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Birria—Glorious Goat Stew

Birria—Glorious Goat Stew

When I’m in Mexico, I miss Ma’s cooking.  And when I’m in New York, I miss goat.  Goat, glorious goat.  Everybody asks “What does it taste like?”  Well, the first time I tried it I admit I thought “Ewww, this can’t be right,” and wondered if I would be able to finish.  But by the second bite I was hooked.  It is stronger flavored than beef or pork–gamey, even–but we just love it.  Now when they ask what its like, I just smile and say “Heaven….”

June 19, 2008

Gorious birria--stewed goat

Gorious birria--stewed goat

It’s hard to believe anything with a goat in it can be glorious, but that’s the only word for birria.  If you haven’t eaten our bearded barnyard buddy, you haven’t lived.

It’s not too surprising that in some parts we don’t eat goat.  When I lived in Upstate New York all I knew was that they like to head butt, they have funny looking pupils, and—if the cartoons are to be believed—they like to dine on clothes lines and tin cans.  Oh—and they live on the sides of cliffs.

My Dad grew up in rural Ohio before electricity and indoor toilets came through, and if he ever went too long without a shower he would make a face and say “I smell like an old goat.”

No wonder I wanted nothing to do with the animal, much less eat it.

Well, times change.

In northern Mexico they make chivo tatemado.  The entire, cleaned goat is splayed on a board and leaned over a bonfire until it is golden brown.  The resulting meat is crusty on the outside and juicy on the inside.  There are no big cuts on an animal the size of a goat, so your order will either feature shredded meat picked from the nooks and crannies of the skeleton, or will be still attached to rib bones and joints.  It is good, greasy, finger-licking food for the adventuresome carnivore.

In Jalisco we take the process a step further.  The meat is prepared over a fire, and then further baked in an oven, until it is the consistency of good roast beef.  The flesh is then stripped from the bones and the skull and is stewed in a spicy tomato-chile sauce with lots of herbs.

That’s birria.  The goat of my dreams.

Like cranberry sauce with Thanksgiving turkey, there are several must-haves to accompany birria—refried beans, pickled vegetables, onions desflemadas, green and red sauces, and mountains of handmade tortillas.

While there are birrierias all over (there is an excellent one near our house in Tlajomulco), the birria center of the universe is walking distance from Teatro Degollado in downtown Guadalajara in a neighborhood known as Nueve Esquinas, mostly because there are, well, Nine Corners there, around a small plaza.

Nueve Esquinas has gorgeous architecture and leafy streets closed off to traffic, and goat restaurants sharing space with dozens of small print shops, their old fashioned printing presses rumbling the sidewalks.  In season folks come from the countryside lugging big baskets lined with alfalfa and filled with florescent-colored pataya, the fruit of the nopal cactus.  They set up in the plaza and offer the juicy fruits to passersby.  The sweetest ones have split their purplish-green skins, and the flesh, which looks like coiled worms or intestines, spills forth, speckled with black, crunchy seeds.  The surprisingly colored pulp looks like a child’s birthday party on peyote—brilliant reds and yellows and purples and white.  The fruit tastes like little more than sugar water, and is known to cause the frantic runs, but it is highly popular and a big part of the Nueve Esquinas scene.

We stopped into a small shop to inspect an old electric fan with shining gold blades and an antique cash register.  When we asked the friendly proprietor how much he wanted for the fan, he explained “Oh—I’m not selling anything!  I collect old office machines—typewriters and the like.  It is my hobby.  I just display things here.   I repair typewriters as my work.”

That is one of the neat things about Mexico—you never know when you are going to run into something or someone interesting.  And if you know where to look, you can always find amazing things to eat.

Dan and Omar

Omar in Nueve Esquinas, with great friends Paula and Imelda.  This is one of the blocks closed off to traffic.

Omar in Nueve Esquinas, with great friends Paula and Imelda. This is one of the blocks closed off to traffic.

The architecture here is really beautiful.  The area is loaded with small printing shops--there's a glimpse of one here, and a fabulous door.  The scooter is waiting to deliver a printing order.

The architecture here is really beautiful. The area is loaded with small printing shops--there's a glimpse of one here, and a fabulous door. The scooter is waiting to deliver a printing order.

Omar just loves his filials and curlicues, but he is smiling because he knows Nueve Esquinas is famous for goat stew.

Omar just loves his filials and curlicues, but he is smiling because he knows Nueve Esquinas is famous for goat stew.

