Porto’s obsession with tripe stretches back to a legend from the 15th century. At the time men were dreaming of remote and exotic lands to feed their hunger for discovery. Infante Dom Henrique, the son of King João I, was a great navigator. He set sail from Porto in 1415 with a fleet of dozens of boats to conquer Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city on the African coast of the Mediterranean. Provisioning the boats for such an odyssey demanded colossal effort. Locals wanted to help, so lambs, pigs, and oxen were killed, quartered, cured, and packed in casks and boxes to be stored in the ship’s hull. Every part of the animal was taken except for the tripe, which was left behind because of its more perishable nature. Instead of throwing the tripe away, locals invented a way of eating the leftovers. And so tripas à moda do Porto was born.
This narrative, shared in the book Porto, Nos Recantos do Passado by Germano Silva, is only one of many tales of the creation of tripas à moda do Porto, but it’s one of the most prevalent—and my favorite. In fact, Porto’s love of tripe has earned its people a nickname: tripeiros (those who eat tripe). A local statue called Monumento aos Tripeiros is even dedicated to those who built, supplied, and manned Henrique’s ships in 1415.
The original dish is legendary, but it has seen some changes over the years. For instance, beans are a key ingredient, but some say they might have arrived here only in the 17th century. Today it is an important regional dish, glorified for its heritage, and exalted in poems like “Dobrada à Moda do Porto,” by Álvaro de Campos, one of the heteronyms of the great poet Fernando Pessoa. It is so entrenched in the local cuisine that there is even a tripe culinary society dedicated to the dish. Every Porto family prefers its own recipe and passes it down from generation to generation. But while it is a weekly dish in some traditional restaurants in Porto, it is becoming less popular among the city’s rising generation of chefs and restaurateurs, who are more focused on creating new culinary experiences. Here is the recipe; I hope you enjoy it.
2.2 pounds veal tripe (flat, honeycomb, and leaf tripe), chopped
1 calf’s head
5 ¼ ounces salpicão (smoked beef and pork sausage), chopped
5 ¼ ounces pig’s ear, chopped
5 ¼ ounces bacon or smoked ham, chopped
5 ¼ ounces meat from the pig’s head, chopped
Whole or half chicken
2 large onions
2.2 pounds butter beans
2 carrots, sliced
1 Tbs lard
Paprika, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 bunch parsley
Olive oil, to taste (optional)
Cumin, to taste
Salt and pepper
Every cook has their own process, but the main secret is assembling the recipe so that the flavors have time to breathe and mingle with one another.
Soak the beans overnight.
Rinse the tripe thoroughly, rubbing it with salt and lemon. Boil the tripe in a pot of salted water. Clean the calf’s head and cook it. In a different pot, boil the remaining meats and the chicken, which should be removed gradually as they become tender. (Some people boil the meats the evening before they make the dish in order to improve the taste and make it easier to add on the day of cooking.)
Cut one onion into wedges. Cook it with the beans and carrots in a pan with water. Chop the other onion and brown it with the lard. Add paprika and all the chopped meats. Leave it to soak a little bit.
Add the beans and cook until they are tender. Season with salt and ground black pepper, bay leaf, and parsley and leave to simmer until it has properly thickened. Add paprika as needed. (Some restaurants and family recipes add a drizzle of olive oil.)
Remove the parsley and transfer to a porcelain or clay dish. Sprinkle to taste with cumin or chopped parsley and serve with white rice.