The first time I visited NYC, twenty years ago, I ended up having a falling out with my travel companion, also a recent graduate who had no clue what to do with a fresh B.F.A. I kept pestering and pestering, literally asking “What are you going to do?” as if she must’ve known the answer since she was a decade older. After a stint on a floor off Avenue C, we ended up at a budget hotel, The Roger William, and eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor.
The friend wouldn’t eat soup. “Soup is too wet,” she said. I knew what she meant but pretended I found it absurd to further antagonize her.
Pancita is a wet soup. Pancita is also confusing. On the west coast I’d never heard Mexican tripe soup called anything except menudo even if my experience with it was primarily from a can until adulthood. My dad liked it from a can, so I liked it too.
In NYC, we have pancita, which at least at El Toro Bravo does not have the heft and starch of the hominy kernels characteristic of menudo. (To confuse things further, I once had a version called pancita in Oaxaca that used chickpeas) Pancita is for purists, just broth fortified with cow’s feet for body, and tripe for chew.
I can’t help but think that the soup’s reputation as a hangover cure has something to do with stomach soothing a stomach (a cabeza taco would probably also be in order). The blobs of soft and jiggly honeycomb tripe combined with the hyper-red, oil-slicked broth, works, though. The spice is strong, a building tickle that never turns brutal.
Pancita will not convert tripe-haters because there is little to distract from the meat, even though the flavor is mild and not gamey in the least (or I could just be lacking scent receptors because I’ve never seen this soup described as anything but funky). A squeeze of lime perks up the broth, but isn’t needed for masking purposes. And don’t forget the onion, if only to add contrasting texture and bite to all the smoothness and, yes, wetness.
El Toro Bravo * 88-12 Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY