In 1980, I tried to convince my mom that even though I liked chèvre, it would be weird to serve it at my Wisconsin elementary school's Dairy Day. The popular kids would bring ice cream. Couldn't we at least bring cheddar curds? Confronted with my offering of goat cheese, my second-grade peers winced, gagged, and wondered if I was of their species. I wish I could have balanced the horror of being a Dairy Day outcast with the knowledge that goat cheese would explode in popularity and become the it cheese of the last decade of the 20th century, popping up in culinary epicenters such as Napa Valley, and overrunning (to a fault) entire restaurant menus even so far as rural Maine. But instead, I grew up with a little chip of goat cheese on my shoulder.
That's why I nearly fainted when, in a hungry stupor, I stumbled into Hamdi on Portland’s Washington Avenue, and the lovely young cook wearing a floor-length black, brown, and white dotted dress and a navy twisted head scarf offered me goat. Not goat cheese. Just goat.
It had never dawned on me to eat the meat. Margaret Hathaway, a true goat expert who traveled the US on a quest for the perfect goat cheese and wrote a book called The Year of the Goat, later informs me that goat is the next hottest meat.
"In some communities in northern Mexico," she explains, "having roasted kid is like having turkey for Thanksgiving. Now cabrito, classic goat barbecue, has trickled into south Texas culture."
An Italian restaurant in New York City served her goat pâté. Her favorite high-end preparation was from San Francisco's One Market restaurant. The goat was slow-roasted for eight hours with lemon, oregano, and olive oil, pulled from the bone like pulled pork, and topped with a cloud of lemon-egg-yolk foam. She's also had some great goat curries.
My own Somali-prepared goat arrived: a pile of boiled, bone-in mysterious goat parts you could reasonably get at directly only with your teeth. It came with a mound of rice (likely flavored and tinged yellow with some Goya products I spied in the kitchen) topped with peas, carrots, and pickled onions, and along side a couple bites of iceberg. Thick translucent salad dressing came in a bottle labeled "Tablecraft Chef's Condiment Dispenser." (This and other restaurant decor faux pas, such as dining room shelves stocked with rolls of Scott toilet paper, I decided to interpret as charming.) As for the goat, it tasted great — chewy and mild — and it filled me up for the rest of the day.
At the table next to mine, a tall, young Somalian man with shockingly white teeth, his older brother, the driver of an 18-wheeler, and their cousin all received bowls of goat livers, green peppers, onions, and broth with folded crêpe-like injera bread. The trucker invited me to reach into his bowl with my fingers to taste one of the livers. It was creamy and intense like other livers.
"On afternoons, business people come in here," said the man with the white teeth, "And on Saturday and Sunday, the place is packed full of all nationalities."