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Patsa and Goodness

A nice steaming bowl of Patsa will cure anythingPatsa is good for you. That is what they say. What else can they say? It is certainly not physically attractive.

Just what is patsa? This is a questions that has been asked by many people and men wiser than myself have struggled to understand the attraction this dish has to so many, not only in Greece but in Spanish speaking countries where it goes by the name of
tripe.

Patsa is simply soup made from the intestines of a pig. Or I think it is a pig. Maybe it is a cow or a goat or a sheep. But when it comes to intestines it really does not matter what kind of animal we are talking about because either you like them or you don't. You won't find many people who say "I simply adore the intestines of a pig but a lamb's make me a little queasy". Either you like all intestines or they all make you ill. So whether it is the intestines of a lamb or a sheep or even a donkey in patsa, it simply does not matter.

Patsa, like tripe is a working class food. Some people eat it for breakfast, or perhaps they are eating it at my breakfast time but they work the third shift and it is actually their dinner or a midnight snack. But there are patsa restaurants in every town in Greece with perhaps the exception of Mykonos, and there are always men in there eating Patsa be it morning, noon or night and there are big signs on the windows that announce proudly to the world WE SERVE PATSA.
They say patsa is good for a hangover, that it is good for the blood like a big bowl of miso soup. I believe these claims. Not that I have ever tested them. In fact the only times I have had patsa was before my hangover when I was too drunk to think about what I was eating. It was an enjoyable experience. I was with my buddy Leigh, fresh from America, our first night in Athens and quite drunk on retsina and we had a wonderful time trying to guess what part of the animal each strange looking piece of meat came from. You see Patsa is not only the intestines. They also throw in the stomach wall and whatever else is handy and not too toxic. The smell can either be interesting or repulsive. Leigh seemd to think the soup smelled like a farm. He called it barnyard soup. I have smelled it where one might call it waste-treatment plant soup. But good patsa should not have an offensive odor, even for someone who is easily offended.

That brings up the eternal question of the word
good itself. Mother Theresa was good. Few people would argue this. John Lennon was a good songwriter. Derek Jeter is a good shortstop. But where does patsa fit in? Many people think patsa is good. They will go out of their way to find it and I get e-mail from people determined to go to the Athens meat market for a bowl of Patsa. They know before they leave America that when they go to Greece they will visit the Parthenon and get a bowl of patsa. Everything else is undetermined. But what is it about patsa that would inspire disgust in one person while another person holds it in the same esteem as the Acropolis?
There is a segment of humanity that likes things like patsa, kokoretsi and magaritsa (the easter version of patsa eaten to break the fast after the midnight service that brings in Easter sunday). The same type of people in another country would get great pleasure out of beef liver, sheep's spleen, and maybe a rabbit testicle or two. My daughter likes to eat the eyeballs out of fish. Somehow I can't imagine her doing this when she is an elegant older woman. When I was young I liked eating the lambs head. There was nothing good about it. There was less meat then any other part and the brain tasted like lamb-flavored mush. But when I saw one in Athens turning on a spit I wanted to eat it. I suppose it was a novelty. But I seriously doubt that if I went out to dinner now, with a bunch of friends or even strangers that I would order the head. Have I outgrown lambs heads? Or maybe it is the shame of eating one that keeps me from ordering it. What would the neighbors say? Or maybe it is because I am such a good citizen I don't want to order something that will make the person sitting next to me throw up.

I think the answer is simple. It is a primal thing dating back to our caveman instincts. A lamb has 4 legs. It only has one head. The head of the family gets the head. It is an honor resrved for the most respected member. We eat lamb heads to feel important. The only problem with this theory is that nobody eats lambs heads and when they do they don't feel important.

And what about Patsa? Is it really
good for you? Or is it just that this was all the leftover crap they had from the butchered meat so they threw it in a big pot and told people it was good so they would eat it and not starve and now it has become a national tradition and even foreigners are reading articles about it. Maybe patsa is one big hoax. Maybe it's even bad for you.

Whatever. People will be debating this for years and still will come to no concrete conclusions. If you want the best patsa go to one of the restaurants in the City Market. But that brings up the question of what exactly does the word
best mean when you are talking about patsa.

My advice is just to eat it and try not to think about it. Then go see the Acropolis.

Had enough Patsa? No? Then click here to read a real-life Patsa adventure called Elaine's Patsa.
If you are sick of Patsa then go back to the
Athens Guide Index. If you want to read more about food go to Matt's Greek Food Guide and if you are just trying to find a decent restaurant in Athens see my Athens Restaurant Guide.

Hotel Attalos, Athens, Greece

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