Caryn Becker                                                                                                                        

Research Paper

January 18, 2010

Lengua de Vaca – Delicious Until You Know What It Is


Coming to Panama was one of the most nerve wrecking and excited experiences of my life.  Everything was going well – the flight was more or less smooth, nothing went wrong at customs, and my mom seemed like a bundle of fun!  However, arriving at the house, Hilary and I had the most awful empty feeling in the pits of our stomachs.  We were as hungry as we could possibly be.  We couldn’t have been more relieved when our mom picked up the lid of the pot on the stove and – lo and behold – there was some type of delicious smelling meat inside.  She made us each a plate of the meat with some bread and informed us that it was la lengua de vaca.  Of course, with our limited Spanish and her Panamanian accent, it sounded like lengua de baca.  In my mind, she wasn’t talking about the meat; she was talking about some foreign language called baca.  After shoveling the delicious dinner into our mouths, we asked her once again what we had just eaten.  This time, she said the same thing, but acted it out when we didn’t understand.  This was the moment I realized I had eaten the tongue of a cow.


Beef tongue originated back when Paleolithic hunters liked the parts of animals that contained the most fat.  These portions included organs, brains, feet, and of course – tongues.  Approximately 75% of the calories in beef tongue come from fat.  Now, tongue is commonly seen in Mexican cuisine.  It can also be found as part of Romanian, German, Portuguese, Persian, Philippine, Albanian, English, Russian, and Japanese cuisines, or on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles.


When making beef tongue, seasoning – if the maker chooses to use seasoning – comes first.  Next, the tongue is put in a pot and boiled.  Once cooked, the chef must remove the skin from the actual meat to be served.  People can also use pickled tongue; this way, it is already spiced and ready to be cooked.  If the maker cooks the tongue in a sauce, the sauce can be reused as a sauce for other foods, such as meatballs or pasta.  If the maker chooses not to use spices, they can also roast it in an oven, much like we do with roast beef.  This method is similar right down to using the leftover grease to make gravy.



A common recipe (and the recipe that I believe to be the one Ana made) is as follows:



  • 1 beef tongue
  • 5 fresh green chile peppers
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 small tomatoes, halved and sliced
  • 2 – 15 oz. cans whole kernel corn, drained
  • Salt to taste




1) Wash tongue and place in a large pot of water to cover.  Simmer until no longer pink, about 50 min. per pound of tongue.  Remove from water and let rest until cool enough to handle.  Peel skin from tongue and trim gristle.  Cut into ¼ inch slices.


2) Place whole peppers in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté chile peppers, onion, and garlic until onion is translucent.  Stir in tongue and continue to cook until tongue is brown, 5 to 10 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and cook until limp, 5 min.  Pour in corn and heat through, 2 to 5 min.  Season with salt.


3) Serve immediately!!!