Dinner and the Goat’s head

12 Mar

Eating in a foreign country is a wild adventure. I already had the experience of moving to the United States when I was a teenager, and that had its strange moments too, but food was not really unfamiliar. I remember my first Thanksgiving feast, I didn’t quite take to the sweet side dishes, like cranberry sauce and sweet potato casserole. Beef jerky, country fried steak and collard greens with bacon (cooked in lard) still seem odd and unappetizing to me, but after a while I learned to like other things like hush puppies and fried okra.

Last week we had guests for dinner, and each family brought a dish or two, as it was an unplanned affair. Since most people don’t eat much foreign food here, I usually let my husband cook the main dishes on these occasions, while I make things I know my guests will enjoy. He roasted a leg of mutton and I cooked rice with peas (matar pulao), which came out very well, with each long grain fluffed out and separated, the mark of well-made basmati rice, (let me know if you want the recipe).

There were two dishes at the table that I did not expect. One guest brought siri, which is stewed goat’s head, and another one brought maghaz, or sauted cow’s brain. I have tried cow’s brain before, though I didn’t know what it was when I ate it. The texture is similar to soft, undercooked scrambled eggs, and I actually thought it was an omelet at first. This time there were plenty of other things to eat, so I didn’t feel obliged to partake of these dishes, considered delicacies in Pakistan.

I am always careful to avoid giving offence, and respect for the culture of the country is always on my mind. You cannot live happily in a foreign country without a willingness to accept its customs, and allowing the differences to enrich your life. At the same time, I think it’s important to retain your own personality and remain truthful to yourself or the journey is meaningless.

My husband says the siri and the maghaz are products of socioeconomic conditions, which call for the use of every available resource. Nothing goes to waste, and in a country with nearly 170 million people, it makes sense and it is prudent. 

Every culture has its more interesting dishes that seem unusual to outsiders. Morcilla in Latin America, for example (a pudding made of pig’s blood) or pickled pig’s feet in the American Deep South (what is it with pigs, eh?), which you can sometimes see in big glass jars in country convenience stores. I remember once when I lived in America, a friend called the refried beans that I was spooning onto a plate ‘chocolate’.

I am not a big meat-eater, and so I am less adventourous when it comes to meat dishes, but I’m game for many other things, like bitter melon curry or cumin soup with black salt. And it is always a pleasure to sit around the dinner table with people who eat their food with relish.

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One Response to “Dinner and the Goat’s head”

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  1. B is For Bread « No.1 Mouse Place - November 13, 2009

    […] have tasted fancy dishes and eaten at fine restaurants many times in my life. I have sampled the strange and unfamiliar. I have found fresh favorites and discovered new ingredients, but nothing tastes so delicious to […]

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