This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in November 2015.
Some call it "Lancashire calamari" and there are rumours it boosts the libido. In the Caribbean, it's cooked into a soup called mondongo and the French use it to make Andouillette sausage. Elsewhere, it's added to Vietnamese pho.
But the tripe sitting on the plate in front of me doesn't seem anywhere near as appealing as any of those dishes. Neither do I feel as if it's going to help my sex life.
It's creamy, with little undulating pockets like the suckers on the underside of a non-slip bathtub mat. It does not look like something you might want to eat.
But I'm from Lancashire and at one time, people from Lancashire were big on eating tripe. Across the county, which also included what's now Greater Manchester, there were literally hundreds of tripe shops, some staying open until the late 1960s. People couldn't get enough of the squidgy stuff.
Now, there's only one left in Stalybridge in Manchester's east. And on the counter of this particular tripe shop, owner Anita Clarke has set a small portion of honeycomb tripe on a plate for me to try.
"You have to put plenty of vinegar on it to eat it like this," she says, dousing it with vinegar.
Tentatively I take a fork and put a piece in my mouth.
"It doesn't actually really taste of anything," I say, chewing and feeling slightly relieved.
Tripe is the stomach of a cow, or more accurately, one of the stomachs of a cow. The honeycomb tripe I'm trying is from the second chamber of a cow's stomach. You can also get blanket tripe which is smoother and made from the first chamber, and thick seam tripe which is—well, the thick bit of stomach that forms a seam.
"I don't think there's any taste to it," Clarke chips in as I chew. "It's just a texture, really."
That texture is difficult to describe. It's kind of like squid so I understand the Lancashire Calamari epithet. But it's slightly softer than that and somehow I also feel as if I'm chewing it for a little longer than I'd ideally like to be.
"Do you eat it?" I ask with my mouth still full of tripe and vinegar.
"Oh no!" exclaims Clarke, pulling a face. "I can't. It's horrible. Honeycomb is the most popular one we sell. We don't sell blanket tripe but I tried it once. It's more—how can I say it?—sloppy. I'm not exaggerating. It was like having snot in my mouth. Horrible."
What I've got in my mouth isn't like snot but it is refusing to become swallowable to the point of slight panic. Am I ever going to be able to swallow this? It seems rude to spit out tripe in a tripe shop. So instead I pause from chewing a moment to ask Clarke how on earth she came to own and run the last tripe shop in Manchester, if she herself doesn't actually like tripe.
The Tripe Shop in Stalybridge has been in the same spot on the high street since the 19th century. As people began to be able to afford better cuts of meat and stopped buying offal, tripe shops began to close. But this tripe shop survived because it diversified, renaming itself "The Tripe and Sandwich Shop."
"I used to come in here to buy muffins because they do proper old fashioned oven-bottom muffins with the holes in here," says Clarke. "And I used to buy my sandwiches and my Hotpot here twice a week. A couple of years ago, the owners were selling so I took it on."
At half-past six every morning, she comes in to prepare pies, cakes, vanilla slices, buns, and other local specialities like Lancashire Hotpot, rag pudding, cheese and onion pie, and potted beef, before opening at 9.30 AM to serve bacon butties and sandwiches for people's lunch.
And in among all of this, she's committed to keep selling tripe.
"It's unbelievable how many people come in and buy that tripe. Honestly, I even had a five-year-old in here once screaming because he wanted tripe," says Clarke. "I'm selling more and more of it these days."
I've just about managed to swallow the piece I'd started with. I hand the plate back.
"I'm really sorry but I don't think I can eat any more of that," I say.
Clarke doesn't look particularly surprised. I suspect tripe and vinegar is an acquired taste. Or texture, really, since there's not much flavour going on.
In spite of her own gastronomic preferences, Clarke is still knowledgeable about what she sells.
"It's green when it comes out of the animal because of all the grass that's been through it," she explains.
The stomach lining of a cow tends to be a mix of stained, brownish grey from the animal's bile and green from minced, cud-chewed grass. Tripe becomes creamy white by being washed in a citric solution to bleach it.
"I get people coming from all over the country and they tell me every time that they've come for the tripe," she adds. "I've had people from Australia who've been in a couple of times for the tripe."
"But what do they do with it?" I wonder out loud. My one mouthful of traditionally served tripe hasn't converted me but perhaps there's a way of eating it that makes it more palatable.
"You can do anything with it. Some people eat it as it is, cut up and put into a cup with vinegar," says Clarke. "You can deep fry it or put it in curries if you like. We sell it at £7.60 a kilo and we sell bags and bags of the stuff. This shop gets really busy."
It's rich in protein and minerals so for the poor working classes in old mill towns like Stalybridge, at one time it would have proved to be an invaluable source of nutrition for not much money. Perhaps that's where the rumours about it helping to boost the libido come from. After all, good health is always a strong start.
But honestly I remain unconvinced on that point too, because a little later that day, I accidentally discover and scooch out a lingering bit of something gelatinous from behind my molars, and gag a little. You're free to enjoy eating the stomach of a cow if you like, but there's never going to be anything even vaguely sexy about tripe-induced reflux for me.
Nevertheless, as they'd say in Lancashire, each to their own.