Illustration by Andrew Abbott. All other pictures by Katrina Thorne unless otherwise noted.
663 Morton St
Mattapan, MA 02126
Although you can’t really sit down, the food was great, as were the portions. Service is quick and easy.
This week looked like a challenge. Genitals! Many jokes were made so there’s not much more to be said before we bit off more than we could chew… Luckily (*phew*) our info was a little off and there were no genitals to be found at the restaurant we ventured to this week. Flames is this neat little deli style Jamaican restaurant out in Mattapan that has plenty of unique options for the adventurous eater along with other tasty options for the less daring. Their prices are good and their helpings are overly generous. As Katrina and I waited for Che and Christina to meet us we saw plenty of people filing in and out of the joint. To be fair it was probably just getting into the dinner rush, but I feel like from what we saw they also do a decent amount of business.
This week we got curried goat, ox tail, and cow feet! The challenge this week was eating around all the bones included in our meal. Each meat had it’s share of bone left in, which provided for a bone sucking good time for Che and me. All were delicious and interesting in their own ways. The goat was the highlight of the meal for me so we’ll start there. The goat itself was slightly green in color, I’m assuming from the curry, but I’m always excited to see unusual colors in food either way. Each meat we got was served with huge servings of beans and rice and cabbage. The goat went really well with both of these sides. The curry wasn’t especially spicy but gave the goat a nice subtle flavor that for the not so goat inclined would distract you from knowing you’re eating goat. The meat was tender and familiar though I’d never had goat before. I realized it was, for me, a lot like lamb but almost more like turkey or chicken which has light and dark meat. Lamb is the white meat and goat is the dark meat. The goat bones were the most troublesome in that they were also dyed the same curry color and were cut in similar sizes to the cuts of goat meat so be sure to fork through all your goat meat before popping any in your mouth.
Next up was the ox tail, which was really fun. We got some tail and spine in our order so it was kind of a new experience encountering a vertebra with your mouth. They aren’t exactly the easiest bones to eat around, but it was worth it cause the meat was incredible. Just like any other unusual beef we’ve run into before on here it was much more tender and tasty then you’d expect it to be. The sauce it was cooked in was tomato based but a bit sweet which complemented the meat really well, and also went well int the cabbage and rice. Che and I discovered with the tail and vertebra that the marrow was very accessible. Marrow is another one of those things on our list of interesting foods we’re looking for, but I feel we can find better examples of marrow prepared to eat. One vertebra I found in particular created an incredibly unique sound when I tried to suck out the marrow. If only I could’ve kept it!
Finally the cow feet. I liked them. They would definitely present a consistency issue for some. It’s a lot like a meaty jello made in a hoof shaped mold. It’s very fatty and gelatinous in texture, but it’s much firmer. It giggles all over they place when your trying to eat it and then there also the bones. Big round bones that make you realize your sucking meat off the “knuckles and toes” of the cow. While that might not float some people’s boats I was diggin’ it. It has the unique texture accompanied by a unique taste. While it’s not quite beefy it’s more of an anonymous meat like taste. It’s like you know it’s from a cow just by looking at it so possibly your brain plugs in hint of beefy flavor but you don’t really believe it’s there. Basically the foot meat looks like what you trim from a fatty steak. So if you’re the kinda person who eats the whole steak you’d probably be fine with cow feet. I’m not saying I’d go out of my way for cow’s feet but it was a new and interesting thing for me.
Ché’s Take: Goats are Not Your Typical American Food, but That Depends on Your Definition of Typical
“Severed goat head hung from Harry Caray statue at Wrigley Field” originally by Flickr user guano. It uses the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License. “Amaa Hugging Goat” by Flick user *saipal. It uses the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.
Like my grandfather, my grandmother grew up poor, but they always had enough food. Much of the Mexican cooking tradition in my household came directly from her family, the Robles. They were migrant workers, and so they knew how to farm. One summer, my dad grew to think of one of their goats as a pet.. Later in the year, he was at a barbecue and his grandfather came up to him and asked him if he liked what he was eating. He said “Yeah. It’s good grandpa.”
