Andouillette.   Ick.

I don't like tripe. I think it's icky. It is an opinion to which I am more than entitled. In fact, I don't like tripe in any form, whether it's plain boiled, in Mexican menudo ... or French andouillette.

I recently received an email from a Briton who was nice but just a tad condescending, in which he referred to a comment I made on my Cajun and Creole ingredients page:

A fine web site, but really ... "Not to be confused with the continental French 'andouillette', which is a tripe sausage and is icky."   You are sounding all American.

Whilst I agree that they are a bit of acquired taste it is certainly one worth perservering with, having brought back a couple from a recent trip to Marseilles and boy were they good grilled on the barbeque then eaten with mashed potato and a lot of Dijon mustard.

First off, I am American, and anyone who doesn't like that can feck off.

I also have a pretty educated palate, and widely diverse tastes. I eat tongue, sweetbreads and foie gras. Being Louisianian, I'll also eat almost anything that doesn't eat me first -- turtle, alligator, snake, raccoon, nutria, whatever. But there are a few foods that I simply do not like: Brussels sprouts, lima beans ... and tripe.

I do not like it in a house. I do not like it with a mouse. I do not like that nasty tripe. I'd rather flush it down the pipe.

Indeed, quite a few so-called "acquired tastes" that I've tried to acquire are (in my humble opinion) not worth acquiring. I'm sure the gentleman enjoyed his andouillette, and more power to him; I'm glad he enjoyed it. However, I already know that my tastes do not include tripe, which I have sampled on a number of occasions and in different styles, and I don't feckin' like it. De gustibus non disputandum est. The correspondent went on to say:

Now if you want something really unpleasant can I suggest a Sudanese recipe for bile sauce and yes it tastes exactly as you imagine.
Bilious, no doubt. Adventurous as I am, I think I can live a long and full life without eating anything napped in bile sauce. My corresponent summed up his specious argument with:

So think again, if a people like the French eats (sic) something then it must have something going for it.
This is such a huge logical fallacy that I won't even begin to go into it. As I recall, they never covered this particular fallacy in my philosophy classes at Loyola:   "If the French do it, it therefore must be good." What the hell is that, argumentum ad Gaulum? Besides, it's silly to say that if the French like something, it must be good. While the French do have several good things going for them -- wine, Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Truffaut, truffles and foie gras, to name but some -- I only have two words to say about the if-the-French-like-it-it-must-be-good argument: "Jerry Lewis." Let's move on.

Perhaps he meant that I sounded like an "ugly American". Ugly Americans are the types who go around places like France, shouting in English, refusing to speak the local language, even a few sentences' worth, and demanding hot dogs and "Le Big Mac". I myself have never behaved this way while abroad. I eat local food. (Burek, gúlyas, pörkölt, potica, lobio, plov, shashlyk, you name it.) I try to learn at least a little bit of the local language, if only a dozen sentences or so. I can read street signs in Russian, not to mention learning how to listen for my subway stops; I can ask directions in Hungarian. I can say "please" and "thank you" in several languages (you can go a long way on "please" and "thank you"), and I can ask to purchase bus tokens and sweet walnut bread in flawless Slovene. It ain't much, but it ain't ugly.

Let me tell you now that I have only eaten McDonald's food while abroad on two occasions. The first was in Edinburgh, when 1) it was very late at night, and McD's was the only place open, 2) I was hideously drunk, having had many drams of single malt Scotch poured into me by some very generous old Hebrideans, and 3) I needed something, anything, to soak up the alcohol so that I wouldn't injure myself during the 35-minute stagger it would have taken to get me back to my B&B. The other time was in Russia -- the food for the first four days of my trip was abysmal (I do not recommend "Cafe #4" in St. Petersburg, which I hope by this time has been demolished), and the McD's in Moscow is supposed to be the biggest in the world. Hell, I was curious. And although I never eat McDonald's food as a rule, I must confess I've never enjoyed a Big Mac, Double Cheeseburger and fries so much in my life.

But I digress.

Why don't you decide if I was an ugly American or not?

I was on my way to the aforementioned stay in St. Petersburg, Russia, and I had a one-night layover in Paris. (My travel agent actually apologized for it. "Oh, you bastard," I said. "I have to spend the night in Paris. How could you?" I might have kissed him had he been in the room and not on the phone.) I asked my Belgian friend Mireille what she'd do if she only had five or six hours to spend in Paris, and she recommended trying to cram in a landmark or two, and to hang out either in Montmartre or Le Quartier Latin. I opted for the latter.

