Maybe it all started way back in the New Testament. This aversion people have to goats. Check out Matthew 25:32 and you’ll find:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Now you can interpret the bible in many ways but most people tend to take it that those lucky sheep were to someday find salvation while those poor goats were to be sent to damnation. And who would want to eat some hellish creature?
Well me for one.
There are other reasons that certain people in certain parts of the world say they don’t eat goat. I’ve heard “too boney” a couple of times. I’ve heard “gamey” a few times. And just today, my next door neighbor Maggie said, “Way too rich for me.” So, with the help of a San Miguel chef, I’m going to try and change a few opinions.
Goat meat is immensely popular in a lot of places in the world including the Middle East, North Africa, Indonesia, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and parts of Mexico. Yes, Mexico.
In Mexico City’s Mercado San Juan, you’ll find a stall where they skin a goat every 90 seconds. Up in Monterrey, cabrito or baby goat is everywhere. But the taste for goat meat is very, very regional and, in San Miguel de Allende, I don’t know a single Mexican butcher that sells it or a single Mexican restaurant that serves it. But I do know a Sri Lankan restaurant that does.
That restaurant is Dila’s and I asked Chef Dilashan Madawala why he thought goats were so scarce in San Miguel.
“I think it’s like lamb”, said Dila, “Every Mexican in San Miguel seems to love barbacoa but I’ve never seen any local Mexican cook make goat or lamb in their home or any local Mexican restaurant serve it. It must be just tradition.
“Though my very strict Buddhist mother would shudder if she ever heard me say the words, I love the taste of goat. I love that wild, grassy taste. I love the way the aroma works with spices. It’s a very unique flavor”, Dila continued.
One of the most difficult things I have discovered when writing about food is describing an individual taste. But here goes my attempt at goat: I would say that it is similar to Spring lamb but slightly sweeter. I would say there are certain similarities to venison but I would never call the flavor gamey. I would say that it is slightly reminiscent of veal but with a greater depth of flavor. I told you describing taste is difficult. What’s easy though is to say I agree with Dila, I absolutely love the taste of goat.
Dila Madawala sources his goats from the Mercado Morelos in nearby Celaya, a town that has a long history of goat-raising due to it being Mexico’s center of cajeta production, the sweet and sticky treat made from caramelized goat’s milk.
“There’s a guy at the market with a big meat shop who has a farm between Celaya and Villagrán. He always has a couple of goats and I just ask him to butcher one for me”, said Chef Dila. “I always ask for the biggest one. They’re not just milk-fed, they’re fed alfalfa. I want fat not skinny goats.”
Most goat meat in Mexico comes from dairy farms and the name you never want on a goat farm is Billy because that means you’re no good for milk and after about ten short weeks you’re chops, shoulder, loin and shanks. Those skinny dairy goats weigh less than ten kilos.
The goat that arrived the day I was dining at Dila’s weighed 23 kilos.
Dila’s Restaurant recently made the move to a new location up on the hill in San Miguel de Allende and has one goat dish on their current menu. Though it is a heavily spiced dish, the condiments enhance that magical goat flavor.
In Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Dila Madawan’s native Sri Lanka, the word “mutton” is often used to describe both lamb and goat meat and, on Dila’s menu, you’ll find what he calls mutton curry. I might also call it mutton Masala as Masala spicing is the dominant taste in the sauce.
Now every Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan chef seems to have a slight variation to the contents and quantities in their Masala mix that makes it their own. Dila Madawala uses cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamon, fenugreek, cumin, fennel, black mustard seed and coriander, the last two “essential when you’re cooking any meat” according to the chef.
Each of the ingredients must be toasted before they’re ground and Dila told me that his mother, who has never tasted goat or any other meat in her life (and hopefully doesn’t read dondayinsma and discover the wayward habits of her son), would “count the sneezes when her Masala was being ground.”
Masala is only a small part of the spicing of Dila’s mutton curry and, after he let me watch him make it in his kitchen I was astonished and exhausted by the quantity of ingredients.
The mutton curry comes to the table sided with basmati rice with tomatoes and leeks, a mound of eggplant moju (that’s almost as complicated in taste as the curry), and organic vegetables (Dila is a disciple of the organic movement and one of the very few chefs in town who serves certified organic chicken).
The meat spends about 20 minutes in a pressure cooker before it’s added to the simmering sauce during the last three or four minutes. It is firm but tender with a mahogany brown color reminiscent of lamb shanks. The texture is similar to pulled pork.
“I can appreciate fall-off-the-bone ribs but I like my meat to be a little toothy, to have a little give. I don’t want it to melt in my mouth”, said Dila.
Andy Reddyhoff, who joined a party of us for the dish recently called the goat “absolutely extraordinary”. I went back four days after that dinner to have the mutton curry again.
Before I left, Dila Madawan told me, “I like to make and eat exotic things. I like to stray off the beaten path a little. I cook for people who want sex in their mouth.”
Yes, that’s how you describe the taste of goat. Well, at least, Dila’s goat.
Dila’s Restaurant is located at Salida a Real de Querétaro 187 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The restaurant is open from Noon to 9:00 pm every day but Sunday.