I hope that everyone’s New Year has had a good launch! Being back in Spain feels surreal after being home for almost a month. I went to the States with one suitcase and came back to Sevilla with two- how does that happen? Well, I did bring back some children books for my bilingual coordinator’s 2-year-old (some new and some hand-me-downs from our family collection!) and a stack of take-out menus for classroom activities. Not to mention a pack of tortillas- they’re almost a killer $6 here!.

Here is a story I wrote for a contest held by our teach abroad program. The theme was open-endedly “Food.” It’s about Julia and her encounter with an infamous dish, menudo. I hope you enjoy it!

Encounters of the Menudo Kind

I’ve got a friend. Her name is Julia. We like to eat, and we’re not afraid of food. Grilled chicken heart? Bring it on. Pulpo a la gallega? Why not? Rabo de toro? Yes, please!

So when Julia was confronted with a Spanish menu during her first week in Seville, she did not play it safe. She did not order a sandwich. She did not order the paella. She did not order the chicken filet. She zeroed in on one item, the one item she had seen a couple of times before, but had never ordered. She plunged bravely into the unknown, and asked the waiter to please bring her a plate of…menudo. Settling into conversation, Julia was innocently unconcerned about the decision she had just made.

When the waiter plopped her plate of menudo in front of her with a “buen provecho,” she looked down to a plate of squiggly little bits covered in a brownish-reddish sauce. Hmmmm. It certainly wasn’t the most appetizing-looking dish she had ever encountered. Not one to be daunted by a less-than-appealing presentation, Julia bravely plucked up her fork, speared the most harmless-looking piece on the plate and brought it to her mouth. “How is it?” the others at her table asked hesitantly. “Ummm, hmmm” Julia could not respond as she was still chewing. It had an amazing and surprising elasticity! Julia motioned for the others to try a bite. She wondered if perhaps she had just taken a bad bit of the menudo on her first go. After all, it was extremely unusual for her to find a food she didn’t like. In the practice of giving second chances, she speared another bit and gave it a chew.

“Would you like some more?” Julia asked the other diners hopefully. The looks on their faces betrayed their answer before they opened their mouths. “That’s alright, you can have it” they chimed from around the table. Half-heartedly, Julia gave the menudo a third and final chance to win her taste buds. The nodular forms, chewy texture and stomach-turning sauce together overwhelmed Julia’s senses. She laid her fork down in defeat. She just could not like menudo.

Days later, Julia and I returned to the scene of her menudo encounter. The atmosphere sparked Julia’s memory, and she recounted her harrowing experience to me while we browsed the menu. As the waiter approached to take our order, Julia resolved to find out exactly what this mysteriously terrible dish was. Casually, Julia asked the waiter, “Excuse me. What is menudo exactly?” In a matter-of-fact tone, the waiter replied simply, “Cow’s stomach.” “Oh my!” Julia exclaimed as she raised her hands to her face, realizing what she had eaten. The waiter misinterpreted Julia’s sudden action as a passionate demonstration of her love for menudo. “Señorita, I’ll go get you some,” he said excitedly as if offering a favor to a friend, “It’s really, really good here.” As the waiter scurried off, Julia had a pained look on her face knowing that her dining fate was sealed. She had accidentally ordered the very dish she fervently wished to avoid. With a resigned look and a sigh, Julia turned to me and said in a forcedly optimistic tone, “Well, Jenna, at least now you get to try it!”