This week I had my first experience preparing chitterlings, the super-smelly hog intestines that are clearly beloved by a significant portion of the American population, most of them south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
This food, because it comes on so powerfully in the nose and on the tongue (though much more so the former than the latter), tends almost inevitably to become the butt of jokes because, you know, the stuff smells and tastes exactly, admittedly, just like what you definitely should not be eating.
Still, chitterlings are beloved in spite of themselves by people who've been eating them since they were kids. They're especially popular at holiday gatherings when, probably because they take so much time to prepare, the whole family can join in the cleansing, the cooking, the careful clean-up of the kitchen and also, of course, the consumption of these relatively rare food items.
Much like the stinky tofu of Taiwan or the currywurst of Berlin – neither of which I much care for – chitterlings possess an enduring cache because they're so much a part of some people's upbringing. Those who grew up with chitterlings cherish this frequently disdained food in part because it played a powerful role in their early culinary and cultural education.
I try chitterlings roughly once every decade – and they're getting better. So either my taste buds are maturing or they're dying. Either way, I intend to continue this tradition, recognizing that the die-hard regard for chitterlings is interwoven into a larger tradition of which I'm not a part but to which respect seems rightfully to be paid.I
If you've never had them, I think you might want to give them a try, not because you're necessarily going to like them, but because so many do.