But how do you find the best birria?  The goat points the way.

But how do you find the best birria? The goat points the way.

And sure enough, across the plaza--Birriera Nueve Esquinas, center of the Goat Stew Universe.  The sign says for sale or rent--so you'd better hurry.

And sure enough, across the plaza--Birriera Nueve Esquinas, center of the Goat Stew Universe. The sign says for sale or rent--so you'd better hurry.

The side entrance has a nice goat stained glass window.

The side entrance has a nice goat stained glass window.

A closer look reveals our hosts, pleased to see us.

A closer look reveals our hosts, pleased to see us.

Several of the herbs used to make birria.

Several of the herbs used to make birria.

Like many businesses here, the restaurant is open to the street.

Like many businesses here, the restaurant is open to the street.

Inside is a traditional Mexican kitchen, all tiles and clay bowls, where you can watch your lunch being prepared.

Inside is a traditional Mexican kitchen, all tiles and clay bowls, where you can watch your lunch being prepared.

Fresh vegetables are stored under the cement and tile counter.  The green veggies are jitomate verde--tomatillos--that are used to make an incredible sauce.  Here they are before husking.  Each fruit is covered with a dry, papery husk like a Chinese lantern.

Fresh vegetables are stored under the cement and tile counter. The green veggies are jitomate verde--tomatillos--that are used to make an incredible sauce. Here they are before husking. Each fruit is covered with a dry, papery husk like a Chinese lantern.

We order and sit back to enjoy the decor.  The young lady doesn't have a crick in her neck.  She is reading one of the many, many plates painted with local sayings, like "It's better to be fat and feliz (happy) than thin and amarga (bitter)."  We really like that one.

We order and sit back to enjoy the decor. The young lady doesn't have a crick in her neck. She is reading one of the many, many plates painted with local sayings, like "It's better to be fat and feliz (happy) than thin and amarga (bitter)." We really like that one.

The side attractions arrive immediately--sauces and totopos and wonderful pickled vegetables.

The side attractions arrive immediately--sauces and totopos and wonderful pickled vegetables.

We make this at home, and it is out of this world.  Jalapiños, carrots, whole garlic cloves, and cauliflower are quickly fried, then pickled in a light vinegary brine.  Birria is a meaty dish, so some vegetables are very welcome.

We make this at home, and it is out of this world. Jalapiños, carrots, whole garlic cloves, and cauliflower are quickly fried, then pickled in a light vinegary brine. Birria is a meaty dish, so some vegetables are very welcome.

Cebollas desflamadas--red onions in lime juice, with habanero peppers.  Cebollas desflamadas look like they went heavy on the food coloring, but actually they are all natural.  The color in red onions (and red cabbage and beets) is like litmus paper--it changes color with a change in pH.  The acidic lime juice turns the red this pink color.  The orange strips are habanero peppers.  I sweat just thinking about them, but boy are they good.

Cebollas desflamadas--red onions in lime juice, with habanero peppers. Cebollas desflamadas look like they went heavy on the food coloring, but actually they are all natural. The color in red onions (and red cabbage and beets) is like litmus paper--it changes color with a change in pH. The acidic lime juice turns the red this pink color. The orange strips are habanero peppers. I sweat just thinking about them, but boy are they good.

Red sauce with cilantro.  This sauce has some tomatoes in it (and plenty of tomatillos and cilantro) along with chile.  Other red sauces are hot peppers and tomatillos, without the tomato.

Red sauce with cilantro. This sauce has some tomatoes in it (and plenty of tomatillos and cilantro) along with chile. Other red sauces are hot peppers and tomatillos, without the tomato.

This green sauce is made from fresh, citrusy tomatillos and avocado.

This green sauce is made from fresh, citrusy tomatillos and avocado.

Beautiful beans.  These are peruano beans, cooked and mashed with lard and guajillo chiles and refried.  They are a staple here, and are incredibly tasty.  Do we worry about the lard?  Millions of thriving Mexicans eat these beans every day, so no.  Plus we've read recently that lard may be healthier than hydrogenated vegetable oil.  After all, humans have eaten animal fat for millions of years, and our bodies have evolved to utilize it.  The beans are topped with crumbly cotija cheese and washed down with Pacifico.  This bottle contains 9% extra!  Made our day.

