November 23, 2014

On Goat Meat (and Butchers)

Today a ‘house, garden and kitchen’ post, as we say in Dutch (which translates itself into ‘simple’ or ‘common’). 

The road to the Beqaa valley was wet and muddy; with total precipitation so far this winter already exceeding the yearly average for this time of year,
This weekend, I bought goat meat (or mutton, as it is called), and I thought I’d show you some pictures of a typical Lebanese butcher. If you’re from Lebanon, you will find nothing unusual about this. If you’re from Holland, you probably will never have seen an entire animal hanging in a butcher shop. We (the Dutch) only see our meat pre-cut and pre-packaged, unrecognizable as having once been something furry and alive.

You wonder - after last week’s report of the Ministry of Health on the Lebanese food industry, including the state of slaughterhouse, butchers and restaurants, - why anyone would still dare eat meat? Fecal matter in food, rotten meat in the supermarkets, and slaughterhouses where the carcasses lie on the ground between their own feces and urine. We don’t eat a lot of meat in my household, it’s mainly fish and chicken, but this weekend we needed goat meat

Zahle was wet but sunny. I liked this elderly man with his hat on. Something else than the dumb little woolen hats many men wear. 

You see, every morning, as we leave the house to go to jobs or school, the old aunt who lives in our house, corners us near the elevator door with the question: “What do you want to eat tonight?” When she just moved in with us, this was a welcome question; there were tons of things we wanted to eat because now we finally had a household member who could cook Lebanese food. 

But now we are quite some years down the line, and this one question every morning is one that everyone in our house dreads. 
We just cannot think of anything anymore, after years and years of thinking of different dishes, and so we try to sneak out without her noticing. This is no mean feat, because she recognizes the whirring of the elevator being pulled up, and the metallic ‘click’ of the elevator door as it reaches our floor. 

Sometimes we quietly tiptoe to the floor below us, and take the elevator from there. Sometimes my husband leaves before me, and will yell “Isal marti,” (ask my wife) as he runs out of the house. And the dishes that I can think of, are somehow always out of season.

So when we actually think of something we’d like to eat, we have to act upon it. And on Saturday  my daughter suddenly thought of spare ribs. This comes from our summer BBQ’s in Holland, where copious amounts of spare ribs get consumed. 

You point to the piece, and he cuts it right off the carcass
Pork is very difficult to come by here in Lebanon, so it had to be goat. Goat ribs needed to be purchased, but we were up in the mountains, and due to the pouring rain, the already incredibly congested road down to Beirut would be further impassible with either water or broken down trucks. So we had to go to the other side of the mountains, where we ended up in Zahle. In the Beqaa Valley, they’ve got plenty of goats.

The advantages of mutton over beef are numerous, according to Wikipedia, but then I cannot vouch for the source of that information; it could be it was the Mutton Wholesale Dealers Association of Northern America for all I know.

So maybe I would not have my meat minced here. 

You don’t get your spare ribs from the supermarket, especially not after this report, so you go straight to the source. We have butchers here that have the life goats tied up in front of their stores in the morning, slaughters the beasts (okay, so they do it right on the street, which was also a bit of an issue according to the report)  and by the evening they've cut up and sold the entire carcass: Fresh from the animal. Of course you can’t tell whether the goat was sick or not, or fed with something wicked, and I am pretty sure that it is not that hygienic either, but in the end, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and you've got to die of something.

We found a butcher who had his goats hanging in his shop, pointed at the spareribs, and he cut them right in front of us off. It couldn't get any fresher. Tonight I am eating spare ribs. If you don’t hear from me anymore, blame it on the meat.

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