An essay and recipe for Ojhri ka Salan or Pakistani tripe. Words and photographs by Dur e Aziz Amna.
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Cooking from Life is a Vittles mini-season of essays that defy idealised versions of cooking – a window into how food and kitchen-life works for different people in different parts of the world. Cooking as refusals, heritage, messiness, routine.
Our eighteenth writer for Cooking from Life is Dur e Aziz Amna. You can read our archive of recipes and essays here.
An essay and recipe for Ojhri ka Salan or Pakistani tripe. Words and photographs by Dur e Aziz Amna.
My father once said that anyone who has eaten a chicken has it in him to kill one. Something about the morality of this has clung to me, and on an autumn day in my New Jersey apartment, I recall his edict in desperation as I prepare tripe for dinner. In North America today, almost all tripe found in markets comes bleached and pre-cooked. Unlike in Italy, when in previous centuries, you could tell who ate tripe at home by looking at a housewife’s bleached, scarred hands.
As I rinse the tripe under water, a faintly uric smell wafts from its squishy white folds. I feel queasy, I breathe through my mouth, I swallow air. This is vile, I think. No wonder anyone who could switch to eating more expensive meat did so.
I am cooking tripe because – extending the logic presented by my father – if I enjoy it, I should be able to cook it. And I do enjoy tripe. I have eaten it in in pho on the streets of Hanoi, in Portuguese tripas a moda do porto at my in-laws’ house, and at an overhyped Spanish restaurant in New York. But I have never eaten it in Pakistani cuisine, my own. Growing up, the sole organ meat we ate was fresh liver, fried with salt and pepper after the bloodbaths of Eid-ul-Azha (Eid al-Adha). Over the years, I’ve eaten maghaz masala in Peshawar (forgettable), paaye in Lahore (mind-blowing), and gurda kapoora in New York (stunning), but never tripe.
My experience is a standard one. When I ask friends who were brought up, like me, in the urban Pakistan of the 90s, their answers are unanimous. Somewhere around their grandparents’ or parents’ generation, tripe stopped appearing on dining tables and the dastarkhwan. My father grew up eating it at food stalls in his hometown Talagang on the Potohar plateau, but in the hundreds of times I have visited, I have never seen anyone cook it.
My husband once asked my mother what happened to the organs excavated on Eid, after the sacrifice of thousands of animals. Someone must eat them, he mused, in a country with vast food insecurity. ‘No one does,’ my mother responded, frowning with displeasure. Of course, this is untrue. Tripe – along with all the other salvageable organs of an animal – is still eaten by many Pakistanis in rural areas, and by the urban poor. Perhaps the unspoken addendum to my mother’s statement was just that – no one eats them, except the very poor.
We are not the very poor, or even the poor; perhaps this much is obvious. What is less obvious is the whiff of poverty that lingers between generations of my family, like that of the tripe I’m cooking. In Pakistan, as in many places with a rapidly growing middle class, foods associated with deprivation soon fell out of favour. I suspect that this is why my friends and I never ate tripe, why it went from being a staple to an oddity within a couple of generations.
There’s also the part about it being laborious to cook (remember the Italian housewives?). In Pakistan, tripe comes unbleached, and you clean it at home by repeatedly rinsing with water. One friend posited that their family stopped cooking tripe partly because they moved from a house with an aangan – or courtyard – to a flat, making the cleaning process far more arduous. After being washed, the tripe is sometimes treated with vinegar or yogurt, then cleaned again, then boiled for a long time before the making of the curry can commence.
This is the kind of thing my grandmother was able to do because she was at home all day. My mother, who has worked outside the house since I was a child, could not. Perhaps the decline in cooking tripe is also a consequence of women entering the waged workforce, or simply deciding that they did not want to spend hours disinfecting cow stomach anymore.
Today, I’m looking at tripe as an act of reclamation – or is it reparation? Perhaps I want to cook the way people used to before mechanised utilitarianism took over our kitchens. I want the boiling tripe’s pungent vapours to chase away the ghosts of my middle-class upbringing.
I’m dry-roasting nostalgia tonight.
The tripe comes out terribly. I have used the wrong kind, and my grandmother, in an unhelpful recipe sent on a WhatsApp voice note, has left out a few critical steps. Since I’ve never actually seen anyone in my family make tripe, I have no way of gut-checking the recipe, recognising the progress of the dish as it cooks (the way I can with karelay, or saag, or my mother’s famous aloo gosht). There’s also the unfortunate fact that I am a mediocre cook. Maybe a disdain for cooking as daily, unpaid labour is too deeply engrained in me, so that, even as I fight against it, I cannot muster the patience and attention that a dish like tripe requires.
