When it comes to dinner, goat and I have a troubled relationship. It stems mostly from a leg I was served once in the Galápagos—more bone and gristle than flavor—but my antipathy has been kept alive over the years by the odd goat roti I’ve encountered here and there. Still, I’ve always been willing to give it another chance.
So when my husband and I were invited to a goat dinner in Luperón, a small waterfront town near Puerto Plata, on the north coast of the Dominican Republic (where we are living), I warily agreed to go along. After all, chivo is a traditional part of la comida criolla. It’s also the sole traditional Dominican dish that is served picante, and I adore hot food.
In fact, this Dominican goat was tender and flavorful —more spicy than hot—the meat having first been rubbed with garlic and oregano, then cooked with onions, peppers, more garlic and oregano, a bit of tomato paste, white wine, and a healthy splash of overproof Dominican rum. It was served with mashed auyama, a basketball-size squash, with slivers of crisp fried red onion mixed in—perfect for soaking up every last bit of delicious gravy.
"But the goat you get here isn’t the best," protested Jaime, a Luperón-born-and-bred Dominican, when I told him the next day how much I had enjoyed the meal. Though he’s rail thin, Jaime is a big eater, and he had been feeding us regular advice on the subject of food since we met. "The best goat comes from Monte Cristi because the goats there graze on hillsides where wild oregano grows." By the time the meat reaches the kitchen, he explained, it’s already infused with the flavor of fresh herbs. Premarinated, if you will.
Monte Cristi is at the northwest end of the country, close to the Haitian border, where the land is mostly inhospitable desert. "You must try the Monte Cristi goat," Jaime insisted.
The Dominican Republic’s main highway slices the island like a machete cleaving a green coconut. We joined it only a dozen miles beyond the urban sprawl of Santiago, the country’s second-largest city, and already it had narrowed to a single lane in each direction, paved but punctuated by occasional washouts and tire-gobbling holes. Rising abruptly from flat fields first of tobacco and then of rice, the mountains of the Cordillera Septentrional form a lush wall to the north, their peaks torn from tissue paper and layered one soft green sheet atop the other.
Driving in the D.R., we discovered, demands the reflexes of a rally racer. Chickens cross the road without anyone asking why, and campesinos on burros and horses trot along the shoulders. Motoconchos—small-engined motorcycles with three or four people astride or maybe a live pig trussed on the back—buzz by on both sides, while diesel-belching trucks labor under loads of pineapples or bananas and motion impatient drivers to pass in the short stretches between curves. (Or, just as often, on curves.) We bounced through small pueblos where signs announced the ubiquitous club gallístico (cock-fighting arena) or—hallelujah—a gomería (tire-repair shop).