BY VICTORIA WANG ’20
Animal intestines, although unappetizing to many, are a delicacy to Yiqi Chen ’21, an international student from Beijing, China.
Beef tripe in particular is one of Chen’s favorite foods from home. “Among the many Chinese ways of eating innards, Beijing’s ‘ re tripe’ is very special,” said Chen. “It is typical of Beijing-style street foods: simple and plain.”
The process is simple: boil tripe (stomach lining) in water, prepare the dipping sauce and the dish is complete. But Chen noted that this somewhat minimalist cooking process has its own intricacy.
It isn’t easy to cook tripe to the right temperature. Tripe takes seconds to cook through, but when overcooked, it is rubbery and tasteless. Perfectly cooked, tripe is light and chewy in texture, and cooking it correctly also brings out its natural earthy avor.
“[That avor] is addictive,” said Chen. “Fire tripe should also be eaten imme- diately after the tripe [is] cooked,” she added. “The moment [it] get[s] cold, [it] turn[s] rubbery.”
The dipping sauce for re tripe, a creamy base of sesame seeds, can be topped with chopped green onion or minced garlic.
According to Chen, combining un- avored water-boiled food with this rich, glutinous sauce is a “quintessen- tial Beijinger eating habit.”
“My friends from other parts of China never understand why I’d prefer to conceal the food’s original taste with such a heavy sauce,” said Chen. “But for me, this way of eating brings me a rich but also subtle tasting experience. I remember [how] the thickness of the sesame sauce complements the tender- ness of the tripe,” she said.
The unique love of eating “tasteless food with sesame sauce” distinguishes her as an authentic Beijinger, Chen said proudly.
“[Our food] is always scolded as being ‘difficult to eat,’” Chen said, “but its unique taste actually stems from Beijing’s historical situation.”
Situated in Northeastern China, Beijing has a dry, windy climate and is always short of natural resources, so Beijingers are often deprived of fresh ingredients for meals. “It is not the land to develop a delicate culinary style,” Chen said.
These geographical conditions prevented people living in Beijing from producing an abundance of grains and vegetables or herding livestock, so its people had few food choices. Beijingers habitually did not waste many animal products and relied heavily on salting or fermenting food for longer preservation. “Our choice of food [today] embodies our ancestors’ struggle to cope with resource scarcity,” said Chen.
Chen said it’s hard to predict whether the two favors of the tripe and the sauce will blend well or disagree with each other. Each mouthful is a different taste adventure: sometimes, changing the amount of sesame sauce changes the entire taste of the dish. Chen prides herself on her ability to nd the perfect tripe-to-sauce ratio by the end of every meal.
Since coming to Mount Holyoke, Chen has spent over two years in the U.S. where tripe is not a common deli- cacy. Over the past two years, the more she misses her favorite hometown dish, the more often its taste comes up vividly in her memory. When eating re tripe, she said, “every bite is just complete satisfaction.”