Chitlins are a type of food made from pig intestines. Sometimes referred to as "chitterlings," this dish is often found in the American South, and takes a long time to clean and prepare. Due to the labor-intensive preparation process, most people enjoy it on special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Though it has historically been associated with African-Americans, people in many other cultures and places eat similar dishes.
While chitlins may not be available at everyday markets, specialty butchers often carry them. The best way to find a location that sells them is through an Internet search or word of mouth. It's important to realize that some butchers don't clean chitlins before they sell them, so it's essential to confirm whether they're cleaned or not, and if not, take the necessary steps to eat them safely.
Uncooked chitlins carry potentially dangerous forms of bacteria including E. Coli, yersinia, and salmonella. They need to be cleaned very carefully to prevent disease. If purchased uncooked, they should be turned inside out and boiled for at least 5 minutes. Any fecal matter or extra fat must then be removed by hand. Eating contaminated chitlins can cause extreme stomach pain; severe diarrhea, sometimes with bleeding; and a fever. Babies and the elderly are particularly at risk for complications from these symptoms, and may require hospitalization.
Many people say that chitlins are an acquired taste. Their smell can be foul and distasteful, especially during the cooking process. To avoid making a house smell, they're often cooked outside. The end product doesn't retain the strong smell though, and many people who dislike the odor while cooking still enjoy the dish when it's finished.
Chitlins can be added to stews or soups, but some people prefer them deep-fried. The deep-fried version is often dipped in mustard or other spicy condiments. Some compare the texture and flavor to calamari and various other seafoods.
This dish originated during the time of American slavery. When pigs were slaughtered in the Southern US, the meat was often taken by slave owners, while the intestines were left for the slaves. They were served in the winter, and over time came to be seen as a treat. After slavery ended, chitlins continued to be associated with African-Americans up through the 1900s, when there was a series of entertainment venues for African-American performers known as the Chitlin' Circuit. The dish remains popular in many areas of the American South, with some places even holding annual festivals to celebrate it.
The consumption of intestines goes far beyond the United States. Korean cuisine offers makchang, a form of grilled pork intestines; while French cuisine has tricandilles, which are grilled as well; and China has jiangsi chao dachang, in which the intestines are stir fried. Many countries around the world consume either sheep or cow intestines too.