The next day, my husband says he’d like to have a go. He wants to try combining his Portuguese grandmother’s tripe recipe with my grandmother’s method. He starts by boiling a cow foot in water, which has been made aromatic with methi seeds, garlic, cloves, and cardamom. Then he steeps the tripe in it. He sets up his mise en place. I watch him, and think: here is someone who cooks because he enjoys it – a privilege the women who raised me were not afforded. He measures out spices with delicacy and precision. It is a pleasure to watch him proceed.
His tripe comes out far better than mine, and possibly even better than my grandmother’s. How can it not, when it’s been baptized in cow-foot broth? It tastes like nothing I’ve had before, and yet it has echoes of the paaye one of my aunt cooks from time to time, or the stunning saffron-tinged trotters I had in Old Peshawar a few years ago.
It turns out the clock’s hands will move in one direction only. I must file away my family’s tripe in the ledger of loss: a collateral for the accumulations of our modernity, a penance for class mobility, a price for my own move away from home. My desire to return to its original form is like trying to get the footprints in the sand to stay.
Let’s instead march onwards, I think. Echoes must suffice.
Ojhri ka salan
Time: 6 hours
For the broth
1 veal (or cow) foot, cut into 4-6 pieces (ask your butcher to do this for you)
1 onion, halved
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ tsp methi (fenugreek) seeds
2 whole black cardamoms
4 whole green cardamoms
1 Garlic bulb, halved
1 stick of cinnamon
2 star anise
A generous pinch of salt
1 honeycomb tripe (about 3 pounds), roughly cut in big sheets
For the masala
1/3 cup neutral tasting oil (about 70ml), such as grapeseed or sunflower
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
3 medium tomatoes, with seeds left in, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp crushed black pepper
½ tsp red chili powder
1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp dhania (coriander) powder or crushed dhania seeds
Handful of crushed dried methi (fenugreek) leaves
Handful of cilantro (coriander), roughly chopped
Naan or other thick bread, for serving
Blanch the cow foot in a large pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well, and rinse under cold water to remove any residue.
In a fresh pot of water, put the blanched foot pieces back to boil over medium-low heat. Add the onion, peppercorns, methi seeds, black cardamom, green cardamom, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours.
When it’s 20 minutes from being done, bring another pot of water to boil and blanch the tripe sheets for 5 minutes. Drain and wash the tripe well under the tap to remove any lingering smell of bleach, then place in the foot broth, along with 2 cups of fresh water.
Keeping the heat medium-low, cook the broth for another 1.5 hours (or until the tripe is fork-tender, but make sure it does not get too soft). Using tongs, take out the sheets of tripe from the broth and stick them in the fridge to stop the cooking process and make them cool enough to handle. Once they are cooled down, cut them into thin strips.
Meanwhile, keep the broth going, with the cow’s foot in it, until it has reduced to about 2 cups, this will take about 1 hour. Strain and reserve the liquid.
While the bones are still warm, scrape all the beef and cartilage off and set it aside for later (wear kitchen gloves; you can’t wait for it to cool as it will congeal). Discard the bones.
In a karahi or wok, heat up 1/3 cup of oil over medium heat. Fry onions until golden, about 15 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for 2 minutes, until fragrant, then add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes, until they break down and most of the juices evaporate.
Next, add the salt, turmeric, black pepper, red chili powder, Kashmiri chili, garam masala and dhania powder, stirring to make sure all the spices are well-mixed.
Stir in the tripe and salvaged cartilage, then pour in the reserved broth (about 2 cups/500ml) and the methi leaves. Cook for 10-15 minutes, depending on how thick you want the curry. Garnish with cilantro and serve with naan.
Dur e Aziz Amna’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Financial Times, and Al Jazeera, among others. She was selected as Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2022 and won the 2019 Financial Times / Bodley Head Essay Prize. She is a graduate of Yale College and the Helen Zell Writers' Program at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel, American Fever, won the 2023 APALA Award for Literature and the 2023 SABA Award.
Vittles is edited by Rebecca May Johnson, Sharanya Deepak and Jonathan Nunn, and proofed and subedited by Sophie Whitehead. These recipes were tested by Joanna Jackson.