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Goat Grab

Goat grab 

Iraqi feasts are good, but predictable.   You get goat (or sheep) meat on top of rice, topped with a kind of rice-a-roni, with peanuts, raw vegetables and raisins mixed in. All of this is piled high on some very good tortilla style bread.  I like the bread

Americans try to use the bread to grab the food, making a kind of rice and goat burrito.  Iraqis don’t have much use for that strategy.  They grab a handful, squash it all into a ball, letting juice & pieces fall back on the big plate, and pop it into their mouths. The guy next to you will often rip off a piece of goat  with his hands and put it in front of you.  You are supposed to eat it.  If he likes you, you will get a big fatty piece.  You have to eat that too, it is the honor and all that. Sometimes I suspect it is a long standing practical joke they are playing on us - see what the American will eat.

Some feasts feature roasted chicken and a kind of carp that comes out of the Euphrates.  The chicken is very good.  I am content if I can get a piece of that.  I am also accustomed to eating chicken with my fingers, so it is not so odd.   The fish tastes okay, but it is very boney.   You need to be careful eating it.   I prefer both chicken and fish to the goat. 

What I really cannot get used to is the communal nature of the eating.  All the food is in the middle and you all eat from the same place – with your hands.  Rice just does not lend itself to hand eating, so sometimes they dump some soup on top.  It helps the rice stick together but, IMO, that makes it a worse mess.  At some of the classier meals, a kid comes around with water and soap before the meal.  I am happy wash my hands before the meal and even happier to see my neighbors and future meal mates washing theirs.

There are different shifts of eaters.  The higher ranking people belly up first.  When they wander off, some others come.  It looks like there are at least three waves and I suppose whoever cleans up finishes up the scraps.

After the meal, people sit down around the room and they bring tea.  The tea is very sugary.   I am told it is good manners to drink three little cups of tea.   If you drink less you are not accepting the proper hospitality; if you drink more you are abusing it.

Everybody stands or crouches while eating; you do not sit.  The meal has a kind of ad hoc feeling.  It is sort of like a lot of guys hanging around a public place, say a train station, and then somebody brings out a big bowl of food, forgetting the plates or utensils, and puts it on the counter or on the floor.   I guess you can see how this sort of thing would grow up in a nomadic culture.

Spoons, forks and bowls are good things. 

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Charles McCarry (a CIA agent turned writer), in one of his novels--I think it was Tears of Autumn originally published in 1974--describes a similar feast in an Arab country where the host offered the protagonist a piece of gristle, stating that this was a customary gift to the guest of honor. When the protagonist refused, the host laughed and admitted this was a practical joke. I don't know valid McCarry's anecdote is, but it is an interesting parallel.

(Thank you for your blog and your service.)

I always enjoyed goat, as well as most ME food. But I hated the lack of utensils!! And I always kept a bottle of Purel handy...


I don't doubt it. I know that they are enjoy watching us try to figure out the hand eating.


I worry less about my hands than everybody elses. I know that mine are reasonably clean. Even worse than that hand eating is the soup sharing. I try to get in early and then don't take any more.

Anyway, the chicken is best because you get your own piece, but chicken is less common.

As they say, fingers were made before forks; ask any child. I embrace modern technology.

I suppose no one mentions "double dipping" at these affairs. One wonders why a country with the history of Iraq including the creation of chess (so I'm told) would be as ignorant of hygene as are they. I know that it's in part because of the lack of water and the nomandic lifestyle, but are they simply unaware of the potential spread of various ills? This would be one way I could lose weight!

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