Notable Nosh: Beef Tripe (牛百葉)
When I saw this dish labeled on the dim sum menu at Palais Imperial in Ottawa as ‘Beef Stripe’, I was rather at a loss. The Chinese characters did not immediately suggest anything to me, even though I recognized the first as meaning ‘cow’ and the second as ‘hundred’, and the rather grainy photograph on the menu was so indistinct that I though that beef tendon was being offered. It was only after seeing the dish that I realized that ‘Stripe’ was a misprint and that the delicacy in question was, in fact, beef tripe…
I have had beef tripe before, but chiefly of the variety that is known as ‘honeycomb tripe’ in culinary parlance due to its characteristic appearance. There are, in fact, four types of beef tripe, and thus a brief little primer is perhaps in order:
Cows have 4 stomachs, respectively, and in digestive order, named ‘rumen’, ‘reticulum’, ‘omasum’ and ‘abomasum’. The fourth is used as a source of tripe far less frequently than the first three, while the reticulum, yields the ‘honeycomb’ variety and is probably the most common on Chinese restaurant menus. The first stomach, or ‘rumen’ yields a very smooth type of tripe, known as ‘blanket tripe, while the type you see pictured above comes from the ‘omasum’, or third stomach.
The Chinese characters for this sort of tripe are:
After looking it up, I discovered that the translation of the second two characters means ‘hundred leaf’ or ‘hundred page’, and this reflects a common English name for the product, which is ‘Book tripe’.
In this close-up, you can see why the names in Chinese and English are quite apt. The inner lining of the stomach is formed into delicate folds which, albeit with a slightly villous surface, do resemble the pages of a book. On an interesting side note, when I wrote about ‘Husband Wife Lung Slices’ a while ago, I mentioned having trouble identifying one of the components which, due to some linguistic confusion, was misidentified as ‘lung’ (even though I though it was possibly tripe). I can now confidently assert that the mystery meat was, in fact, cow omasum.
Anyway, the taste of this sort of tripe is actually pretty much non-existent and it would seem that, aside from the bare nutritional content, this item is favored in Chinese cuisine for its textural quality which is, indeed, rather interesting. In this particular rendition, the sauce it was steamed in was lightly flavored with garlic and ginger and reminded me very much of a steamed spare-rib dish I often make at home. It was actually very delicious on the whole, and though I don’t feel moved to order this every time I go for dim sum, I am very glad to have had the chance to try it…