Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 128 - Eating Beef Tongue

I have never eaten beef tongue. While I’m aware many places throughout the world use beef tongue in dishes routinely, its use in the United States is uncommon. In fact, many people I know cringe at the idea of eating another animal’s tongue, going so far as to label the food as taboo. That stated, I will be the first to admit I generally found the idea of eating tongue to be somewhat disgusting, but I’m so disgusted by the concept that I would refuse to try it. As a result, I decided eating beef tongue would appear as “Tasty Tuesday” at some point in my “I have journey...”; I just didn’t know when I would commit to eating it for the first time.

After kicking the idea of eating beef tongue around for some time, I decided there was no time like the present. In turn, I started doing some research on restaurants in the Madison area that served the food, which led me to a restaurant I have always wanted to try but never made time to do so, Taqueria Guadalajara. Considering the restaurant had recently reopened after rebuilding from a fire and served beef tongue as one of its specialties, I thought the timing of my first experience eating beef tongue was all but perfect. As a result, I made dinner plans to head to Taqueria Guadalajara with Rachael for the first time this evening, which also set the stage for my first experience eating beef tongue.

Welcome back, Taqueria Guadalajara!
Upon arriving at the restaurant, Rachael and I headed inside and took in the view of the restaurant’s fresh interior. Almost immediately we were greeted by a smiling young woman who promptly seated us and gave us some menus to review. While Rachael took her time looking over the variety of menu choices, I immediately set to work locating the menu options containing beef tongue. After some review and a brief discussion with Rachael, I narrowed my choice down to the lengua de res en salsa verde, which contained a marinated beef tongue served in a spicy tomatillo sauce. The very thought of eating the entrée evoked a slight feeling of hesitation, but I was at the restaurant for a very specific objective. As a result, I closed my menu and shoved it to the side of our table in an effort to remove any potential of alternative options capitalizing on my uncertainty and turning me away from the beef tongue. I was going to do this, even if everything in my mind was telling me it was “icky.”

After reviewing the menus for a few minutes, a server approached our table and asked to take our drink order. In turn, Rachael and I ordered some sweet drinks off the menu before Rachael went back to looking over her dinner choices. As the server was getting ready to walk away, my uncertainty over my pending experience with beef tongue drove me to a spontaneous burst of inquiry. “Excuse me, I was thinking about ordering the beef tongue, but I’m a little grossed out by it... Can I see it before I commit to ordering it?” The question rolled out of my mouth without planning, leaving me feeling slightly embarrassed by the odd request. In response, the server chuckled a bit and shook her head. “Oh, it’s fine! You have nothing to worry about. I will bring you a small sample of the lengua so you can see it, OK?” I agreed to her offer and thanked her for entertaining my request before the server moved away from the table to grab our drinks.

Here goes nothing...
Moments later the young woman returned to our table, set down our drinks, and handed me a small orange bowl of small brown pieces of meat. As she handed the bowl to me she reassured me with a passing remark. “Here you go. Look it over and let me know if you are interested, OK?” I told her I would give her my final decision when she returned to take our order, which sent the server through dining room to help other tables. With the bowl of beef tongue still resting in my hands I slowly lifted the meat toward my face to examine it. The small pieces of brown meat looked identical to ever other piece of beef I had ever seen with the exception of a thin white layer covering one side of the meat. Curious, I examined the surface further to find small bumps covering its topside. Suddenly I realized what I was looking at... taste buds. Initially disgusted by the discovery, I set the bowl down on the table and leaned back in my chair. “It’s not that bad,” Rachael said in response to my obviously unpleasant reaction. “Just eat it.”

The moment of truth
At Rachael’s recommendation, I lifted the bowl from the table once more and scooped up a few pieces of the beef tongue. “Here goes nothing,” I said, lifting the spoon and plunging it into my mouth. Without hesitation, I cleared the small bits of meat from the spoon and began chewing. Although the meat was softer and a little more rubbery than the other meat I have eaten in my life, I was surprised to find the familiar taste of beef hitting my palette. After a few chews, I swallowed and looked over to Rachael. “That’s actually pretty good,” I said as I placed the bowl back on the table. “See!” Rachael said in reply. I had just eaten my first bit of beef tongue in my life, and Rachael was right; it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was quite delicious.

With my initial discomfort over eating beef tongue now behind me, I was quick to order my entrée when the server returned for our orders. Rachael opted for something a little less taboo with her order, but she was supportive of my decision. As we waited for our meals to arrive we pecked at a basket of tortilla chips and salsa, talked about upcoming events, and reflected on the wedding events from this past weekend. After only a few minutes, our server returned to our table with our dinner and set our plates down in front of us. The prompt service was impressive to say the least, and it made me happy I had the chance to follow through with a full meal containing beef tongue before second thoughts on my decision crept back into my mind.

The texture... Oh, the texture...
Rachael and I started into our meals shortly after our server left our table and offered her assistance if we found ourselves needing anything during our meal. I gave my plate a once over before I moved to piece together the beans, rice, lettuce, tortillas, sauce, and meat spread before me. The familiar sight of brown meat capped in a white array of taste buds remained slightly off putting, but I knew I was capable of taking on the beef tongue. As a result, I put together a small tortilla of the ingredients on plate and took my first bite of the meal. While the rough texture of the beef tongue taste buds against my tongue was slightly uncomfortable at first, the overall flavor of the meal was fantastic. The tomatillo sauce provided a good kick to the blend of rice, beans, and beef, all of which were cooked to perfection. The meal was actually delicious enough to make me forget about my initial discomfort with the idea of eating beef tongue, which resulted in an enjoyable experience.

A warning for Rachael
Eventually, Rachael and I worked through enough of our food to feel full and call it a night. I was pleased to find that our meal was quite inexpensive for the quality of the food, which was an added bonus from this evening’s experience. Following my first experience at Taqueria Guadalajara, I can easily say I will make a trip back to the restaurant again, and, believe it or not, I can honestly say I would probably order beef tongue again if the mood struck me. Despite the stigma assigned to the food by some, it actually makes a delicious meal, and the folks at Taqueria Guadalajara known how to make it right.  In retrospect on another “Tasty Tuesday” in my “I have never...” journey, I know this experience was one worth having. At most, I conquered a food I likely would have avoided otherwise, and at minimum it’s certainly better than doing something as foolish as eating the hottest pepper in the world...

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