Goat and the Bengali Intelligentsia

| 11/09/2009 | Reply

The intelligentsia (as defined by Wikipedia) is a social class of
people engaged in complex mental and creative labor directed to the development and dissemination of culture, encompassing intellectuals
and social groups close to them.  You can very well attribute this term
to the Bengali society who fits this definition quite well.  But what
does a timid and herbivorous (although Bengalis think goats to be
omnivorous – chhagole ki na khay) mammal like goat got to do with this
elite group of people?  The answer to this is well known to all of us –
Bengalis love goat meat. Although in other parts of the World, goat milk


and milk products (cheese) are also extremely popular, but we the
Bengalis don’t care much about the milk.  It is the meat that is most
important to us – the ultimate food in any Bengali plate. 
Historically, goat meat is the only kind of meat that Bengalis
(especially the Hindu Bengalis) ate. Goats were the most popular
offerings to Goddess Kali and Durga – and the meat then cooked in a recipe void of any garlic or onions and hence termed as “vegetarian meat”.

But Bengalis hardly ever use the term “goat meat”.  “Panthar
Mangsho” or “Khashir mangsho” or the anglicized version “mutton” were
the popular terms. In Bengal (West Bengal to be more specific) it is a
sacrilege to slaughter a “she goat”. Hence, the male goats or “Pantha”
or the neutered male goat or “Khashi” were the unfortunate ones. If
some inscrupulous butcher tried to sneak in a female goat and got
caught by the “intelligentsia”, he would be severely punished and his
business would be ruined for ever.

Bengalis have invented several goat recipes and sometimes have
cleverly adapted many other meat dishes. Although goat and lamb are
sometimes used interchangeably  in culinary circles, Bengalis detest lamb


meat. Lamb meat, although treated as a delicacy in many parts of the
world, is hardly sold in Bengal.  When a Bengali serves goat meat,
he/she makes it absolutely clear that the meat you eat is goat and goat
only.  In America, goat meat is not popular amongst mainstream
Americans. Hence most Indian restaurants will not advertize goat on
their menu. They’ll call it lamb – lamb curry, lamb biriyani etc.

A Bengali’s love for goat meat is legendary. In Kolkata (or for that
matter any town in West Bengal), Bengali babus queue up in front of
their local meat shops


The traditional Sunday lunch of goat and potato stew with fine white
rice followed by a nap is the highest point of luxury in a Bengali’s
life.  Just the words “Kosha Mangsho” (spicy fried goat meat) and
“Parota” is like music to Bengali ears. No dinner party or celebration
is complete without goat meat.

In this country (USA) we, the Bengalis, try hard to hold on to our
culture and traditions. Hence goat meat is an integral part of that
effort. Goat meat is not sold in most American butcher shops, but that
is hardly an impediment. We travel miles to find a “Indo-Pak Halal”
meat shop to get our quota of red meat.  Goat meat is a must at any
weekend party.  Since cooking goat meat is kind of a long term project,
we prefer if someone else cooks it for us. Hence the demand for
invitations to goat meat parties is extremely high. A persons
popularity in this community is judged by the number of goat meat
parties he/she is invited to.  Hence, no Bengali would sacrifice a goat
meat party invitation.  Attendance is a must at any cost. Another way
to become popular is to invite folks to your goat meat party.  Since
you are assured of a high attendance, a few calculated parties can
catapult your popularity poll numbers to ensure a seat at your local
Bengali club committee.  Goat meat parties dominate over any other
events – be it a musical concert, or a theatrical show, or a literary
gathering.  Once a frustrated Bengali play director lamented during a
rehearsal that was scheduled on a weekend evening, “I give up! I just
cannot compete with goat!”  The Bengali intelligentsia cannot function
properly without goat. People seem to have a wrong notion that the
Bengalis can kill for a meal of fish curry and rice! But they are wrong
– goat rules the Bengali palate!

Category: Meat & Poultry, The Americas

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