• By Leila Saffarian, food editor

    I was recently asked to participate as a judge in a cooking competition held during one of the big food shows that travel across the country, luring the foodie masses in with all things delicious. I do enjoy taking one for the F&HE team and gladly accepted the gig. I had a feeling that the weekend would span into an eating fest of super delish, comfort dishes whipped up by home-cook participants from across the country. This naturally meant gearing up for the challenge – a good few days of gym were in order. I pushed on, stuck to my running, nibbled on cucumber slices and happily munched through packets of carrots. Yes, I was ready for the food fest indulgence.

    I rock up on day 1, ready to rumble as they say. A quick meet and greet with chefs, contestants, organisers and fellow judges. I wasn’t even bothered about having a camera in my face before my morning coffee (highly unusual). The cook-off swiftly began and I took to my judging duties like a duck to water. All kinds of efficient I was. I do enjoy a bit of chat so small talk over steaming and boiling pots didn’t faze me. I swanned off, taking notes, being all judge-like and quickly discovered what dish no.3 would be…. tripe. Ah. The stomach of cow. Ah, yes, I see. Well, I’ve never been a squeamish one, and I do believe that one should try most things once – if you don’t like it, well, good on you for trying.

    Offal has never been a problem for me– I would gladly exchange my most favourite something or other for a portion of lamb’s liver and kidneys made by my father – all lemony, nutty butter and laced with dried oregano – nothing better. I’m also partial to chicken liver, gizzards, giblets and tongue as well as the famous SA fave – ‘walkie talkies’ (chicken feet and heads). So, you see, the thought of offal really doesn’t bother me… textures do. I’m most certainly not a fan of brain for any other reason than the texture situation, and to be honest I had never tried cow stomach….

    Part of the judging process was naturally to taste each dish made by the contestants. As we all know after 1 and 2 comes 3… this will be easy… I approached the contestants, ready to tuck in. No knife or fork necessary, as I was also instructed that one must eat with one’s hands – pap, sauce and some tripe. Ok, hands I can do, I have the Middle Eastern blood in me after all – we like to dip bread into stuff to mop up the saucy bits. I go in for a good mouthful and the rather fabulous MC quickly sticks a microphone in my face – how nice. “So, how was that for you Leila?” *Leila chews and tries to swallow quickly* *Leila carries on chewing, eventually gives up and gulps* “That was… great… chewy, just how I like my tripe”. I was caught unawares and, to be honest, the taste was fine, the texture threw me.

    All in all I was chuffed with myself that I did at least try the stomach of cow and that I fulfilled my judging duties to the best of my abilities *group F&HE moment here*. Now pass me a tongue sandwich! Ta.