubes. Reserve.
In the same empty large pot, add oil and sauté onion until translucent.
Add garlic, aji amarillo paste, cumin, and turmeric and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Add a bit of salt and pepper, to taste.
Add reserved liquid and bring to a boil.
Add tripe and potatoes. If adding carrots, also add at this point.
Chop mint leaves and add to pot with lime juice.
Let simmer for about 20 minutes.
If adding peas, add at this moment. Let cook for 5 minutes.
Serve with white rice.