this blog post originally appeared on the GourmetStation Blog
Sometimes the thought of a particular dish or smell of food conjures up a place or time in my life or, alternatively, thinking of a distant locale brings a rush of taste sensations and aromas of a specific dish. Sense of smell and taste, not to mention the visual of a meal can be a visceral time machine into the past. So what do you think of when I say “goat?” Do you see the bearded billy goat from a childhood tale? Do you hear the gravelly bleating of a goat at a petting zoo? Or were you farm-reared and see your 4-H goat as a prize-winner and food?
When I say “goat,” I immediately think “emotional food experience that thankfully did not ruin my love of experimenting with new foods.” In the mid 1970s, my family lived in Madrid, Spain. I was in my pre-pre-teen years and still uninitiated into the world of gourmet cuisine, although the lessons came quickly and constantly during our travels throughout the country and across Europe.
I remember a particular trip to the southern part of Spain. Our family weekend outings usually consisted of long drives through the Spanish countryside, exploring charming villages, sampling their trademark breads and cheeses or having a multi-course meal at a local restaurant. Spaniards know how to eat well, topping off their largest meal of the day with a luxurious siesta.
We stopped in one village for a meal and were treated to a sumptuous feast with a variety of dishes that were completely foreign to me and to my younger sister Leah. Our mother, who spoke Spanish fluently, ordered for us, and we gladly ate whatever she put in front of us. On this particular occasion, she kept asking my father and her two trusting daughters “How is it? How does it taste?”
We all smiled with full mouths and nodded to signify that everything tasted great to us. After the meal, as we drove down the dusty road in our Fiat station wagon with the afternoon sun blazing above us, my mother had an announcement to make.
“You know the dish you were eating – cabrito? Well, do you know what that means?” she grinned mischievously. We all chimed in that we didn’t know but agreed that it was delicious. “It was baby goat,” she said, triumphant.
There was a long pause in the car as all sorts of visuals from children’s books passed before my eyes. Then Leah started wailing. I joined in a moment later, crying and screaming because I had been tricked into eating – in my mind – something akin to Bambi.
We were alternatively traumatized, angry and grieving throughout the rest of the car trip. Looking back, I think we all were caught up in the moment of shock, completely forgetting that we had, indeed, enjoyed the savory dish of baby goat.
If I’ve learned anything at all from this emotional dining experience, it is that parents should never trick their children into eating something by saying it is something else. I know it must seem like a good idea at the time – and since I’m not a parent, I’m sure someone could say I have no idea how hard it is to get a child to eat vegetables, much less exotic cuisine.
Would I have eaten cabrito back then if given full disclosure that it was, quite literally, kid? I can’t be sure. Although the experience, thankfully, did not stop me from trying new foods in years to come, it did make me suspicious of what my mother served us from that moment on.
My sister Leah was a little more gullible for a few more years. Somehow, my mother convinced her that the lamb chops she got at the local “Mercado” and served at least once a month was pork and not lamb. Because God forbid my sister were to eat something belonging to Little Bo Peep.