Beautiful beans. These are peruano beans, cooked and mashed with lard and guajillo chiles and refried. They are a staple here, and are incredibly tasty. Do we worry about the lard? Millions of thriving Mexicans eat these beans every day, so no. Plus we've read recently that lard may be healthier than hydrogenated vegetable oil. After all, humans have eaten animal fat for millions of years, and our bodies have evolved to utilize it. The beans are topped with crumbly cotija cheese and washed down with Pacifico. This bottle contains 9% extra! Made our day.

The sauces and beans are ably transported from bowl to mouth on totopos--triangles of deep-fried corn tortillas.  Fried in manteca (lard) of course.  The diet can resume when you go back home.  They are delicious.

The sauces and beans are ably transported from bowl to mouth on totopos--triangles of deep-fried corn tortillas. Fried in manteca (lard) of course. The diet can resume when you go back home. They are delicious.

Just as the beans are gone, we are served our birria.  They only serve two or three different things here, so they are very speedy.  Imelda starts right in.  She is drinking horchata, a refreshing drink made from mashed rice and sugar.

Just as the beans are gone, we are served our birria. They only serve two or three different things here, so they are very speedy. Imelda starts right in. She is drinking horchata, a refreshing drink made from mashed rice and sugar.

Heaven.  A plate of birria, pickled vegetables, and tortillas hot off the comal.  The caldo or broth is so full flavored it will take your breath away.  Oh--and speaking of breath--whole garlic cloves?  Oh YES!   They are buttery smooth and not as garlicy as you might think, with a potato-like texture.

Heaven. A plate of birria, pickled vegetables, and tortillas hot off the comal. The caldo or broth is so full flavored it will take your breath away. Oh--and speaking of breath--whole garlic cloves? Oh YES! They are buttery smooth and not as garlicy as you might think, with a potato-like texture.

Some folks report strange effects from eating so much garlic, but we sure aren't effected.  This is for all of you who wrote in asking what I would look like with hair.  No extra points if you can name our favorite actor. (Omar says he is the only thing that can cure his insomnia.  I say if I have to listen to Madonna, he can stay awake through "White Zombie.").

Some folks report strange effects from eating so much garlic, but we sure aren't effected. This is for all of you who wrote in asking what I would look like with hair. No extra points if you can name our favorite actor. (Omar says he is the only thing that can cure his insomnia. I say if I have to listen to Madonna, he can stay awake through "White Zombie.").

Birria.

Birria.

Fresh tortillas made by hand are greatly appreciated in Mexico.  Generally one person (invariably a woman) in the kitchen dedicates herself to massaging the masa (dough), forming balls just the correct size, and extending them in a wooden press.  Handmade tortillas are generally thicker that machine made.  They are replaced continually throughout the meal, so they are always hot.  To many Mexicans, a meal isn't complete without tortillas. An interesting fact--Tortillas are good for your teeth.  They are high in calcium and fiber.  If you go to the post on Chai and look at Omar's, Melly's, Tochi's, and Iris's teeth, they are all as white and beautiful as can be.  My teeth grew up on the bread with the multi-colored polka dots on the package, and it shows.

Fresh tortillas made by hand are greatly appreciated in Mexico. Generally one person (invariably a woman) in the kitchen dedicates herself to massaging the masa (dough), forming balls just the correct size, and extending them in a wooden press. Handmade tortillas are generally thicker that machine made. They are replaced continually throughout the meal, so they are always hot. To many Mexicans, a meal isn't complete without tortillas. An interesting fact--Tortillas are good for your teeth. They are high in calcium and fiber. If you go to the post on Chai and look at Omar's, Melly's, Tochi's, and Iris's teeth, they are all as white and beautiful as can be. My teeth grew up on the bread with the multi-colored polka dots on the package, and it shows.

Both Paula, here, and Imelda are interested in food, and over the years they have become very adventuresome in trying new things.  Mexico is not a melting pot, so you don't find foreign dishes much on the menu.  Sushi, asparagus, blue cheese, soy sauce, and raspberries, while available, are not widely known in our parts.  We like to have new food experiences and share them with our friends.

Both Paula, here, and Imelda are interested in food, and over the years they have become very adventuresome in trying new things. Mexico is not a melting pot, so you don't find foreign dishes much on the menu. Sushi, asparagus, blue cheese, soy sauce, and raspberries, while available, are not widely known in our parts. We like to have new food experiences and share them with our friends.

Come visit us in Guadalajara.  You'll never go hungry!  Write us at e365mexico@yahoo.com.

Come visit us in Guadalajara. You'll never go hungry! Write us at e365mexico@yahoo.com.

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A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.