One thing I really wanted to find during my short stay was some really good, rootsy, traditional French cooking (I didn't have the budget for anything too fancy). I looked in my little guidebook and thought of a few places, and I also wandered around a bit. I found a place (the name of which, amazingly enough, escapes me) that had on its awning, "Cuisine française traditionelle".

I peered in. There were lots of contented-looking French people inside.


I walked in, sat down. The waiter appeared without much delay, and asked me if I wanted something to drink. I asked (in French, bien sur) if he had any Belgian ales, he showed me a list, I ordered one that I had never heard of before, he brought it, I drank it, and rather enjoyed it. For my first course, I wanted escargot. Many years ago, I had promised my beloved French teacher, Mr. Richard Crosby, that I'd have snails on my first trip to France, and I was determined to make it the first thing I ate while there. "Je voudrais d'escargots, s'il vous plaît", I said to the waiter, who replied, "Trés bien, monsieur." (I was getting really cocky with this ordering-in-French thing.)

The snails arrived, piping hot and swimming in garlic and parsley butter. They were, of course, exquisite. Merci bien, Monsieur Crosby.

Time for the main course. Up until this time I had only committed one minor gaffe -- I wanted water, so I asked for "un bouteille de l'eau." This was the incorrect term, as "bouteille" in this context refers to something like a wine bottle. The waiter very gently corrected me -- "Ehh, un carafe, monsieur?" -- and the water appeared. Gaffe #2 was imminent, and it was a big one.

I perused the menu choices, and saw lots of things I recognized, the best-looking of which was a stewed rabbit dish -- mmmmm, lapin -- that looked divine. But then I was distracted by one menu item:

Andouillette aux herbes
WOW! Andouillette! "Little andouille!" I thought. "With herbs, no less!" My Louisianian soul kicked in, obliterated any other thoughts, and I instantly assumed that this would be a Louisiana-like andouille sausage, one of my favorite things in the world, only ... a little one. Andouille-ette.

This was a very, very bad assumption.

(At this point in the telling of this story after I returned from my trip, my friend Mireille gasped, widened her eyes, covered her mouth with her hands in horror and cried, "Oh my God! Please tell me you did not order andouillette!")

Yep, sure did. With a green salad aux vinaigrette, and pommes frites.

I awaited my meal, sipping another excellent Belgian ale, enjoying my surroundings, and basking in the excitement of being in Paris for the first time. Before much time passed, the waiter appeared, again and put a plate in front of me.

The very first thing that hit me was the smell.

Still in denial mode, I allowed myself to make another (rather illogical) assumption -- that the waiter had served the person next to me before he served me, and I thought to myself, "Ewwwww! Someone near me has just been served chitlins!"

I looked down. Took a sniff.

Oh shit. It was me.

Little did I realize then, when I hadn't studied nearly as much French cuisine as I have now, that the French andouille, which was in fact the precursor to the Louisiana andouille, is a big fat sausage casing stuffed with tripe. Aux herbes.

Hmmmmm. Well, being an adventurous sort, and not one willing to make a fuss (or God forbid, embarrass myself by sending it back and ordering something else), I put on a brave face, tried to keep an open mind, cut off a big piece of the andouillette, and took a bite.

Good Lord. It was icky beyond words.

I should've ordered the goddamn rabbit. Always go with your first gut instinct!

So ... I reverted to my former eight-year-old self, and did what I did when I didn't want to eat something -- I cut it up and kinda spread it around the plate. I ate my salad, all my potatoes, artfully covered my plate with my napkin, and summoned the waiter: "Excusez-moi! L'addition, s'il vous plaît!"

I beat a hasty retreat, until I found a café that was recommended in my little Essential Paris book, which as I recall was called Café des Artistes, or something like that. I ordered a half-bottle of Bordeaux, a baguette, and a cheese plate ... and it was lovely.

I didn't make a stink. I didn't demand a hot dog. I didn't embarrass myself or the waiter. I didn't insult the French (although sometimes they deserve it -- I love the French, and their food, and their movies, and their outlook on life, and don't you dare ever say "freedom fries" in front of me, but that Jerry Lewis thing, Jeezus Gawd). I merely ordered the wrong thing on a menu.

Ugly American? Hell no. I'm just a guy who doesn't like tripe. Life goes on. And who knows, I might just change my mind one day. Mario Batali claims to be able to make tripe that'll have me on my knees, weeping and singing "Santa Lucia", and one day I'll go to Babbo and find out.


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Chuck Taggart   (e-mail chuck)