Goat meat is a delicacy most Americans are missing out on, and it's a shame. Popular in African, Middle Eastern and some Latin American and Asian cuisines, it's milder than lamb, lower in fat than chicken, and higher in protein than beef.
It's also delicious. Despite proudly claiming my G.R.I.T.S. (girl raised in the South) heritage, I spent my formative years in Nigeria, and as much as I love oxtail, fried chicken and ribs, nothing quite hits home like the smell of goat stew. The right pot can bring a tear to my eye.
Africans kill the fat goat for celebrations, festivals and milestone events, like my wedding in Detroit, Mich., where sizable Greek and Arabic communities make goat easy to get. Here in Charlotte, I was missing it. I love the goat meat that is available at some Indian restaurants, like Persis Biryani in Ballantyne and Maharani on Kings Drive, and Jamaican places like Mama's Caribbean on Central, but they tend to be curried. While quite tasty, and even similar in some regards, curried goat just doesn't quite scratch my itch for goat that tastes like home.
I was overjoyed to finally locate the two African restaurants in town that serve goat, which I'd heard rumors of for months: Jamile's International Cuisine, in the Eastland area, and Smell, No Taste in NoDa. The fares of both places are widely different, but each wholly satisfying in its own way.
Jamile's, a Somali restaurant, prepares its goat according to East African tastes. It comes in both soup and suqar. At Jamile's, goat soup precedes every meal and is served in a glass chalice with a wedge of lime on the side. It's very fragrant and light, with a distinctive meaty flavor, though no discernible goat or vegetables float in the broth. It's the perfect dish to rev up your appetite. The suqar, on the other hand, is a hefty portion of goat that has been chopped and sautéed. It's not overly spicy, allowing the almost delicate flavor of the goat to come through, and very tender, owing to having been first boiled, then marinated before finally hitting the pan. All the meat is halal, or prepared according to Islamic law, which stipulates a humane and hygienic method of slaughter.
Jamile's owners are from Mogadishu, the country's capital, and they cook according to Southern Somali tradition, which is less fiery than in the north. They also use green bell peppers in the suqar, whereas Northern Somali preparation calls for potato. They are happy to spice the food to taste, so my husband, who occasionally can't take my Nigerian love of red pepper, was happily able to enjoy the meal with me. I ordered the house hot sauce on the side and was nearly fooled by its cucumber green, cool, creamy-looking texture. The divine mix of cilantro, onion, jalapeno peppers, garlic and vinegar is a symphony of flavors that sets your mouth abuzz. It is rapturous and, yes darlings, it is HOT. We got the goat suqar with a side of fadareyshin, or federation: a split plate of spaghetti — left over from Somalia's brief Italian colonization — and fluffy, jasmine-like rice dotted with raisins and carrot shavings. This fantastic dish, and nearly everything else on the menu, rings up around $10.
THE FLAVORS of Smell, No Taste were more familiar to my palate. The Liberian-owned restaurant has been serving up traditional West African fare in NoDa for more than two years and has built quite a reputation among Charlotte's African community.
Smell, No Taste offers goat only in a soup, but what a soup it is. Rich, garlicky, with an ethereal heat that you can literally feel moving down your esophagus, burning the impurities out of your body. Chunks of meat, some with untrimmed fat, float in the liquid. Don't discriminate; put the entire piece in your mouth and chew, and wonder at the tenderness of even the gristle.
Don't be alarmed if, like my companion, your eyes start to run or sweat beads up on your forehead while sampling the soup. That's supposed to happen. Smell, No Taste is typical of West Africa in that the food is hot, but it's not the top note furnace blast you'd expect from, say, Mexican or Indian food. There is the initial sear, but the real magic is in the slow burn. The heat builds and builds the longer you eat, leaving some tasters feeling rather like the lobster who doesn't notice until too late that, hey, isn't the water getting a little warm?
If things get too heated, for God's sake don't drink water — your head may explode. Instead, opt for something sweet, like soda, to gently counteract the crackling flame.
Smell, No Taste serves goat soup with the traditional ball of fufu, a 2-pound wad of cassava yam that has been pounded into a dough-like consistency. Pinch off a bit with your fingers and dip it into the soup, sucking the sticky substance off with relish. Here, too, prices are right in the $10 range, so feel free to stray away from the goat in search of more flavors.
Either place you choose, the goat comes highly recommended. You will leave full, happy and satisfied — if a little sweaty, depending.
Jamile's International Cuisine
4808 Central Ave.
Smell, No Taste
1200 E. 36th St.