His abuelo continued, “Do you really like it?”
My dad nodded.
“Well you should. It’s your goat.”
My dad cried, as anybody might, but let’s take a look at this story again and see what it means on a broader scale. People used to be close to the animals they ate. My grandparents were about to become the only Mexicans in a suburban Denver neighborhood, so the story represents the very cusp between being close to the food you ate, from birth to death, and having no idea from where it came. The other important fact, and the focus for this post, is the blank where goat should be in America’s culinary history. The death of a goat was part of my family’s oral tradition. Why isn’t it part of the greater history of American cooking?
American colonial food histories do mention goat, but only in regards to the Carribean. A book mentioned frequently in my posts, A Revolution in Eating by James E. McWilliams, talks about goat as part of the independent subsistence farming culture of the Carribean’s enslaved people. After emancipation, goat continued to be a part of the diet. Of course, Carribean immigrants, like all immigrants in American history, brought their cooking traditions with them, making their food part of the American experience.
And so the Gastronauts could drive about a mile into Mattapan to get goat. (There are a couple of places much closer, but we wanted to try Flames, mainly because we thought we could get Cow Cod soup. Andrew mentions this at the beginning of his post.) Yet goat products are rarely mentioned in American food histories, except as a cheese. Hasia Diner does mention Italian urban goat farming in his book Hungering for America, but does not talk of eating the meat. Instead, he mentions later how immigrant families shared “homemade goat cheese.” Harvey Levenstein’s book The Paradox of Plenty also makes several references to goat cheese. Histories of American meat, such as Putting Meat on the American Table, and Tied to the Great Packing Machine, make no mention of goat meat (or chevon, if you’re a pretentious a%&-hole) whatsoever.
Goats, like pigeons, are not easy industrialize, but are easy for individuals, like this woman in Oakland, to keep. In fact, Tom Standage reports in An Edible History of Humanity that they possibly were the first animals domesticated as a food source in the West. The reason that they are not industrialized as a meat probably is they are both small, and bony, unlike cows, which are large and fat. Milk is an entirely different issue. All you have to do is strap some pumps to udders, and you can be making goat cheese. It should be noted also that goat cheese is fancy cheese, and so consumed by the rich. It’s a cliché to say that history is written by the winners, but that doesn’t mean the sayings not true.
Goat meat wasn’t fancy until recently. Henry Alford, a recent convert to the stuff, writes how throughout New York fancy restaurants have started to put goat on their menus. In a rare show of self-reflexiveness, he also reports that a frustrated reader of a magazine posted on its website “Here are white people again!!!! Acting like they invented goat meat.” A recent news story in the San Francisco Chronicle by Janet Fletcher reports that “this flavor-packed red meat, long a staple in Bay Area Latino and South Asian markets, may finally be broadening its reach.” What does broadening its reach exactly mean? Let’s take a look at the actual demographics of the Bay Area. According to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 57% of the Bay Area is white. Considering that the Survey does not separate out people of “Latino or Hispanic Origin” the number of people that are not both counted as white but not as Latino is 45.6%. Goat is eaten as a major part of cuisines throughout the rest of the world. In fact the Alford article calls it the “most widely consumed meat in the world. If we take that into account, and that there are white Americans who eat goat either as part of their own culinary tradition or just because they like it, then goat is as mainstream as anything else in the Bay Area, or the rest of the United States for that matter.
The reason that newspapers can write about it as a novelty is because it is not middle-class American, and historically, has not been marketable as an industrialized meat. But, as much as the state of Arizona would deny it, the immigrant traditions and peoples are not just invading the United States. They’re already here, and have always been here. Goat is as American as apple pie, perhaps even more so. Where apple pie has a clear, almost unchanged link to the British and European past, and so only one part of the American landscape, goat in the United States, whether it is Jamaican curried goat or grilled Mexican goat, arises out of the complex interactions of various cultures, a phenomenon unique to this continent.